Fin MacDonald

Information on me and my current projects

Monthly Archives: November 2011

My Top 5 Strengths

I recently attended a leadership conference for members of the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) Student Association. Part of preparing for the conference required taking the Gallup StrengthsFinder survey (http://strengths.gallup.com/default.aspx). StrengthsFinder tells you what your top five strengths are, based on a list of 34 themes.

It is important to know what your strengths are so that you can find work that suits them. Since your strengths are what you are good at it only makes sense for you to focus on them. It is a common misconception that we should focus on what we are not good at in order to improve it.

My five top strengths are:

  • Connectedness: Believe that things happen for a reason, and that we are all a part of something bigger like a spirit or life force.
  • Futuristic: Loves to peer over the horizon to help predict what will happen next.
  • Ideation: Fascinated by ideas and likes to look at situations from different angles.
  • Empathy: Sensitive to the emotions of others and able to see the world through their eyes.
  • Strategic: Can instinctively find the way through the clutter to the best path to take. Able to see around corners.

I feel that these strengths are ideal for the type of work that I am going in to and for where I want to be later in life. Sustainability for me is something that is a necessity, not an industry. I do it because I believe that it is right, and for the greater good. This is because of the connectedness I have with the planet and other living things.

The green building industry that I want to work in has come a long way in recent years but it still has a long way to go. This is especially the case as we prepare to make the leap from green buildings to eco-districts and green cities. The futuristic ability to see over the horizon will help me make innovative contributions and stay competitive.

Ideation will couple well with that skill. My ability to look at things from different angles will allow me to come up with new ideas for things that have been done the same way for a long time. I’m entering an industry where old outdated practices reign. This skill will be essential to my success.

My empathy is related to ideation in a way, because it lets me look at things from the same angle as others. I have always gotten along well with others, and I’m sure its because I understand them. This skill will help me immensely when I interact with co-workers and it will help keep the peace if things get stressful in the workplace.

Strategic is the skill that will guide my decision making. I know where I want to be, and what my vision for the industry is. I’ll use this destination as the basis for my path to get there. Strategic is a skill that can’t be learned and I’m thankful that I have it.

The leadership conference was great because it taught me what my strengths were, and how important it is to focus on them. By understanding them and how they can apply to my career I will be able to make the best contribution possible to my field.

Greenbuild Report to the USGBC

The Scholarship Experience

The experience of being a Greenbuild Scholarship winner was quite sensational. There were about 30 of us from all over the world. As a group we got together each morning for breakfast and to talk about what we learned so far. It was great to be around like-minded individuals who share my passion for green buildings. I feel like I made new friends all over the world.

Linda Sorrento was our conference host and she made sure we knew where to be and when, and what to expect each day. The gang at USGBC really took care of us. We even got to have our picture taken with Rick Fedrizzi the CEO and founding chairman. Kimberley Lewis who is the VP of Conferences and Events at the USGBC took us out for a fabulous dinner on our last night in Toronto. Scott Hurst who is the Senior Vice President of LEED talked to us during the dinner.

I look forward to returning to Greenbuild soon, and hope to see Linda and some of my scholarship friends there again.

There were scholarship winners from Canada, the US, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, South Africa, and India. I feel like I have friends in all these countries now. We have established a network to continue to communicate after the conference and I can’t wait to see where our careers lead us all.

My Chapter Representation

As a new member of my local Canadian Green Building Council chapter, I haven’t had much opportunity to network with other members. Since Greenbuild was in Canada this year several members of the Atlantic Chapter of the CaGBC were present. Lara Ryan our executive director did a great job getting us all together each day. Some of the people I knew already but most were new to me and it was a great opportunity to get acquainted.

Emerging Green Builders

As a young professional just finishing up school I am a member of the CaGBC Emerging Green Builders. I am volunteering with the Ottawa Chapter EGB committee as I expect to relocate there once I finish school. At Greenbuild I attended a meeting of the National EGB members. We were able to meet with George Hayward who is the head of USGBC’s Emerging Professionals and learn from his experiences. I’m sure his insight will help shape our movement.

So What’s NEXT?

LEED 2012

LEED is designed to guide market transformation, and needs to stay one step ahead of the market to be effective. As manufacturers and builders adapt it is the responsibility of LEED to tighten the reigns and become even harder to achieve. Several changes have been proposed for LEED 2012. The challenge is how to make things harder without discouraging builders from pursuing. Challenges beyond LEED now exist for buildings very serious about sustainability.

Greener strategies for Homes and Beyond

LEED is great at dealing with the broader green strategies related to the construction of a building, and the Passive House standard deals with extreme energy efficiency. The two work very well together to develop a building that is comfortable, healthy, and not harmful to the environment.

Passive house is not just an energy standard, it is an integrated concept assuring the highest level of comfort. The building is designed to work with passive air circulation, which saves energy.

The energy requirements of passive house are:

Heating: 15 kWh/m2 each year
– or -
Peak Load: 10 W/m2
- and -
Total primary energy use: 120 kWh/m2 each year
– and -
Air tightness less that 0.6 air changes per hour at 50 pascals

The building practices associated with Passive House are:

  • Super insulate and use a down comforter for the slab.
  • Specify really good windows that gain heat, not loose it. Triple glazing is the norm.
  • No thermal bridges.
  • Seal all air leaks.

