Fin MacDonald

Information on me and my current projects

Tag Archives: Fin MacDonald

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.

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.

Preparing for the Ireland Project

In less then a month I will be departing for a 3 week project in Carlow, Ireland at I.T. Carlow. Myself and 4 other students from the Nova Scotia Community College will be working with 5 other Canadian students from Holland College in PEI, 5 students from IT Carlow in Ireland, and 5 students from Hanze University in the Netherlands. This will be a similar structure to the project we did in Halifax in the fall of 2011. We will all have different backgrounds. Students involved are studying architecture, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, construction technology, energy sustainability, and other similar programs. The ability to participate in a multi-discipline project before graduation is an incredible experience.

Our project will be to study the Tinteán Coille Community Centre, which is an Irish social housing project in Carlow, and make recommendations to improve its energy efficiency. Specifically, we will be aiming to make the housing project net-zero carbon. This would be considered a very ambitious goal in North America, but in Europe they are leading the rest of the world in efficiency.

During the early stages of the project we will receive a half day training session in PassivHaus. PassivHaus is a German building standard that focuses on extreme energy efficiency and comfort. Our project will be orientated to providing passive solutions rather than active solutions. Passive solutions do not require energy to provide benefits. Active solutions require energy or are heavily based on technology. I have learned about PassivHaus in the past, and I’ve checked out some books on passive solutions to energy efficiency from the NSCC library. I’ve also enrolled in a one day passive solar home basics course in Halifax that takes place two weeks before I leave. I’m planning to leave for Ireland with as much knowledge as possible. I freely admit that in North America we focus on active solutions and rely almost too heavily on technology to get the job done. My previous school project work proposed many active solutions so I am entering a new domain of green design.

We have recently found out we will be staying at the Riverbank Apartments while we are in Carlow. We will also be making a trip to Dublin at the end of our project for St. Paddy’s Day. I hope to experience as much Irish culture as possible on my trip, and I can’t wait to experience the food!

Riverbank Apartments

I.T. Carlow

Greenbuild Scholarship Group Photo

I recently received my Greenbuild Scholarship group photo in the mail. I wanted to post it here so everyone can see it. I am in the back row center directly to the right of S. Richard Fedrizzi, who is the CEO of the United States Green Building Council.

2011 Greenbuild Scholarship Group

EEBE Walkthrough Audit

Today our groups performed our walkthrough audits for the Energy Efficiency and the Built Environment project. Our house that we audited was only a couple years old and was quite energy efficient already. We were armed with some pretty sophisticated tools and a great set of checklists that we prepared.

Dan Boyd from the Nova Scotia Homebuilders Association was on hand to perform the blower door test for us. The home we audited previously tested at 1.4 air changes per hour (ACH) but we won’t know how it faired out today until we get the data entered into HOT2000.

We tested the envelope of the building with the thermal imaging gun to look for thermal bridges. We found lots at the studs in the walls and the ceiling, as well as all along the headers and rim joists. Thermal bridges are pathways where heat escapes and are common in standard construction. Modern construction methods are working to eliminate them all together but not all builders are using them right now. We didn’t find any missing insulation or sagging around the windows.

We used an air quality meter to measure temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels on each floor. This will help us determine how effective the ventilation system is. The home has a heat recovery ventilator to reclaim the heat during the ventilation process.

The lighting was quite different throughout the house. We found compact fluorescent (CFL), halogen, as well as incandescent bulbs depending on what fixture we were looking at. We will recommend that the incandescent bulbs be replaced with CFLs.

South is located to the rear of the home and there is an excellent solar resource there. We will be creating a model for a solar system to determine the payback before we make that recommendation. I expect it will be feasible because of the location and the number of occupants (the more people the more hot water used). We will also look into using a drain water heat recovery system to reclaim heat from the drain water.

Water efficiency on the inside of the house was given attention when the home was designed, but the exterior could have some improvements. There are a lot of plants outside so a rain barrel to capture rainwater for watering would reduce potable water usage. Mulch should also be added around the shrubs to reduce evaporation from the soil and hopefully reduce the need for additional watering.

The heating system is about as good as it can get. The owner has an air source heat pump with an electric furnace for a backup. Since the subdivision was blasted out of the side of a rock mountain a ground source heat pump would be too much of an expense to be worth it.

Tomorrow we will start to sift through all the data we collected and come up with some more ideas for low cost or no cost recommendations for the home owner.

