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A PassiveHouse Heating System

Passive House is a building certification program that focuses on dramatically improving the energy efficiency of new and renovated buildings. Overseen in this country by the Canadian Passive House Institute (CanPHI), the standard originated in Germany in the late 1980s and buildings that comply with the standard will have energy use reduced by 80-90% from current Canadian code requirements. Specifically, Passive House buildings must have an annual heating and cooling demand of not more than 15 kilowatt hours per square meter of building (15 kWh/m²) per year, and total primary energy (calculated as source energy, not metered energy at the building) must not exceed 120 kWh/m² per year. In addition, an air tight building enclosure is a requirement, with leakage no greater than 0.6 times the house volume per hour as tested with a blower door (0.6 ACH/hour at 50Pa).

The teachers’ union office is our first building designed to meet the Passive House standard, though we have used the Passive House software as our energy modelling software for the past three years. Although we were not intending to have the building certified, we wanted to meet the standard and achieve the energy reductions using our low-energy, low-impact range of building materials. We worked with Rob Blakeney of Local Impact Design to model the building and advise us on insulation levels, passive solar aspects and to design the heating system.

While the term “passive house” is an attractive one, it is quite misleading as the buildings do not feature passive (ie, non-mechanical) systems. In fact, Passive House buildings typically require a mechanical ventilation system to run 24 hours a day. The leap to Passive House standards means that conventional heating systems can often be left out of the design, and instead buildings can be heated with small amounts of heat input into the ventilation air distribution system or other low-input systems.

At the teachers’s union building, a 1 kilowatt heater is used in each of the three main ventilation air supply ducts to provide heat to the three offices. In general, this is the main source of heat for the building. A ductless mini-split air source heat pump is in place in the large meeting room and can provide additional heat capacity when required (though its inclusion in the system had more to do with meeting peak cooling demands in the summer). Through this year’s very cold February weather, the system had no problem keeping the building warm and comfortable… pretty impressive given that the heat source is the equivalent of running two toasters!

We were keen to build to Passive House standards because the most typical means to reach this level of performance has been to use a lot of foam insulation to achieve the necessary R-values and air tightness. We wanted to bring our low-impact, locally-sourced material palette to the challenge, using straw bales, cellulose, clay plaster and simple air tightness detailing to the highest levels of performance. In this way, we can lower both the energy use of the building, and also the embodied energy. Walking into the building when it is -25C outside and feeling the wash of warm, fresh air and knowing that the heat source is minuscule has been very satisfying!

Net metering PV now functional

The use of photovoltaics (PV) to generate electricity has been a common element on most of our projects. PV is affordable, easy to install, nearly maintenance free and very reliable. Once again, a PV array has been a key part of the energy strategy for an Endeavour project.

In Ontario, we are able to create grid-tied PV systems, allowing owners to sell some or all of their generated power to the utility company, and also to use grid power when necessary. Grid-tied PV can allow for systems that are sized to meet the owner’s needs, while still ensuring that power is available at all times. For PV to be used off-grid, generating capacity and storage capacity (in the form of batteries) must be sized to meet needs at the worst time of the year (mid-winter, when power needs are high and the amount of available sunlight is low), making the system expensive and likely to over-generate in the summer months.

There are two systems for owners to connect PV systems to the grid in Ontario:

  • Under the Micro-FIT program the system owner installs two meters, one for outgoing power being sold to the utility company and one for incoming power to be used in the building. The owner receives a cheque for the full value of power generated (currently 38.4 cents per kilowatt hour), and receives a bill for the full value of power consumed (currently around 11 cents per kilowatt hour). Under Micro-FIT, an owner can generate a financial profit even if production is less than consumption.
  • Under the Net Metering program the owner has a single meter, and that meter spins in two directions, “forward” when power is being consumed from the utility grid and “backward” when generation is greater than consumption. Under Net Metering, the power has the same monetary value in either direction. Should production outweigh consumption, a credit will be carried forward on the utility bill (up to a maximum of 11 months). At best, a Net Metering customer can reduce to zero the usage charges on their bill, but can never earn money.

