If you work in home construction and renovation, you know about energy efficiency measures. But do you really know it?
If you’re trying to figure out if you need this course or not, take a shot at answering these questions:
What happens to the neutral pressure plane when you air seal the basement headers but don’t do anything else to the house? And why should you care?
What about combustion spillage? How can you visually tell when it’s an issue in a house, and how do you solve it?
What's important about knowing where the dewpoint is?
If you don't know how to answer them, then you need some training.
You'll need to know about stuff like this:
It’s costly to take courses.
If you take a day off work, it’ll cost you.
If you register for a day-long workshop, it’ll cost you.
If you have to travel to get that training, it’ll cost you.
And face it, if you are out somewhere, you’re likely to buy lunch if it’s not supplied, and then after, maybe you and your workshop compatriots are off for a beer. It’ll cost you.
And you’ll be stuck in a classroom. All. Day.
Online training doesn’t take the place of hands-on learning. It builds on your experience so that you can do a better job, and it allows you learn at your own pace, without taking you off the tools.
That's why we came up with Blue House Energy online training. There’s still a little pain, because we need to make some money and you need to give up some time. But it’s not so bad. Promise.
We give you the animated goods on house-as-a-system, indoor air quality and ventilation requirements, and you learn at your own pace in your sweats.
In a marathon 3 to 4 hour session or in 10 to 15 minute chunks. Totally digestible while snacking.
This is basic training for any energy efficient building program or certification. BHE training is designed by people who work in the industry and understand what you need to know in the field, so you’ll have a good solid start on any future training you do.
It's also good for continuing education units (ask us about CEUs that are available, our resellers have better regional CEU options than we do).
At the end of a course, you pass a test (no trick questions, all multiple choice or T/F answers) and we give you a certificate of knowledge, which you can use as a proof of learning, that you understand how you’re affecting a house when you carry out air sealing work or add insulation.
And then you can treat yourself to lunch and that beer. ‘Cause you earned it, buckaroo.
In the US, there’s a requirement for HERS raters to determine if batt insulation has been installed properly. There are three ‘grades’ of batt installation, with a Grade 1 installation being the best and Grade 3 being the worst.
When batt insulation is installed properly, it touches all six sides of the cavity into which it is placed.
For walls and rim joists, that means it touches, completely, the top and bottom plates, the sides of the studs, the back of the exterior sheathing or rigid backing, and the back of the drywall. For floors, it means that the insulation is in complete contact with the subfloor surface.
When it’s not installed properly, there are gaps and voids in the coverage, and insulation is compressed. These cause the rated performance of the insulation to go down.
Review some crib notes on conduction:
Conduction is heat loss through solids
Uninsulated surfaces lose heat primarily through conduction from warm side to cold side
Conductive heat loss can be slowed down by isolating the exposed surfaces from temperature differences
Insulation works by slows down the rate of conductive heat loss
Insulation must be in contact with the exposed surfaces to ‘share’ it’s poor conductive properties
Where there is no insulation, heat loss will continue until both sides of the surface are at thermal equilibrium
There’s a bunch of stuff that relates to convection and radiation too, but conduction is the key issue we’re talking about right here.
Inside those walls, it’s like the Wild West
The grading of batt insulation jobs is important, because too often (waaaaayyyy too often), compression, gaps and incomplete coverage are the norm. In the US, the insulation installation grade is a factor in calculating the HERS rating (HERS is the US equivalent of the EnerGuide for Houses). In the US, ENERGY STAR and and DoE Challenge Homes require a Grade 1 installation.
We don’t have any requirement for insulation installation to be graded in Canada. This is not to say that installers are not making the grade, or that builders are not requiring it. But it’s not part of our building code, and it’s not part of any requirement of any Canadian high-performance building program. Sure, there’s language around ‘proper installation’, but there’s no clear definition of what that means, nor is there a way to ensure that it has been done.
If you talk to any builder, Energy Advisor or other building science wonk (ahem), you will hear endless horror stories about crappy batt installation. It’s an itchy, grimy job and those who do it don’t get enough credit by half in my books.
