Fin MacDonald

Information on me and my current projects

CaGBC Ottawa Region Emerging Green Builders

I have been volunteering for the past year with the Canada Green Building Council’s Emerging Green Builders (EGB).  The EGB work with their local CaGBC chapters to put on events for students and new professionals.  The main goal is to attract young and new professionals to the green industry.  Another benefit of the EGB committee is that it allows new professionals to take on group leadership roles earlier in their careers, and is training the CaGBC leaders of tomorrow.  I am currently the Vice-Chair of the Ottawa Region EGB, and in the past I held the role of Finance Director.

In Ottawa we have had one successful year already and we have an ambitious plan for another great year ahead.  In the past we have held events like:

  • Holiday Party
  • Residential Panel Discussion for Green Homes
  • Green Building Bike Tour

We also assisted the Ottawa CaGBC Chapter with the Eco-Logical student design competition.

We will be running similar events again this year. We also have plans to host a Green Jobs 101 event which will showcase different green career options and give attendees the chance to discuss required skills and job opportunities 1-on-1 with industry leaders.

If you are interested attending events or joining your local EGB group, contact your local CaGBC chapter (http:www.cagbc.org).

What Makes LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations + Maintenance So Great?

I have been working on an existing building that is targeting LEED Platinum for the past few months.  I believe that the greenest building is one that is already built.  This rating system allows existing buildings to certify as green by making their operations as sustainable as possible.  This is my first LEED EBOM project, and I’ve noticed 3 great improvements between this rating system and the one for new construction.

The first big improvement I see is that most of the credits are based on actual performance rather than modeled or estimated performance.  This rating system has an advantage because the building has already been built, but that doesn’t make it less great.  Some of the areas you see this with are the energy consumption, water consumption, light pollution, and alternative transportation credits.

The second big improvement is that tenants are engaged in the process.  In a new construction job most LEED work is done before the tenants move in, but in LEED EBOM your success depends on them.  Tenant purchases, commuting behavior, energy and water use, recycling and waste habits, and overall comfort all have an effect on how many credits the building earns.  By involving the tenants you also get the opportunity to educate them on the affects their decisions can have on the buildings sustainability.  LEED EBOM has the profound ability to affect behavior!

The third big improvement is that certification is not for the life of the building, as it is with a LEED for New Construction building.  LEED for Existing Buildings certification is only good for up to 5 years.  At this point the building needs to re-certify in order to keep their plaque on the wall.  This means they have to keep up the good work!  The building is also able to try for additional credits every time it recertifies, and there is the opportunity to recertify at a higher level than before.  This encourages continuous improvement.

I have only been working on the job with LEED EBOM for the past couple months, but I’m sure I will find more things I like about the rating system as I go on.  I’m looking forward to more exciting and engaging LEED EBOM projects.

This Year’s Greenbuild Education Sessions

The hardest part about preparing for Greenbuild each year is choosing the education sessions you will attend. There are so many exciting ones to choose from. This year I am choosing sessions that fit into one of three categories.

1) Support my career in green building operations
2) Support my role helping students and young professionals through the Canadian Emerging Green Builders Committee
3) Inspiring topics

Here is what I have chose to see in November:

Creating Green Career Pathways at Community Colleges
Dee Patel
Jessica Gutierrez
Thomas Darling

This session will inspire innovative ways to create green career pathways at community colleges. Presenters will spark an interactive discussion on how colleges can prepare students for green careers through both curricular and co-curricular opportunities. Participants will begin to outline action plans to bring these opportunities to their communities.

Master Speaker Candy Chang
Candy Chang

Candy Chang is an artist, designer, and urban planner who explores making cities more comfortable and contemplative places. By combining street art with urban planning, social activism, and philosophy, she has been recognized as a leader in developing new strategies for the design of our cities.

The Integrative Design Process and LEED 

Bill Reed
John Boecker

The Integrative Process is now a formal LEED Credit in v2012. Participants will learn the fundamental methods and benefits of utilizing the Integrative Process to achieve enhanced environmental and project performance, cost effectiveness, and value relative to conventional approaches in project design and real estate development.

Trials of Designing a Living Building in Cold Climates 

Matthew Conti
Matthew Plecity
Larry Jones

This session will compare the challenges of designing to meet the Living Building Challenge’s net-zero criteria in two different cold climates – Alaskan and Northeastern United States. Discussion will include project concepts/goals/expectations as well as the analyses used to determine which method of design was deemed best for each climate.