The teachers’ union did not qualify to apply for a Micro-FIT contract, as the restrictions for the program have been growing ever narrower as it becomes more popular. However, with the cost of PV so low now, the economic argument for a Net Metering system is a reasonable one. Combine drastically lowered utility bills with reasonable pay back period and a desire to be part of a renewable energy solution, and you have the grounds for the union’s investment in this 7.5 kilowatt system.

Sean Flanagan of Flanagan and Sun came by this week to turn the system on. With the array and the outdoor connections already made, it was a simple process to turn on the inverter and make sure all the settings were right. Luckily, it was a fairly sunny day and we were able to see about 5 kilowatts of production head out onto the grid when the system became live.

The combination of the PV array and a contract with Bullfrog Power (which we strongly recommend to all our clients) means that 100% of the energy produced and used by this building is from renewable sources.

2015 Natural Building Workshops

Endeavour’s 2015 workshop schedule is our most extensive ever! Check out topics ranging from natural plastering to fundamentals of building science, earthen floors to straw bale construction… The link to our calendar is here, and from there you can jump to the details for each workshop.

2015 workshop list

Final “Report Card” for Canada’s Greenest Home

In 2012, we had a vision of creating a spec-home on an urban infill lot in central Peterborough, a home that would aspire to the very highest standards of sustainable building while also achieving a modern aesthetic that would appeal to a wide range of potential homeowners. We also wanted to build the home in a way that could be easily reproduced by any conventional contractor.

One of our key goals was to ensure that we weren’t just promising improved environmental performance, but that we were achieving measurable results. Having occupied the home for just over a year, we have now had a chance to monitor its performance and calculate a variety of metrics, comparing these to the more conventional homes that share the marketplace. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results, as summarized in the graphic above.

Performance statistics for Canada's Greenest Home

While the performance of the house marks a vast improvement over current practices, perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that this level of performance was not difficult to achieve. Any builder can hit this standard of performance, and do so within the cost range that is currently acceptable in the market. While this project made some more costly investments in PV, rainwater harvesting, composting toilets and solar hot water, a home built to the same level of performance without these “add-ons” would be entirely cost-competitive. And other than the solar income, most of the metrics above would not change if we didn’t invest in these technologies.

Literally anybody can do this type of building, and do it affordably. We intentionally chose to buy off-the-shelf or easily accessible materials and products, from Durisol foundation blocks to prefabricated straw bale wall panels to ready-made clay and lime paints. Everything in this home is available to builders, and every builder already has the skills to create something like this.

This feels like good news when we’re faced with an onslaught of doom-and-gloom news about the environment. Not that this home will save the planet, but when it comes to easily achieved results that have dramatic reductions in impact, the reproduction of homes like this could be a remarkable step in the right direction. Government forecasts show that the US expects about 1,000,000 new home starts per month in 2015, and Canada expects about 190,000. If all of those homes reduced their energy use by the same amount as this project, that would be 89,250,000 gigajoules of energy savings, 189,210,000 liters of water saved, and 156,017,330 gigajoules of saved embodied energy. Those are meaningful numbers (the equivalent of the output of many nuclear generating stations!), and they are immediately achievable.

When we called this project “Canada’s Greenest Home” we were not trying to set an example that would set an untouchable record for green performance. Instead, we were trying to set a standard that would be inspirational in its final performance and entirely reproducible, so that every new home could easily be this green. We feel we’ve achieved this goal. The rest is now up to home owners, home builders and governments to take this example and adopt and improve it.

Thatch roof update

In 2009, we undertook the first permitted thatch roof in Ontario as part of the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre on the nature preserve grounds at Trent University. This roof sits atop a timber framed entryway for the building and greets all those arriving at this busy public building. The roof is nearing the end of its fifth winter, and a hike along the nature trails near the building gave us a chance to inspect the thatch under a blanket of snow and find that it is still water-tight and holding up very well.

Thatching is a roof system that has ancient origins and is still widely used in a modern context… just not in North America. Only a small handful of buildings on this continent have thatched roofs, and the skill set is extremely limited. This despite the fact that the material for thatching roofs is a widely available invasive reed known as phragmites (or elephant grass). An abundant supply of these reeds grows along many highway medians and ditches.

