Sunday, September 26, 2010

Transition Town Whitehorse?

I spent this all this weekend with 30 to 40 other Whitehorse (or near-Whitehorse) residents in a workshop called "Training for Transition". As I've been interested in community resilience (e.g. preparing ourselves for the Post-Carbon Age), I was really excited that others in Whitehorse were thinking the same thing and that an event such as this would come to Whitehorse.

The purpose of the workshop was to introduce a community engagement model for responding to the threats of climate change, fossil fuel dependence (Peak-Oil) and economic instability and inequity. Below is a quick, 3min video overview of the basis / rationale for the Transition initiative.

The Training for Transition workshop was put on by the Canadian Center for Community Renewal and Transition Victoria and hosted by the Northern Climate ExChange.

The thing about the Transition model that is attractive is that it bridges the multiple elements of sustainability well. It isn't a single issue concept. Rather, it embraces all of the interrelationships of social, environmental and economic elements of a community and recognizes that all the parts are needed for local resilience.

The really cool things about the workshops were:
  • how many people showed up, and stayed for two days: I didn't realize so many people cared and had a similar vision for our town; that was so encouraging.
  • the variety of people there: even though there was a definite leaning towards the "green" and socially minded segment of Whitehorse, there was still quite a broad mix of people. I think I might have been one of the more "diverse" as I was the lone capitalist in the mix. (I'm not really sure I'm a capitalist, but I do have a keen interest in economic sustainability. I think the economic part is too often overlooked in the Green Rush, and that we can't have the other two without having our financial house in order.)
  • No one was there represented an organization: it seemed that everyone there was simply as a community member. That's great grass-roots and makes it way easier for us to connect as individual people and neighbors.

What was so encouraging was that even though there were a wide variety of individual interests and views, there seems to be common vision for building our community so that it weathers the storm. I think that is a healthy way for us to realize "We are all in this together" (as Red Green would say). We need to help each other with a common vision and help build bridges over the polarization in the Yukon.

A big thanks to Stephanie and Wendy for making this happen. Getting a transition initiative going here in Whitehorse is something I've pondered for a long time, but didn't know how to start. Or if anyone else was interested or cared. This has been a really encouraging start and I hope it can grow momentum here in our town.

There's a kick-off Transition Town meeting planned for next week. If you are interested to know more or to participate, you can contact me (I'm in the phone book).


I found an even better (and shorter - 2min.) primer on Peak Oil and Transition Towns:

Monday, September 20, 2010


Flashing windows correctly

I recently saw a quote that said:

there are two types of windows: Those that leak, and those that will leak1

This sums up my paranoid view of windows pretty well. We invest all this effort in making shelter with really good walls, and the we go cut big gaping holes, called windows, in those walls.

Because of our supposed "semi-arid" climate in the Yukon, the building industry has gotten very complacent in many of the water management details of our buildings. Yet, I've seen bulk water coming through windows (e.g. windows dripping water inside) even in some well built, R2000 buildings build by some of our better builders. I look around town at buildings being built, and immediate I can tell by the window detailing if the building is doomed to failure. This has made me very paranoid about water management, especially if we are trying to build "sustainable" homes.

In our SuperGreen duplex we are building, we have done the windows detailing right. However, this is far beyond "common" practice here in Whitehorse, and yet flashing windows correctly is not hard to do and does not cost much more (especially when you look at the total cost of the building!)