Greenbuild Education Sessions

My registration package for the Greenbuild Conference in Toronto arrived by email this weekend and I registered as quickly as possible. A big part of the event is the education sessions which are offered. Since some of these sessions fill up early I wanted to make sure I got my first choices. I had picked my choices a few weeks ago and today I registered and got into all the ones I wanted. Part of my responsibilities as a Greenbuild Scholarship winner is to share the knowledge with my local chapter. I will be presenting on what I learn to both the Atlantic chapter of the CaGBC and my classmates at NSCC. The sessions I will be attending are:

Passivhaus: Bringing German Energy Design Home to LEED
The Passive House approach (Passivhaus in German) is one of the world’s most aggressive, proven approaches to radical energy reduction, durability, IAQ and thermal comfort by design. This session will introduce and explore the Passive House standard design approach and requirements as well as demonstrate its application to projects in the North American context. This interactive session will introduce some of the barriers and opportunities–seeking input from attendees–for superior home energy performance

What You Need to Know About WaterSense for LEED 2012, Inside and Out! 
The 2012 rating systems have been revised to ensure that LEED projects are protecting water supplies for future generations. Gain a firm understanding of the most reliable strategies to reduce water use in your projects for all rating systems, no matter what the size!

The Proof is in the Pudding: Performance metrics from the first Five Certified Living Buildings
The first 5 certified Living Building Challenge projects are the greenest buildings in the country. How did the teams accomplish this lofty goal and achieve net zero energy and water, what are the lessons learned? The panel will discuss the one year occupancy period and how that data informs building performance knowledge. Learn about each project’s strategies across five different climates and project types from the perspective of the client, consultant and audit team.

Advancing Energy Simulation Tools for Design and Retrofit Optimization: the EnergyPlus GUI Development
More deep energy retrofits and net zero energy projects are required! Better simulation tools should be accessible! EnergyPlus is widely viewed as the most comprehensive building performance analysis tool available. A primary barrier to widespread adoption (critical to DOE’s mission) has been the lack of a graphical user interface (GUI). The diverse panel will demonstrate interactive use scenarios of how the new EnergyPlus GUI can enable practitioners to use EnergyPlus to support innovative, integrated design.

Learning from Buildings: Technologies for Measuring, Benchmarking, and Improving Performance
This session describes methods developed at UC Berkeley for monitoring and benchmarking buildings’ physical environments and occupants’ perceptions. We present research results derived from such assessments, which have significant implications for building designers, owners, operators, employers, and occupants. We discuss the development and testing of the Performance Measurement Protocol, recently produced by USGBC and ASHRAE. Driving this work is the belief that all stakeholders benefit from increased assessment and sharing lessons learned about building performance

Infrastructure for Sustainable Communities
The current interest in green buildings often overlooks the far greater conservation potential of sustainable communities. Creating net zero energy and water usage communities is much easier than creating single buildings with the same performance. Communities can be vital, complex ecologies that obtain maximum use of consumed resources while minimizing waste. These goals are best achieved by exploiting the synergies among the separate infrastructure systems while obtaining multiple benefits from each conservation strategy.

LEED 2012
LEED must continuously improve to drive change and transform the market. This is especially important as green codes begin to raise the floor on the status quo and current LEED requirements become the norm. LEED 2012 has shifted to a performance-based structure that supports recertification and raises the bar to maintain LEED as a leadership tool. The rating system draft will have completed its 2nd public comment period and received thousands of comments on the proposed requirement. This session will provide insight into the decisions behind the changes in LEED and discuss some of the more complex issues that have arisen during the development process.

Final ThermalWise Update

With my summer work term at a close I can look back at a successful summer with ThermalWise. We were able to get the tasks done for the website we had set for ourself at the start of the summer, which feels great. AtlanticGreenBuilding.ca is really starting to take off!

We added a map to the website which shows products manufactured in Atlantic Canada. You can enter your postal code it it will zoom in on products close to you. This helps builders and owners find products that are from the area, and not shipped in. By buying locally you reduce transportation related emissions as well as help the local economy. Have a look at the map here.

Eight different videos were produced by us this summer, as well as 10 new or improved project profiles. The videos showcase green building projects in the area and include interviews with people involved whenever possible. These videos turned out very professional, and make the profiles much more interesting to viewers. The ThermalWise team has expressed an interest in hiring us to produce additional case studies in the future, which means they are obviously impressed with our work. You can view the project profile and videos here.