There is a misconception that PassivHaus needs to be a house. “Haus” in German means building and this can be anything from a school to an office building, not just a house. Passive House works in all climates, from humid to dry and cold to hot. There is even a Passive House in Alaska.

Since Passive House works so well with LEED there are efforts to provide prescriptive pathways. Someday it may be possible to earn a number of energy and atmosphere credits in LEED by building to Passive House standards. Passive House is the link between where LEED is right now and where we need to go with the Living Building Challenge.

Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge is the strictest building certification in the world. The symbol of a living building is the sunflower and there are 7 petals that make up the rating system:

  • Site
  • Water
  • Energy
  • Health
  • Materials
  • Equity
  • Beauty

You can obtain petal recognition by meeting the requirements of individual petals.

Requirements for living buildings:

  • Harvest all energy and water.
  • Adapted to their climate and site.
  • Operates pollution fee (no combustion on site).
  • Based on actual performance, not modeled performance.

Since the rating is based on actual performance and not modeled performance nobody is allowed to drop the shovels and run. Contractors are responsible for up to a year after construction to ensure building operates as it was designed to.

Some buildings have been certified as living buildings so far. They are:

  • Hawaii Preparatory Academy
  • Tyson Living Learning Center, Eureka, MO
  • Omega Center for Sustainable Living, Rhineback, NY
  • The Baird Residence, Victoria BC (Petal recognition for 4 petals)

Ecodistricts

The concept of Net Zero makes sense, but for every building to be net zero is not practical. Some buildings have a better solar resource then others, and some have more access to wind. The ability to generate on site energy is affected by location. By integrating the needs of buildings within a designated area, all buildings can benefit and achieve more with less. This concept combined with smart growth urban planning can build truly sustainable communities. Smart growth involves ensuring each area has all the businesses and amenities it needs to be self sufficient, which means less travel outside the area. The Canadian Green Building Council is working hard to bring eco-districts to Canada.

My Future

Greenbuild renewed my passion and inspired me to make a difference in my green building community. Everyone at Greenbuild including the presenters were so willing to talk and share knowledge and answer questions. I was really impressed. This is the field I want to work in. I am going to write my LEED AP for Existing Buildings and seek out a job where I can make a difference in the built environment. I am working towards learning as much as I can about approaches to green construction used throughout the world. I am becoming more active with my local chapter of the CaGBC, and creating inroads into other chapters. I can’t wait to see where I end up.

Works Cited

My Greenbuild report was created based on my experiences at Greenbuild. I used information from some of the sessions I attended when created it. The ones I took information from were:

  1. PassivHaus (Bronwyn Barry, Ross Elliot, H Prudence Ferreira)
  2. Performance Metrics from the First Five Living Buildings (Living Building Challenge)
  3. LEED 2012 (USGBC)

Energy Efficiency and the Built Environment Final Project

Our energy efficiency reports were passed in yesterday and today were the presentations. The presentations were attended by lots of students, faculty, and community members. Some students from Holland College in PEI made the trip to Halifax to watch as well.

All groups did an excellent job of their projects and presentations. Because of the different nationalities and fields of study among the participants the strategies were quite different. Each group had at least one Irish student, one Dutch student, and one Canadian. I really enjoyed experiencing the different perspectives on things.

Our group did an energy model of a large (3000 square foot) house that was built in 2005. The home was R2000 and had an Energuide rating of 83. In order to develop our report we took the following steps:

  • We collected utility data and normalized it using heating degree days. Linear regression and cumulative sum analysis was used to look for irregularities
  • We developed an energy model of the house using HOT2000. This is free software from Natural Resources Canada that allows you to simulate the energy use in a house and find out where the areas for improvement are.
  • A 3D model was built. The house drawings were supplied in AutoCAD and these were used to create a Google Sketchup model as well as a 3D rendering.
  • An on-site audit was conducted and we collected data about various systems in the house and took inventory of items we felt were inefficient. We also used thermal imaging, sound meters, air quality sensors, and a blower door. We interviewed the home owner at this time to help us understand occupant behaviour.

We were able to come up with several opportunities for energy and efficiency. These were:

  • Install energy efficient light bulbs in all fixtures.
  • Retire the second refrigerator.
  • Install a hot water tank insulating blanket.
  • Use the programmable thermostat to set back heating at night.
  • Install a real time energy monitoring system.
  • Install a solar hot water heating system.
  • Install a drain water heat recovery unit.
We also recommended the homeowner get a rain barrel to harvest rainwater for landscaping and to use mulch to increase water retention in the soil for his garden beds. All of our recommendations for the home would cut the energy consumption down by 42%. This would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8.18 tons, which is the same as planting 190 trees or taking 1.5 cars off the road. Being a part of this project was an amazing experience for me.
The international perspective was great and project based learning is a great way to learn. My field of study is quite new and I can expect to be working with people from other disciplines mostly, so the experience was priceless.
You can download a copy of our final report with recommendations here.

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