GAP: Experiential Learning By Crowdsourcing a LEED Project 

Keith Schneringer
Robert Thiele
Doug Kot

The Green Assistance Program (GAP) facilitates community education about sustainable building operations while simultaneously greening an actual building. The San Diego Green Building Council has developed this innovative approach to LEED project management, combining elements of crowdsourcing and experiential learning to assemble a community-benefit LEED EBOM project team.

EcoBalance Design – measuring success through life cycles 

Kathy Zarsky
Pliny Fisk III
Gail Vittori

We explore ecoBalance Design through a biomimicry lens to integrate balance as a pragmatic performance metric, and cycles as an overarching design discipline to sustain basic life support systems across life cycles (source/process/use/re-source), both informed by ecological frameworks. The session will engage participants to test-drive concepts and gamestorm examples.

Turf Wars: Institutionalizing Green Streets in San Francisco 

Rachel Kraai
Kris Opbroek
Adam Varat

This session will explore how San Francisco’s City agencies are working to implement the City’s vision for complete, green streets through greater capital project coordination, creation of project manager resources, and development of a triple-bottom line analysis to assess design options, by leading participants in a real-life design problem.

Permaculture: Principles & Practices of Regenerative Design 

Jillian Hovey

Permaculture is more than agriculture: it is a wholistic design methodology focused on developing human settlements that have the resilient properties of natural ecosystems. Tied into the essence of regenerative systems, permaculture design principles can play an important role in the green building communities, moving us towards a sustainable future.

The Science and Design of Biophilic Urbanism 

Bert Gregory
Timothy Beatley
Judith Heerwagon

How do we create biophilic cities? Ones that are in tune with ecological systems, foster place-based relationships, and embody the attributes of nature in their design. This research paper presentation and discussion of biophilic principles will explore how to integrate these concepts into the design of our neighborhoods and cities.

Adaptive & Dynamic Buildings – The Future of Architecture 

Steve Selkowitz
Markus Zawierta
Rick Morris

What if you could design a building that could think, move, react and adapt to real-time weather conditions? What if it provided more satisfied tenants, energy savings, and enhanced aesthetics. Learn more about emerging technologies and design principles that make dynamic facades the newest standard in green building and design.

Greenbuild Bound: Thank you USGBC

Last year I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship to attend Greenbuild in Toronto. While I was there I learned that the next year it would be in San Francisco. I was so jealous of those who would win the same scholarship for this year. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it to San Francisco. I was wrong.

This week I registered for Greenbuild in San Francisco. I’m travelling with the Canadian National Emerging Green Builders Committee. I am the Ottawa Region Chapter of the CaGBC’s representative. The USGBC is allowing our group to volunteer 8 hours each in exchange for admission. This is reducing the financial strain quite substantially. I’ve also been able to book a flight using airmiles, and I found a hostel near the conference center for a steal of a deal.

The theme this year is Build Smarter, and it is no coincidence that it is being held in San Francisco. The Silicon Valley is the cradle of technology, and this years conference is focused on how to use technology and modern ideas to improve the built environment. Greenbuild is of course much more than buildings, and this year more than ever there is a focus on neighbourhoods, cities, and human behaviour.

I’m really looking forward to the networking opportunities, as well as the opportunity to meet my Morrison Hershfield colleagues from across North America. Its going to be an adventure, and when its over I’ll be able to directly apply my new knowledge in the workplace.

Nov 14th – 16th, 2012. I can’t wait!

Canada’s Newest LEED AP

Today marks a big achievement for me. I passed my LEED Accredited Professional exam with the Existing Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M) specialty. I have been studying for this exam off and on for almost a year now. My college exams and the European exchange trip I was on caused some major delays in writing. I put a big push on in the last couple of weeks to be able to write this before my summer vacation starts next week.

This is what the Green Building Certification Institute who manages the certification has to say about it:

“The LEED AP Building Operations + Maintenance credential demonstrates the exceptional expertise of green building professionals implementing sustainable practices, improving performance, heightening efficiency and reducing environmental impact in existing buildings through enhanced operations and maintenance. Those who hold the LEED AP O+M credential are vanguards in their industry, transforming the built environment and possessing thorough knowledge of the LEED rating systems and their implementation.”

The exam was very challenging and required memorization and application of a wide range of information. The reference guide for LEED O+M is over 700 pages long and the pass mark on the exam is 85%.