Fibreglass batt insulation is still the most commonly used material in Canadian and US walls and floors. The fact that our high performance housing programs such as R-2000, ENERGY STAR for New Homes and the CHBA’s new Net Zero Energy program require higher levels of insulation but do not specify the standard to which that insulation is to be installed is a potential big black eye for the industry.
How could we get a black eye?
It’s not a mystery that, in combination with good air sealing, insulation that performs close to it’s tested R-value is what we rely on to create a high performance house. Not the framing, not the double, triple or quad glazing (windows are always going to suck), not the high-efficiency equipment.
The less-than-sexy, boring but itchy batt insulation.
So pack more insulation in there, nice and tight so it really touches all six surfaces, right?
When you compress batt insulation, it’s true that the R-value per inch goes up, but at the same time, the overall insulation value goes down, because now you have a skinnier batt than the one you bought that was tested and rated for a certain thickness.
The rated R-value that’s stamped on the batt is based on the manufactured density of the insulation. An R-19 batt jammed into a 2x4 cavity is going to perform more like a 3" thick batt of R-11 in the same 3.5” stud cavity. Yes, that’s an exaggerated example, I know.
But we’re modelling energy performance based on the rated or nominal R-value for batt insulation, and what’s being installed in the field is a different beast. Compressed batts, incomplete coverage and no way to monitor or verify the quality of the installation affect the performance of the house.
HERS raters in the US actually has a calculation for this, my fellow Canucknuckleheads. They have to inspect the installation and record not only the compression but the degree of coverage as well for their final rating. Because, guess what? It impacts the energy modelling.
It goes like this:
Let’s say we have a 6.25” thick R-19 (regular density because it’s cheaper, right? That’s why they get put in) to put into a 5.5” wall cavity (nominal 2x6 construction).
Subtract the cavity depth from the thickness of the batt: 6.25 - 5.5 = 0.75”
Determine the percent the batt is compressed by dividing 0.75” by the thickness of the batt. 0.75/6.25 = 0.12, 12% compression
The initial R-value of the batt (R-19) decreases by roughly half the percentage of compression, so:
19 * 6% = 1.14
The R-value loss figure is then subtracted from the original R-value of the batt:
19 - 1.14 = 17.86, round up to R=18.
BTW - here’s how to achieve a Grade 1 batt insulation installation. You should study it, memorize it, devour it and spit it back out again on site, completely and perfectly. This is a great resource from NAIMA (the North American Insulation Manufacturers’ Association).
Making the grade = performing well
Did I mention that the insulation grade is a factor in calculating the final HERS rating?
We’re looking at Net Zero Energy being incorporated into our building code here in Nova Scotia by 2022 -- that’s five years from now. As we push forward to higher performance buildings, with higher insulation targets and requirements, we’re going to smack into severe problems meeting performance requirements if insulation installation is not up to par.
A house that is, on paper, marginally code-compliant for energy efficiency, or that is being rated on a performance path, might not actually be code-compliant or meet the required energy rating if it had the equivalent of a Grade 3 installation. Without having a way to gauge the effectiveness of a batt insulation installation, we’re not doing anyone any favours with increased performance requirements. Especially if the solution to reaching R-24 or more in a wall is to jam a +6” regular density (ie, less expensive) batt into the 2x6 cavity.
Many approaches to NZE and other high-performance targets rely on exterior insulation to eliminate thermal bridging and add the extra punch to the wall R-value. All of the houses in the recently completed pilot project on NZE houses funded through NRCan’s ecoENERGY program used exterior insulation. The aim of this project was to showcase ways in which production builders can reach NZE houses with little or minimal premium. Five builders and twenty six houses later, they’ve done it, more or less.
The exterior insulation diminishes thermal bridging substantially, and therefore reduces heat loss via conduction. To reach NZE however, the production builders relied on batt insulation within the cavity to account for 50 to 75 percent of the total wall R-value. Once again, if the batt insulation is not installed properly, the wall will not perform as it was modelled.