I’ve learned lots about green building products and services through this job. I was fascinated with all the innovative ideas that were put on the market in recent years. Researching these products has taught me a lot about green washing and how to detect it. By developing and sticking to strick criteria for listing products we were able to identify which ones were actually green and which ones were just faking it.

By developing case studies I’ve learned about and witnessed different building strategies. One of the most interesting was the combination of Passive House standards with LEED certification that was used by Passive House E-Design and Leonard Construction when building the Hawkins House. The Hawkins House is the first passive house in Nova Scotia and possibly the greenest home in the province. It uses Passive House which focuses on extreme energy efficiency, and combines it with LEED which contains the broader green strategies related to materials, energy and water use, sustainable landscaping, and design innovation. There is a workshop on Passive House and LEED combination at the Greenbuild Expo this fall and I will be attending for sure!

This job has identified a career path for me that I didn’t always consider. I’m really interested in Project Management. A lot of the work we did at ThermalWise was very dynamic. It was always different and required different skills and different planning. Project management is the business of working on different projects for a fixed time period with unique challenges and outcomes. When I look for my next job I’m going to try to find one that will put me to work in project management. This time of work ensures every day is different, challenging, and exciting.

Greenbuild NEXT Scholarship

When I heard that Greenbuild was being held in Canada (the first time ever outside of the US) this year Oct 4-7th I thought this is my chance to see the world leaders in the green building industry in action. I was overwhelmed by the conference cost so I explored other options. Students are allowed to volunteer 8 hours in exchange for admission. Getting to Toronto would be a big expense, and I wasn’t sure I would be able to afford it. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) had scholarships available, but as far as I could tell they were for US citizens.

About a month ago I found out at the last minute that the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) was handing out 10 scholarships on behalf of the USGBC since they were the host country this year. Subsequently the Atlantic chapter was handing out at least one of them. I scrambled to put together an application, but I felt as though I still did an excellent job. As time went buy I assumed I didn’t win because I still hadn’t heard anything.

Recently I was notified that I was one of the recipients, and honestly I’m still kind of in shock. The scholarship includes conference admission, airfare to Toronto, and 3 nights accommodations at one of the conference hotels. I also get to meet and have my picture taken with Rick Fedrizzi, who is the CEO and founding chairman of the USGBC.

This is Greenbuild’s tenth anniversary and the theme will be “Whats Next for Green Building.” The conference will feature a job fair with green employers looking to network with green job seekers. There will also be a green job summit to discuss how to accelerate the creation of green jobs in the economy. Educational sessions will take up most  of the time during the 3 day event. I will get to choose from a wide array of topics, but I will focus my attention on presentations related to green building operations & maintenance and LEED for homes. Between education sessions I can browse the exhibit hall where over 900 companies will have info booths set up showcasing green building products and services. There will be lots of guest speakers, one of whom will be Michael Bloomberg the mayor of New York City.

Part of the deal is that I have to deliver a presentation to share what I learned. I will also use my blog to document the experience and share knowledge with the rest of the world.

ThermalWise Update

My two month work term with ThermalWise through the Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps is now half over. Things have been going spectacular so far. The office is a very dynamic place to work and there is always something new and different to do. The website Atlantic Green Building is coming along great and we have completely reviewed all the green products and services listed to make sure the information is current. We are working on adding a map of product origin so that builders can locate regionally manufactured materials. Buying regional materials cuts down on transportation related energy emissions. The LEED rating system also awards points for using a certain amount of regional materials.

The project profile section has been completely redone. We have been using a new format that includes background information, green features, and post occupancy performance. We updated all of the old profiles to the new format and added some new ones. The new project profiles we created so far are The Halifax Seaport Farmers MarketThe Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute, and Dalhousie’s Mona Campbell Building.

We have also been doing some video tours of buildings as part of some of the profiles. The most impressive one we have done so far is for the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. I’ve embedded the video here:


Aside from the webpage I have also been able to take part in two different stages of the LEED for Homes process. ThermalWise is the LEED for Homes provider for Atlantic Canada and I was able to participate in a preliminary evaluation as well as a pre-drywall inspection. One of the LEED projects we are working on is also seeking the German Passive House standard. I was able to assist with the blower door test at this location.

The weeks remaining are going to be just as exciting and I will provide another update at the end of the term.

   

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