Fin MacDonald

Information on me and my current projects

Monthly Archives: July 2011

LEED for Homes – Pre Drywall Inspection

The pre drywall inspection is the first required site inspection in the LEED for Homes process. A green rater will need to visit the site to inspect the wall cavity. This step is crucial because once the drywall goes up it is impossible to inspect and verify many of the requirements for certification. This step must be completed and any home looking to pursue LEED certification must enroll before the drywall goes up to allow for this inspection. I recently helped with a pre drywall inspection on a building targeting LEED Platinum.

The inspection involves checking to make sure that the insulation is properly installed in the wall cavity. If it is batting insulation it must not be compressed or it won’t prevent air from moving and will perform poorly. Other insulation types should evenly fill the cavity. It is also important to check that the vapour barrier is in place and properly sealed. Any insulation problems that are identified during the inspection can be fixed before the drywall is applied.

It is also required that all ductwork be sealed to prevent contamination with construction debris. Ducts contaminated with dust and other debris will need to be cleaned, which is very difficult, or they will have adverse effects on the indoor air quality. Duct sealing is required by LEED and the pre drywall inspection will make sure that this step is completed.

Any LEED checklist items that are located behind the walls must also be verified at this time. For example, if the home was hoping to earn points for having pipes insulated this would have to be verified now, while the pipes are still visible.

The wall cavities need to be inspected before the drywall covers them up for good.

Blower Door

I have recently been getting some experience using a blower door. This is a device that is used to measure the amount of air infiltration in a building. The amount of air changes per hour that occur because of air passing through cracks in the buildings envelope has a big impact on the energy used for heating and cooling. Air leaks generally occur at the seams around windows, doors, and other holes. An R2000 home should have less than 1.5 ACH (air changes per hour) while a passive house sets its standard at 0.6 ACH.

The blower door connects to an exterior door frame of the building and covers the entire opening. It uses a large fan to create a pressure difference of 50 pascals between the interior and the exterior. Once the pressure difference is in place you can check for leaks in the building envelope by using smoke. If you see smoke being drawn through the envelope you mark the area and come back and seal it better after the test.

I recently took part in a blower door test for a passive house. Since 0.6 ACH is so low and hard to achieve the builder had a preliminary blower door test done early in the construction process to identify problem areas while they could still be fixed. Often blower door tests are done at the end of the construction when it is too late to fix problems, and I was impressed with the extra steps being taken to ensure efficiency.

The blower door I used is called the Minneapolis Blower Door and is manufactured by the Energy Conservatory.

Blower door set up on a passive house

LEED for Homes – Preliminary Evaluation

I recently took part in a LEED for Homes preliminary evaluation. This is the first step in the LEED for Homes process and involves going through all of the requirements for LEED Certification before construction of the home starts. Starting the process early is key because it allows all parties involved to set clear goals and performance requirements. This is important because many LEED credits don’t add cost but they must be initiated early in the design process. LEED uses an Integrative Design Process which means all parties involved (owner, builder, architect, landscaper etc) collaborate throughout the process instead of working independently.

The categories for LEED for Homes are:
1) Sustainable Sites
2) Energy and Atmosphere
3) Material and Resources
4) Water Efficiency
5) Indoor Environmental Quality
6) Innovation in Design
7) Location and Linkages
8) Awareness and Education
The last two are LEED for Homes specific. Location and Linkages works to ensure that the home is located in a developed area within walking distance of amenities and public transportation. This helps prevent urban sprawl. Awareness and Education helps promote LEED for Homes by encouraging you to hold an open house for the community, as well as install LEED signage to highlight your recognition.

The project team goes through the LEED for Homes checklist and identifies what it is capable of achieving. The prerequisites are the most important part because the project cannot be certified without meeting these. In additional to specific prerequisites LEED for Homes also has minimum point thresholds in each of the categories. The team confirms it can meet the prerequisites and identifies which credits it can achieve and which ones it might be able to achieve. The spreadsheet tallies up the total credit points as well as the credit points that may be possible. Depending on how many points the team thinks they can obtain the project sets the target for Certified (Lowest), Silver Certified, Gold Certified, or Platinum Certified (Highest).

LEED for Homes contains a home size adjuster and is the only LEED program to contain such an adjustment. It is designed to reward those who build a smaller home instead of a larger one. The spreadsheet will use the size of the home and the number of bedrooms to calculate this adjustment and determine the point thresholds for each level of certification (Silver, Gold etc). Homes of the same size will do better if they have more bedrooms.

Finally an accountability form is filled out which identifies which member of the project team is responsible for which prerequisites or credits. This form will guide the team through the LEED for Homes process.

Did I mention that LEED for Homes is the only 3rd party verified rating system in the country for homes? For more information on the LEED for Homes rating system visit the Canadian Green Building Council.

Evolve Music & Awareness Festival

This time of year I am swamped with preparation work for the Evolve Music and Awareness Festival. Evolve was conceived over 12 years ago by my close friend Joe MacEachern, and the Evolve team is now lead by Jonas Colter. Jonas has transformed the festival into a world class event in recent years, and it has recently been voted the #1 music festival in Canada by the listeners of CBC Radio 3. I have been volunteering with the Evolve Festival for 7 years now, and it has been a very satisfying experience. Evolve has strived since the beginning to be as environmentally friendly as possible. This was not as mainstream 12 years ago as it is today.

My work with the Evolve Festival traditionally involves making sure that all the Artists, VIP, Vendors, Medics, and of course Staff have their passes and security clearance, and working the gate to greet them on Friday. Preparing the backstage passes alone takes over 2 weeks of work in the evenings leading up to the show. I am also always available to help others with whatever they need leading up to the show. This year I plan to take it a step further and use some of my new skills to conduct a full energy assessment of the Evolve Festival. This will be a particularly interesting task for me because it is so different than any other energy audit I have done. Using energy sustainably fits excellently with Evolve’s environmental philosophy.

The festival won’t be all work and no fun of course, and there are over 120 different acts performing this year. For more information on the Evolve Festival vist http://www.evolvefestival.com.

Let the Studying Begin: LEED AP (Operations and Maintenance)

I have started studying for my next LEED exam. I am planning to write the LEED Accredited Professional exam with the Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance specialty. It was a tough decision between this and the LEED for Homes specialty, which I still plan to earn someday. LEED Operations and Maintenance is a rating system that certifies that an existing building is operated and maintained in an environmentally sustainable way. This differs from the other LEED rating systems that deal with the construction of the building only.

Buildings that certify under the Operations & Maintenance program need to stay current, and re-certify at least every five years. Buildings earn credits in the following categories:
- Sustainable Sites
- Water Efficiency
- Energy and Atmosphere
- Materials and Resources
- Indoor Environmental Quality
- Innovation in Design

The key areas of difference are the Energy and Atmosphere and Indoor Environmental Quality. Building energy systems need to be commissioned regularly to make sure they are working the way that they were originally intended too. This is often not done once, let alone every 5 years. Buildings can also earn points for using environmentally friendly cleaning products and equipment. There is even a point available for using sustainable and local food sources for the food court or cafeteria of the building.

The reference manual for LEED EB:O&M is 542 pages long. This is significantly larger than the book for the LEED Green Associate exam. I am giving myself a year to prepare for and write this exam. I’m planning to take it slow and study hard. By the time I graduate from NSCC I plan to be a LEED AP.

Studying hard for my LEED AP exam

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