I am not pointing a finger at the houses or builders in this project and saying their insulation installations suck. Not at all, I imagine it’s the exact opposite on such a high-profile project. What I am pointing out is the fact that a fairly standard and economical way of creating a high-performance thermal envelope is still heavily reliant on the quality of the batt insulation installation and there is no regulatory mechanism in Canada that requires insulation to be installed to a certain standard.
It’s likely that the problems that stem from poor batt insulation installations will get exponentially worse as we get to tighter envelopes. Which means, that, on top of purchasing a house that doesn’t perform to the promised energy consumption target, homeowners will have building shells that could have significant conductive heat loss and condensation in the walls, and they will end up dealing with the resulting moisture damage and eventual rot.
As an industry, we need to come to grips with the fact that a high-performance house requires much more due diligence than we are currently required to carry out, and that’s right across the board. High-performance house building requires grading of insulation, blower door testing, and proper system commissioning. Without this due diligence, we simply cannot supply a well-tuned house, no matter how good it looks on paper or in our energy modelling software.
When you're presenting at a conference, you have a limited amount of time to engage your audience and offer experience or participation, but you can certainly engage your audience more directly by knowing something about adult education. This was part of the session I presented at RaterFest!
The thing is, conferences are often the most lucrative time for people to gain continuing education or professional development credits. But many conference sessions are a one-way talkfest. Presented lecture style and with way too much information jammed into a short time frame for adults to really get what you're talking about.
Knowing a bit about how adults learn can help you make your presentation memorable in more ways than one. Here's the quickest rundown ever of a toolkit for adult education:
1. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitude.
2. Adults need to have material that is immediately useful, relevant to their lives,
3. Learning needs to be presented in an environment that is welcoming and feels safe to participate, is respectful of learners life experiences, and has space for them to share.
There are two basic ways that adults take in new information. Through real life experiences and examples or in the form of models or ideas. Once in hand, the new information might be put to active experimentation by some people but others will observe and reflect on the new information.
The Experiential Learning Cycle has four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. The order in which any individual prefers to go through these stages can be called their learning style.
A good adult learning program takes the learning through all stages of the learning process for each activity, but shakes up the order of the stages to appeal to different learning styles.
Your presentation, 60 or 90 minutes, can't encompass everything a learning program should do. Your best bet to engage your audience is to share experience and tell your story.
Engaging your audience is not about entertaining (although that's a good way to be memorable), but your stories, case studies, and anecdotes help your adult learners make connections between new information and their life experience.
You can be confident that you will hit at least two of the four parts of the learning cycle (thinking and reflecting) with a presentation that allows your audience to interact with you. If there is an exercise that you can complete in your session where your audience can interact with each other, you will hit a third part of the learning cycle - applying. Depending on what you're presenting on, this could also capture the elusive fourth part of the learning cycle: experiencing.
The setting is stunning, 8,000 feet up in the Rockies. Colorado in September, aspen, screaming blue skies, bright clear nights. Who wants to be inside listening to endless presenters and trapped in a trade show maze?
Shawna's leading a session at EnergyLogic's un-conference, RaterFest, this year (Sep 15-18). She gets to talk about her favorite subject: the knowledge gap. Its been a constant thread through the last couple of decades: leaps and bounds in the understanding of building science, leading to a bunch of well-trained raters, evaluators, and builders. But the 'trickle down' training model leaves a whole lot of people in the value chain untrained and frustrated with what they don't know.
Introducing building science to trades and sales teams via cheap and cheerful on-demand, online courses (ahem, like ours) is one way of improving competency and building industry capacity. However, opportunities to build capacity arise in the field, when you're talking with the insulator, or the drywaller or the electrician, and every rater, evaluator and builder should take advantage of the chance to improve their outcomes by seizing the 'teaching moment'.
But here's the thing: most builders, raters and evaluators have a well-honed skillset that doesn't include a handy toolbox of adult training methods, and it's not likely that they're going to spend time and money to get one. So what to do, what to do? Well, that's what we're going to explore at RaterFest.
After reading many reports and white papers on energy efficiency and the housing industry in North America, I am continuously stunned at how many times references to need for comprehensive trades training in energy efficiency comes up, yet there is little more indicated than it should be considered.