There are a huge amount of buildings that have been constructed over recent years to the LEED standard, but this deals with construction only. How these buildings are operated is exclusive of that. Buildings that were constructed to LEED standards are eligible for LEED O+M, but so are buildings that were not built to LEED standards. Raising the bar on our existing building stock is a big step towards a greener built environment.

I’m looking forward to applying my new credentials in the work place. I believe the next wave of LEED work will be for existing buildings. I am particularly interested in the greening of existing schools because of the impacts of green buildings on learning. I plan to seek out opportunities to improve the learning environment for students.

Fin MacDonald, LEED AP O+M

My NSCC Experience

Going back to school was a tough decision. I wasn’t happy in my old career and knew I needed to get out. I looked around at the different college programs that were available. I needed something quick. I already had a 4 year business degree but I needed a skill, otherwise I would be stuck in an office forever. I found the energy sustainability engineering technology program and went for it.

Fast forward 2 years and here I am all finished. I can honestly say that the Nova Scotia Community College taught me just as much in two years as I learned in four years of university. The most important lessons I learned were lessons about myself, and what I was capable of. NSCC strives to build students confidence. This is in stark contrast with universities who force you to compete with each other for ranking, and work hard to weed out the unworthy.

As we grow older we learn in different ways. NSCC uses a completely hands on approach to learning. “Learning by doing.” Granted, there were some theory based courses I had to take but everything was applied to real world projects before the end of the program.  We had a fully functional, state of the art residential building on campus for us to test, monitor, and learn from. One of my final exams was to troubleshoot the building automation system, and my instructor even had his wife come in on exam day to play the role of the angry customer.

My classmates were awesome. We learned just as much from each other as we did from the instructors. In an academic environment without ranking and competition students are much more willing to help each other succeed. As we split up to take on our new careers, I will miss everyone. I hope to get the opportunity to work with some of them again in the future in the working world.

NSCC also has a great international department, and I was fortunate enough to be selected to take part in an international exchange program with students from Ireland and the Netherlands. Learning about energy efficiency in different countries teaches you things that you could never learn at home.

I’m tremendously satisfied with my experience at NSCC, and after graduating with honors I’m tremendously proud as well. I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Sustainable Transportation: Bus vs Car

Since I arrived in Ottawa I have been thinking of ways to make my day-to-day life more sustainable. An obvious choice was to use transit year round. It also makes financial sense because the wear and tear on my car driving around the city in addition to the gas I burn would be far more expensive than a bus pass (OC Transpo sells an adult pass for $94 per month). I was interested in finding out what the difference in the carbon footprint was.

I own a 2003 Hyundai Elantra and it certainly doesn’t get the fuel efficiency that it did when it rolled out of the factory. I’ve done some searching online and I’m satisfied that I can do my calculations using a fuel efficiency of 9.4 Liters per 100 km (25 miles per gallon or 0.09 kilometers per liter). My commute would be 6 km, the traffic moves steadily with very little idling.

Calculating the fuel efficiency of the bus is where things become a little more complex. I ride the bus during rush hour. The bus has anywhere from 25-30 people on it, and my ride takes about 30 minutes. It takes a less direct route to my office, which is 7.1 km. The problem is that outside of rush hour the OCTranspo buses drive around with very few people on them, and also need to drive to and from the start of their routes at shift change with nobody but the driver on board. For this reason I am going to calculate the energy footprint of two bus scenarios. Scenario 1 will only consider the bus ride I take to and from work and ignore everything else. Scenario 2 will consider the total fuel OCTranspo burns in a year, and how many total passenger kilometers it delivers to customers. According to the most recent OCTranspo Facts and Figures report, they provided 973 million passenger kilometers and burned 41.8 million liters of diesel fuel.

Carbon Footprint Calculations – For each one way trip

The end result is that no matter how you measure it, the bus has less of an impact than my car. Interestingly enough though if I were to carpool I could reduce my impact into the same range as the bus, but have a much more convenient trip. The problem with carpooling is that it is hard to organize and not always an option.

Its transit for me!

USGBC Center For Green Schools – Spotlight on 2011 Greenbuild Scholars

I was recently featured on the United States Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools website. Read my blog entry.

Moving and Sustainability

There is not much sustainable about moving half way across the country, and this is something that has plagued me over the last few weeks as we prepared for our move. I’ve been trying to come up with ways to reduce the environmental footprint of our move, and to give some consideration to the social impact as well. The triple bottom line involving environmental, social, and economic impacts is something I place a lot of value in.