What we did was follow the window water management and flashing detailed prescribed by building scientist Joe Lstibruek (most succinctly illustrated in Figure 10 of his article "Drainage, Holes and Moderation ). I've reproduced those window flashing details below, without permission:
As is a chronic problem, you can't get all of these materials in Whitehorse. So, for example, noone can seem to supply flexible flashing. So, instead we used Blueskin which is carried by both Kilrich and Igloo. Here is the instructions for building a window sill backdam with Blueskin:
Make sure you use the Blueskin primer - which is basically a contact cement. This make the Blueskin stuff stick really well. Below are pictures of our pan flashing installed. Note the corner gussets. We also made the backdam (the small "ridge" at the inside edge of the sill flashing) with 3/4" wide neoprene gasket (the stuff for window and door sealing) installed before the Blueskin waterproof membrane. This gasket material made the backdam compressible in case we needed to squeeze or shim the window in, but still creates a ridge to prevent any water flowing towards the inside:

Here is another view of the sill flashing from the inside:

Not only are the windows flashed, but the door openings too:

And then, install the windows. Once the windows are on, use flashing tape to seal the window flanges. Most builders simply use the red Tuck tape, but really this tape is not rated for this application. So, we used proper flashing tape - you can get actually Typar RA in a variety of widths locally from Home Hardware.

This stuff is a rubberized asphalt tape that turns to a gooey mess that seals the window flange much better than a simple building tape. It's pretty easy to install, so no excuse for the builders.

Finally, we installed a metal trip edge flashing over the window trim, which also was sealed to the weather barrier with flashing tape. This makes sure that any water that gets behind the siding is directed outward and away from the window before it even gets to the window: a true belts and braces approach to protecting the building from its #1 enemy: water.

1BSI-039: Five Things, Building Science Corporation. April 20, 2010.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Mt. Biking with a 4-year old: Dangerous? Dumb? Maybe. Lots of Fun: Yes!

Now that the kid is getting a bit bigger, I thought it might be fun to try mountain biking. Since we got the Xtracycle for carting the kid around on, I thought I could haul him on the trails.

So, on Friday Finn and I went to ride the Boogaloo trail. Georgi packed a small picnic lunch for Finn and we headed out.

From Misc 2010

Even with the extra 42 pounds of kid and +10 pounds of the Xtracycle, the climb to the top of Boogaloo wasn't too bad. I thought I would have to walk at some point, but was able to climb all the way.
From Misc 2010

It went very well, only one crash - dropping over a log, I didn't appreciate the "low-clearance" created by the bike's long wheel base and the chain-ring drove into the log, bringing us to an abrupt stop - just a few bumps, it it didn't slow us down much.

We had a nice lunch overlooking town. Rest of the ride went well - I had to go pretty slow on the downhills because Finn got nervous. It's a fully hard bike (no suspension), so I was worried about how "rattled" he'd get - but I think the long wheel base helps smooth it out a bit.

Tonight when we went to the hospital (to see Finn's new cousin), Finn told us - "Hey, there's the bike trail we went on", remembering where we came back from the ride on - pretty good orientation for a little guy.

Anyway, mountain biking with 4-year old was a success - seems we had fun and no permanent injury!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

High performance homes and dealing with fundimental building changes

The folks at Building Sciences have just come out with an excellent article on "things we need to worry about" in our new, high performance buildings. This Building Science Insights article called "Five Things" should be a must read for anyone thinking about building a high performance, super insulated building. With these super energy efficient buildings, the consequences of "getting it wrong" are far worse than in a low-performance building.

Right now we are currently building in Takhini North what may become the most energy efficient home in Whitehorse. So, this article is a good confirmation that our design is sound for a super insulated building that will also be durable. Key things that the Building Sciences guys identified as areas of concern, we are getting right:

  • We are using no building cavities for air distribution: all of our air handling (fresh air and exhaust) is in well sealed ducts, located inside the building envelope;
    From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
  • All of our windows and doors are fully pan flashed
    From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
  • We are currently installing full flashing integrated with the siding on the exterior of the building, at all windows, doors and building intersections;
  • We have a full rain screen drainage plane behind the siding;
    From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
  • We have a SINGLE vapour barrier, located on the inside of the building (which is the right place for cold climates); and our outside of the building is allowed to dry outward (no outside vapour barrier to trap water in the wall)
    From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
  • We have no paper faced material in wet areas - cement board around the tub, no drywall outside of the building envelope and our firewall is concrete.
    From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
    Minimal use of OSB - the plywood dries much better and is less susceptible to mold.
    From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
This Building Sciences Insights article is a good confirmation that the details we are focusing on are the right steps to building a durable home that should last generations.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The most airtight home in Whitehorse?