Thatched roofs exist in a wide range of climates world-wide, with the northern European roofs in countries like Denmark and Germany most closely representing Canadian conditions. In these places, thatching typically lasts 40-70 years, an impressive improvement over the commonly used 25 year asphalt shingles.

The actual process of thatching a roof is a bit more labour intensive than conventional shingling, though experienced crews in Europe move a rate that is not far off conventional practice here. For our project, the manual harvesting and preparation of the reeds was the most labour-intensive aspect. This would be quite easy to mechanize (as has been done elsewhere in the world), which would make thatching a much more viable proposition in this part of the world.

Given that the material for thatching grows annually, for free, along our highways, and that the environmental impact and working lifespan of this type of roof are far better than conventional options, it would be great to see more thatching happening in this part of the world.

Endeavour Seeking Board Members

As an incorporated not-for-profit organization, The Endeavour Centre has a board of directors that oversees the mission and goals of the school and assists with key areas of the school’s operations.

Several members of Endeavour’s current board are leaving at the end of their current terms after several years of service (some have been on board since Endeavour’s inception!). We are looking for people with an interest in Endeavour’s mission and goals to keep the board healthy and vital.

If you might be interested, here is a description of the roles and expectations of board members:

Member of the Board of Directors Job Description and Expectations

Purpose:

To advise and oversee the policies and leadership of the organization and promote The Endeavour Centre so as to support the organization’s mission and needs.

Mission:

Achieving sound social and environmental change through sustainable building.

Endeavour is a sustainable building learning centre. We deliver unique full-time and workshop programs on a wide variety of sustainable and natural building materials and technologies. Hands-on learning is our focus, and positive sustainable change is our goal.

Major responsibilities:

Organizational leadership and advising Formulation and oversight of policies and procedures Financial management, including adoption and oversight of the annual budget and

project budgets Oversight of program planning and evaluation Serve on one of Endeavour’s standing committees based on expertise (fundraising,

human resources, marketing, or partnerships) Review of organizational and programmatic reports Act as an ambassador for the organization

Length of term:

Two years, with an option for renewal, beginning April 2015.

Meetings and time commitment:

The board of directors meets six times per year. Meeting duration is a maximum of 2 hrs.

Committees of the board meet an average of six times per year, pending their respective work agenda.

Outside of meetings, board members may be required to do 2-5 hours of work per month in order to contribute to their committee’s progress and plans.

Board members are asked to attend no more than two special events or meetings per year, as they are determined.

Qualifications:

This is an opportunity for an individual who is passionate about Endeavour’s mission and who has a track record of board leadership.

Ideal candidates will have the following qualifications:

  • An understanding of Endeavour’s mission and goals, and a commitment to help the organization grow.
  • Some professional experience in business, government, philanthropy, or the nonprofit sector.
  • Have experience in one of the following capacities: fundraising, human resources, marketing or community partnerships.
  • Affinity for cultivating relationships and building consensus among diverse individuals.
  • Live in the Peterborough area or be able to commute to Peterborough for meetings.

Expectations for board members:

  • Attend and participate in meetings on a regular basis, and special events as able.
  • Participate on a standing committee of the board, and serve on ad-hoc committees as necessary.
  • Commit to spending time on Endeavour outside of meetings.
  • Be alert to community partnerships that can be built to further Endeavour’s mission, goals, and objectives. This is a volunteer position and therefore no remuneration will be offered.

 

 

Deadline for applications is March 31, 2015. Send applications to contact at endeavourcentre dot org

Please consider joining us and being part of this exciting, dynamic organization!

 

Earthbag Building Workshop

September 5, 2015earthbag building workshop

Instructors: Jen Feigin & Chris Magwood

Workshop Description:

Learn how to make a low-cost, low-impact, durable earthbag foundation for any type of building, from small shed to full-sized home!

Earthbag building is a low-tech solution to making foundations (or entire buildings) using basic materials and simple tools. Drawing on the age-old technique of rammed earth building, earthbag uses woven sack material to provide a ready-made, leave-in-place formwork for containing rammed earth mixtures.

Earthbag construction can often use site soils as the basis for the rammed earth mix, or local gravel, sand, clay (or other binders) can be used.