Reducing energy usage at the building envelope is the KEY to energy security and a sustainable future. Increasing industry capacity is KEY to making sure that it happens, and that it is done correctly.
More attention is paid to lightbulb change out programs (I understand: low-hanging fruit, easy to quantify savings under 'total resource cost' programs). But there's more to the world than an unbalanced equation of all resource costs vs. energy savings. I love the One Knob Program. Nate Adams and Ted Kidd are challenging some very big issues in the home performance industry in the US: measured performance and contractor training and how to make it better.
There is more action-oriented stuff happening for the trades state-side for sure, with the more mature national weatherization industry driving the need for improvements. Canada is relying on top-down, builder-centric training, mainly focussed on new construction (like R-2000, Energy Star for New Houses, and BuiltGreen).
Tradespeople -- especially those who carry out the insulation and air sealing work -- are left dangling in the wind. Subcontractors can't afford to take time off work to get training, if it's even available to them. Builders can't afford to take their in-house or hired crews offsite and pay for registration, accommodation, travel.
But who gets left holding the bag when there's a callback or warranty claim due to a damaged air barrier or inadequate insulation?
It's sure as heck not the drywaller or electrician who slashed the air barrier to do their job. And it's not the designer whose complex roofline leads to inadequate insulation at the junctions of all that framing.
It's the insulator or the air sealing contractor. Who might have actually done their job properly in the first place, or not. And many of those guys and gals are real and valid experts in their fields. Many are not, and are just in it for the short-term job. It's grubby, nasty, hot and itchy work. Who can blame them?
The thing is, these are the folks upon whom the whole high-performance/Net Zero Energy builders and the next generation of homeowners are relying for great results. And we have no way to confirm or qualify their knowledge and skillsets.
This. Is. A. Problem.
Right now, we're fending off disaster. Net Zero Energy can't scale - and shouldn't scale - if there's no corresponding way for insulators and air sealing contractors to level up. We're building an industry without capacity.
After 25 years in this industry, I'm really bored with the same issues.
Dontcha think it's time to get some proper certification and training in place?
This blog article first appeared on Shawna's Bfreehomes blog in April 2016. Please reblog as you want!
Keeping track of what's going on in the world of low-impact, sustainable housing is, and was, a challenge. It's something that our CEO, Shawna Henderson, has been passionate about since the early 1990s. We did a study for CMHC back in the early 00's looking for great examples for a series of case studies that required collecting a ton of info on many projects. CMHC published only 3 of 24 case studies, but we had hundreds of submissions to a survey that we sent out to over 7,000 design professionals in 2004 and 2005.
We chose the term 'low impact housing' to describe the database because we were looking at the gamut of housing projects affiliated with so many different programs and standards:
The common theme is that the programs, and the projects themselves, went far beyond being energy efficient. They all address a broad range of concerns about environmental impacts throughout the lifecycle of a house – from site selection through design and materials choices, construction, operation, maintenance and demolition.
We have a small section on sustainability in our Construction Technology course, with plans to expand the section into a multi-module course that would look at energy efficiency, resource efficiency and environmental responsibility throughout the lifecycle of a building.
Info about donations, contacting evacuees, check in on FB, etc. #ymm fire
I cut & pasted this from a Greenpeace email. Helpful Info.
Donate: The Red Cross has set up an emergency ‘Alberta Fires’ appeal. Click here to donate. Supplies: Here’s a crowdsourced Facebook page to connect Fort McMurray residents needing items with volunteers providing them. People in Edmonton can drop off donations at Edmonton Emergency Services (10255 104 street). Biggest donation needs are diapers, baby wipes, NEW toiletries (such as soap, shampoo, tampons, toothpaste etc.) and NEW socks and underwear. Volunteer: Those interested in volunteering through the regional municipality can apply here. Those in Edmonton are asked to volunteer with Edmonton Emergency Services - Please call 780-428-4422. To help keep track of evacuees and where they are located, anyone forced from their homes is asked to email firstname.lastname@example.org with their name, location and confirmation they are safe.