From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
We've been working hard lately to get ready for having at least on half of the SuperGreen duplex ready for hanging the drywall. This means getting all the electrical, plumbing, ventilation and the last of the insulation all in place. But most importantly, it means completing the pre-drywall Air Leakage Test. Craig, our Energy Adviser and Green Rater, was kind enough to come late in the day Friday to do the test on #40 Nijmegan. We'd been busy for most of the day preparing the for test finding all the holes and sealing them up.

I forgot to take a picture during the blower door test, but they are pretty standard now days, so I'm sure most folks know what one is - otherwise, just look up Blower Door on Wiki.

Fixing Holes
From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
The approved method for sealing holes in a poly vapour barrier is with a poly patch, acoustical sealant and then mechanically closing (clamping) the patch. Most builders simply use the red Tuck Tape. That seems to work well enough, but technically, the red tape is not approved for sealing the vapour barrier. Because we're building this house for a long life span, we chose a "belts-and-braces" approach - the approved method of acoustical sealant and mechanical clamping AND red tape!

We also went and mechanically closed all joints in vapour barrier. Again, this is the recommended best practice, but you don't often see this being done. The issue here is that over time, as you open and close doors, it pressurizes and depressurizes the house, causing the joints in the vapour barrier to open up (think of inflating and deflating the house). To prevent the joints from opening up, you should mechanically fasten the joints closed. In our case, strips of 3/8" plywood attached to the studs did the trick.

Blower Door Test
As soon as the blower door turned on, the house very quickly depressurized. Now, that sounds like a bad thing, but it means that it is a very air tight house. In a high performance, energy efficient building, you want there to be almost no uncontrolled air leakage. Uncontrolled air leakage is a bad thing, it means either:
  • cold air leaking in (energy loss); or
  • moist indoor air leaking out (possibly damaging the building).
Of course, you need fresh air in the building, and that is why a ventilation system is so critical to a healthy building. A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is a must and we are installing just about the highest performance HRV available in the North American marketplace. In fact, because there the home will be so energy efficient, the house only requires a minimal heating system (a couple of small baseboard heaters) and so the ventilation system will be the most advanced piece of machinery in the building. Insulate well and Keep it Simple!

The pre-drywall air leakage test showed the house is extremely air tight. A common measure of "leakiness" is Air Changes per Hour (or ACH) at -50pa. The City of Whitehorse's new energy efficiency building bylaw allows a maximum leakiness of 1.5 ACH. We achieved a 0.75 ACH. My own personal house which is a GreenHome with EnerGuide Rating of 81 has 1.1 ACH.

From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
0.75 ACH may seem a bit high for such a high performance building, but this measure is a bit misleading for a small building. Air Changes per Hour are a function of building volume. So, a small hole creates a comparatively large "leak" in a small house. The same hole in a large house with a large volume would create a much lower ACH rating.

From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
Another way to look at the air leakage is the equivalent leakage area. In our case, it was only 9 sq. inches. That means if you put all the holes in this building together, it would be a 3" by 3" square! Most well built houses have on the order of 40 sq. in. of leakage area. So we are 1/4 the leakage of a well built modern house. Craig says this maybe the tightest house he's ever tested.

The house will be testing again at completion, and we anticipated the leakage will increase a bit once all the ducts are in place (range hood, dryer, etc.) that may add a bit of leakage.

Lastly, with this new, low air leakage rate, our projected EnerGuide Rating for #40 Nijmegan Rd is 86: it's well on its way to becoming the most energy efficient house in Whitehorse.

From 38 & 40 Nijmegan Road
Now we are ready to labour away over Labour Day finishing the insulation so the drywall can go on next week. Congratulations to the whole team for working hard to make this deadline and still do a quality job on this high performance home!