In this workshop you will learn how to source the materials for earthbag building, how to test soils for suitability, how to create a suitable rammed earth mix, and how to layout, fill and tamp earthbags to create a stable, level foundation structure. The workshop will also examine how earthbag can be mated with a variety of different conventionl and alternative wall systems. Engineering and code approvals will also be covered.

At the end of this workshop, you will be ready to construct your own earthbag foundation for your own project!

Entry Requirements
Open to all

Fee
Early bird – $150
Regular – $200
Fees include healthy lunch (vegan and vegetarian options available)

Maximum class size: 12

Natural, Non-toxic Eco-Paints Workshop

natural non-toxic paintMay 17, 2015

July 25, 2015

Instructor: Jen Feigin & Chris Magwood

Workshop Description:

Learn how to make and use a wide range of natural, non-toxic eco-paints that are beautiful, healthy, durable and affordable.

Our homes contain hundreds of square feet of painted surfaces, and most of them are covered with petrochemical products. Even the latest “no-VOC” paints contain chemical compounds that are bad for the environment in their production, disposal and during their lifespan on our walls. Fortunately, there is an exciting array of paints that are made from all-natural materials, and that are completely non-toxic and biodegradable.

In this workshop, you will learn about a wide range of commercially available paint options, including clay, lime, casein and natural oil paints, as well discover recipes for making your own versions of these paints.

The workshop will cover sourcing paints and ingredients, preparing surfaces (including surfaces that have already been painted) and mixing paints and pigments. You will have the opportunity to apply numerous paints to different surfaces and learn the techniques for working with natural paints.

After this workshop, you will be able to redecorate your existing home or plan the finishes for a new home using only natural, healthy paints.

Entry Requirements
Open to all

Fee
Early Bird – $150
Regular – $200
Fees include healthy lunch (vegan and vegetarian options available)

Maximum class size: 12

Rocket Stove/Rocket Mass Heater workshop

June 12-14, 2015how to build a rocket mass heater

Instructor: Andrew Brunning

Workshop Description:

Learn how to make your own high efficiency wood heating device for your own home!

A Rocket Mass Heater (RMH) is a super-efficient wood-fired heating system composed of two parts: Part One is a rocket stove, consisting of a feed tube, burn tunnel and heat riser; Part Two is the mass chimney, through which hot exhaust gases from the rocket stove are ducted into a thermal heat storage made of masonry materials like cob, stone, urbanite or brick.  All of the heat that goes up the chimney with a conventional wood stove is saved and stored in a Rocket Mass Heater.  The heated up Mass can radiate heat for up to 48hrs or longer after the fire is out. A RMH can also incorporate a cooking surface and an oven, and can be finished to become a beautiful centrepiece in a home.

Unlike open tube rocket stoves, a RMH can have a sealed combustion chamber and allow users to stoke a firebox with a long burn time. This make a RMH much more appropriate for heating homes and other spaces where open combustion is not desirable.

In this workshop, you will learn about the design parameters for making a RMH, and will assist in the full construction of a functional heater, from creating an insulated base to laying out the chimney, from assembling the fire brick core to putting on a decorative finish.

The workshop will pay particular attention to appropriate design, sourcing of materials and the use of recycled and natural building materials in the creation of a RMH.

Instructor Andrew Brunning is the proprietor of rocketmassheater.ca.

Entry Requirements
Open to all

Fee
Early Bird -$400
Regular – $450
Fees include healthy lunch (vegan and vegetarian options available)

Maximum class size: 12

Registration Open for Sustainable New Construction 2015: Tiny Home Build

Endeavour’s popular Sustainable New Construction program is accepting applications for the 2015: Tiny Home Build offering. The program is full time from June 29 – August 28.

2014 4 endorsementsYou can be part of creating a tiny home from design ideas to final finishes, learning how to choose and work with sustainable building materials and off-grid mechanical systems along the way. This is an ideal program for those looking to move into sustainable building as a career, or for those wanting to build their own sustainable home, tiny or large!

To apply, contact us and send a resume and a cover letter telling us why you’re an ideal candidate for this program.

You can find all the details of the program on the program page.

 

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