The first thing that we have done is to purge as much of our stuff as possible to cut down on the weight we will be moving. Fundamental thermodynamics says that the force required to move something is equal to the mass times the acceleration. Since we can’t control the acceleration the movers use, we have to adjust the mass to reduce the energy required. We also chose to hire movers so that our belongings are moved in a large truck with many other peoples belongings. This means it will be much more efficient than moving it in a half empty U-Haul by ourselves.

Other problems presents themselves because we will need to replace the things we purge when we get there, and producing new products requires energy too. We also need to divert what we purge from the landfill. The embodied energy associated with what we are throwing out and what we are replacing is difficult to calculate. The solution we have come up with for this is to leave everything we no longer want on the sidewalk for people in our neighbourhood to take. The vast majority of what we placed outside has found new homes, and the less fortunate and student populations in our neighbourhood benefited from this. Some people even stopped us on the street to thank us for putting so much stuff outside to give away. Reusing is the second of the 3 Rs for a reason, and the best way to divert things from a landfill. The remainder of the things will be recycled if possible and we will send to the landfill only what we cannot divert. Once we arrive in Ottawa we will try to stock our apartment with items from yard sales. This will allow us to reuse other peoples items they no longer want, and reduce the embodied energy. It will also help us financially as we try to establish ourselves in a new city.

The last step involves getting ourselves there. I have been pretty hard on my car and was planning to sell it before we made the move. We have decided to keep it and sell it in Ottawa, and drive instead of fly. Driving is more fuel efficient than flying. We will also fill by car with light boxes to use all the space, and free up space in the movers truck. We’ve got CAA roadside assistance in case we don’t make it, but our fingers are crossed!

While its near impossible to do a zero carbon move (I like to think that nothing is impossible), it is still important to consider the environmental and social impacts of your decisions. Often people are only concerned with the financial impacts. In our move we made decisions that both reduced the carbon impact and helped out the less fortunate in our neighbourhood. We are far from a zero-impact move but every little bit helps.

Our move from Halifax to Ottawa will be roughly 1,434 km

City of Halifax

City of Ottawa

Ireland PassivHaus Retrofit Report

Last week our Ireland project wrapped up and we submitted our final report and did a presentation to students at I.T. Carlow in Ireland with our findings. Our group consisted of:

  • Myself
  • Karyn Brown from Holland College in PEI
  • Deirdre Cahill from I.T. Carlow in Ireland

The project was to develop a retrofit plan to upgrade and existing Irish home to meet the PassivHaus standards. Our group did an excellent job. Just to recap, the PassivHaus standards require:

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
– and -
No thermal bridges (The co-efficient of heat transfer needs to be below a certain value)

The real challenge was meeting the heating load. The building was not orientated in a way that it could benefit from passive solar gain from the sun. It had west/east facing front/back/roof. The building had a heating load of 121 kWh/m2, and we needed to reduce this to 15 kWh/m2. We accomplished this with the following upgrades to the building:

  1. 200 mm of rigid polystyrene insulation was added to the exterior of the home
  2. 60 mm of polystyrene beads were pumped into the cavity of the wall
  3. All windows were replaced with triple glazed PassivHaus windows with a U-value of 0.58 W/m2*C
  4. All doors were replaced with PassivHaus certified does with a U-value of 0.58 W/m2*C
  5. 200 mm of rigid polystyrene insulation was added to the attic
  6. An air barrier was added to reduce air infiltration

Once the envelope was upgraded to meet the 15 kWh/m2 requirement the home also met the 120 kWh/m2 total energy use requirement. This is because the occupants didn’t use very much energy at all for appliances. This was discovered through analysis of the energy bills.

The payback for the upgrades was not very favorable. It required over 30 years to reach equity payback, and in the 50 years remaining in the buildings life this produced a net present value (NPV) of over -20,000 Euro. Some of the upgrades had a larger impact for every Euro spent, and we did our best to prioritize them for the client. We concluded that PassivHaus is a great tool for energy efficiency but it is not always practical to upgrade a home all the way to the PassivHaus standard. It is only achievable within a reasonable budget when free solar energy from the sun can be used to reduce the heating load of the building.


I have attached a copy of our final report here. It contains more detailed information about the project and our upgrades.

Students and faculty involved in the Ireland Exchange

Receiving my certificate from Dan O'Sullivan of I.T. Carlow

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