If you need more information:
If you’re trying to find a loved one or need evacuation information, you can call the regional municipality at 780-762-3636 or the Red Cross at 1-888-350-6070. Facebook has also activated its safety-check feature for the Fort McMurray fire, an option for those who want to reassure their family and friends that they’re okay. If you need a place to stay: Northlands Expo Centre (7515 118 Ave., 780-471-7210) has housing for up to 1,300 evacuees at this point. Many Alberta businesses are offering many different kinds of support. Check here for on-going details. On social media follow #ymmhelp to offer or ask for help. Families and communities are being devastated by this tragedy. Our thoughts are with all of them and we hope you as a supporter can do whatever you can to help.
Shawna wrote about the value of continuing education. The article was featured in Tarion's latest 'Breaking Ground newsletter. Posted here for all to read!
Competency training and continuing education/professional development are the things that fulfill Blue House Energy's mission to help build industry capacity. Gaps in training and knowledge have been identified for years. And while some parts of the industry are hep to building science and house-as-a-system, the bulk of the players who make up the value chain invested in the homebuilding industry are not.
Many other industries don't blink an eye at competency training, licensing and continuing education -- think about it: hairdressers are required to be licensed, but air sealers and insulators are not.
Rick notes that there are some changes and improvements -- most sound positive, clarification and simplification of procedures and protocols. There's a nice set of definitions to take the guesswork out of your day.
Also a recommendation to take the standard with you in your toolkit. When I was doing blower door tests as my main gig, I had the Canadian version of this with me. Helpful for those goofy challenges.
If you are a new builder/vendor who registered with Tarion after September 2015, your registration renewal is based on proving you have completed competency training in 7 areas. If you haven't started on this educational process, your time is running out! The competencies must be achieved by their annual renewal date.
For anyone contemplating becoming a new builder/vendor, you need to know that, as of September 1, 2016, achieving these competencies will be a pre-requisite for registration. The educational requirements are based on the Canadian Home Builders’ Association’s National Education Benchmarks for residential construction.
If you are required to prove the competencies, here are Tarion's recognized training providers:
There are limited times and seats for OHBA and BuildABILITY courses, so check out their schedules today so you can get registered. TrainingOntario offers on-demand online training that fits into your schedule, with an in-person exam hosted by Algonquin College that you can schedule at several locations.
All of the courses offered will take you between 3 and 5 days of time/effort to complete, whether you're in class or learning on line. If you are required to complete all seven educational competencies, that adds up to 21 to 35 days!!!
Builders need to be good on the tools. But they also need to know about construction technology and building science, building codes, have a certain level of business savvy, know about project management, the legal issues that affect their business, and they also need to cultivate mad customer service skillz.
Training Ontario offers a suite of 7 courses that cover all of these areas. Blue House Energy and PHBI provide the content for these courses, which qualify for Tarion's competency training requirements, and Algonquin College provides the assessment (final exam).
As of October 2015, the HPO beefed up the licensing process for builders. New applicants must meet certain competency requirements and existing builders will have to hit a level of continuing professional development (CPD) credits to maintain their good standing. The new requirements are being phased in over a 15 month period.
CHBA has created a Net Zero Energy (NZE) label for builders and renovators who are stepping up their game to NZE levels.
To make it happen, you need training, right? But training costs $$ to develop and deliver. So 3 of the CHBA NZE Housing Council sponsor members (Owens Corning, Dettson and Jeld-Wen) provided funding for the delivery of a number one-day NZE Builder Training sessions.
The CHBA NZE Builder Training is mandatory for participation in the CHBA NZE Labelling Program and can only be delivered through the CHBA NZE Qualified Service Organizations by CHBA NZE Qualified Trainers. Builders must also complete NRCan R-2000 Builder Training.
So here's the schedule:
Vancouver, April 5 Kelowna, April 8 Toronto, April 12 Fredericton, April 18 Halifax, April 22
For those that need it, R2000 training is provided the day before the NZE training.
Job Task Analysis can be a formidable challenge. It’s about breaking down a job into tasks and then analyzing them. How do you best say what a job does? There needs to be method, or it ends up in madness.
Here’s a simplified version of the process for ‘just in time’ or ‘on the job’ training
One of the best ways to methodically say what the job does is to use a process called Job Task Analysis (JTA). Job Task Analysis (JTA) is not only used to create a training program, but it is also used to create accurate and valid job descriptions. Because JTA defines the required knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) for job performance, it is often the basis of a checklist of mandatory demonstrated requirements for recruiting.
Competency-based training is learner‑focused, and lends itself to independent study, allowing learners to study at their own pace, reviewing or practising challenging learning outcomes as they need, and moving quickly through the competencies in which they are more adept. In an earlier post, the four levels of complexity were outlined. These levels measure the student’s depth of knowledge.
Competency-Based Training is a way to teach concrete skills. Every individual skill or learning outcome (the competency), while part of a larger educational or training goal, is a single learning unit, to be worked on one at a time. The level of competency is determined by the organization requiring the training, and the learner is evaluated on each competency. Learning modules can be skipped if the learner can prove -- through prior learning assessment (PLAR) or challenging a test -- that they have already mastered the competency level required.
Competency-based training is learner‑focused, and lends itself to independent study, allowing learners to study at their own pace, reviewing or practising challenging learning outcomes as they need, and moving quickly through the competencies in which they are more adept.
As competency-based training requires mastery of each learning outcome or skill, it is well suited to business and corporate training, where many skills and abilities need to be assessed separately. Most other learning methods use ‘summative’ testing – meaning that a student who has 80% in an evaluation that covers many subjects may have an 80% mastery of all learning outcomes or may have no mastery at all of 20% of the learning outcomes. Summative testing allows the student to move on to higher learning while missing some abilities that will be crucial to that higher learning.
‘Mastery’ of a competency depends on the depth of knowledge required of the learner. In the model followed by Blue House Energy and PHBI for the trainingOntario program developed for Tarion, the depth of knowledge is broken out into four distinct levels:
Level 1: Recall/Reproduction
The learner can recall a fact, information or procedure, process information on a basic level. (Key terms = know/remember, comprehend/understand)
Level 2: Skill/Concept
The learner can use information or conceptual knowledge to execute and implement procedures to complete a task. (Key terms = apply)
Level 3: Strategic Thinking
The learner can use reasoning to develop a plan or sequence of steps with some complexity. (Key terms = analyze, evaluate)
Level 4: Extended Thinking
The learner can investigate, think through and process multiple conditions of the problem. (Key terms: synthesize, evaluate)
Meet trainingOntario: a recognized provider of training for Tarion, Ontario’s New Home Warranty administrator.
trainingOntario is a collaboration between Blue House Energy, and the Professional Home Builders Institute (PHBI). We have pooled our expertise and know-how to deliver a full suite of on-demand courses for Tarion registrants.
As of September 2015, Tarion registrants -- anyone who wants to build or sell a new house in Ontario -- must complete a series of educational competencies. The goal is to improve the industry capacity (Yay! Our favourite thing!) and in doing so, reduce Warranty claims.
Blue House Energy and PHBI were recognized by Tarion separately as eligible training providers, but we realized quickly that by working together and pooling our subject matter experts, educational design expertise and online learning smarts, we could create a fantastic package that includes online training in all of Tarion's mandatory competencies. So that's what we've done.
The Suite of Courses for Builders
The Suite of Courses for Vendors
Legal Issues in Housing
Legal Issues in Housing
Like all of our training, the courses in the trainingOntario suite are easy to access and fit into a busy schedule.
Once a course is complete, a proctored assessment (final exam) is booked through Algonquin College at one of their testing locations throughout the province.
Here's an article that was just published in Home Energy Magazine (July/August 2015). To read the whole article, you must have an online subscription. It's about a very cool project that our colleagues Jennifer Corson and Keith Robertson at Solterre Design designed and built to test drive a range of assemblies, design principles and mechanical system options for very low-energy, off-grid housing in Lunenburg County. The LEED Platinum, Passive House certified final product is a success on all fronts. Check out Solterre's impressive body of work.
Jennifer and Keith (and their two kids) also just returned from a 3-month stay in Ghana, where they worked on a rammed earth library. Very cool story, and very cool people. Here's a local news story about their Ghana adventures.