Fin MacDonald

Information on me and my current projects

Category Archives: LEED (Green Building)

Robinson Place wins 2016 Canadian Consulting Engineering Award

Robinson Place in Peterborough Ontario became the first government building in Canada to earn the prestigious LEED Platinum certification in August of 2014.  The building was awarded certification using the LEED for Existing Building: Operations and Maintenance (EBOM) rating system.  Morrison Hershfield were the consulting engineers responsible for sustainability, retro-commissioning, and mechanical/electrical design.  My role on this project was to develop and implement a strategy to achieve LEED Platinum certification.  The building had a number of impressive features including:

  • Green roof
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Storm water retention cistern and pond
  • Energy star score of 89
  • Community garden
  • Recreated natural habitat

The building was awarded a Canadian Consulting Engineering Award on October 25, 2016.  This was not the first award Robinson Place has won either.  The list of awards includes:

  • 2016 Canadian Consulting Engineering Award of Excellence
  • 2016 Consulting Engineers Ontario Award of Excellence
  • 2015 CaGBC Greater Toronto Chapter Existing Building Innovation Award

More information on Robinson Place is available here.


Robinson Place Project Team


Robinson Place


2014 Emerging Green Builder Leadership Award

I was recently presented with the 2014 Emerging Green Builder Leadership Award from the Canada Green Building Council.  This is a tremendous honour for me, and is in recognition of the volunteer work I have done both locally with the Ottawa Chapter of the CaGBC, and nationally with the EGB National Committee.  There are so many people across the country who work hard and also deserve this award, so it was an huge honour to have been chosen by the selection committee.  Thank you to everyone involved, and to those who nominated me.

The Emerging Green Builder Leadership Award recognizes a deserving student or young professional who has made a significant contribution to advocating, educating or practicing green building and/or community development. This individual is recognized as a leader among their peers and has a strong commitment to change. (Source:

fin award 2 fin award

Planning to attend the 2014 CaGBC National Conference

I have decided to attend the CaGBC National Conference this year in Toronto.  I have never attended the CaGBC’s annual conference, and have always gravitated towards the Greenbuild international conference in the past. While Greenbuild is attended by the world leaders in my industry, the CaGBC conference will be attended by the leaders in my market, as well as potential clients.  This means my attendance will include seeking out new business opportunities rather than just personal development and training.  The conference is being held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from June 2nd – 4th.

Aside from representing my firm Morrison Hershfield at the conference I will also be there to represent the CaGBC’s Emerging Green Builders National Committee which I am currently the chair of, as well as the Ottawa Region Chapter of the CaGBC of which I currently serve as the Finance Director on the Board of Directors.  Needless to say its going to be a busy couple of days.

A number of my Morrison Hershfield collegues are presenting at the conference, and I am looking forward to seeing their presentations.  I am also looking forward to re-connecting with some old friends from the Atlantic Chapter in Halifax who will also be attending.

The Emerging Green Builders are preparing a poster presentation highlighting the types of events that EGB groups are organizing across Canada to attract and engage new professionals to our industry.  It is still in the early stages of development but the ideas coming in from the different chapters have been great, and I’m really looking forward to displaying the final copy at the conference.  The Toronto Chapter EGB Committee is also hosting the first ever EGB social as part of the conference.  This will take place on June 2nd from 6pm-8:30pm.  I’m really looking forward to meeting EGBs from across the country.



LEED Green Associate: 2 years later

It has been over two years since I earned my LEED Green Associate credential.  I believe this was the spark that ignited my new career.  Recently the CaGBC has announced a contest to hear from Green Associates about where their career has taken them since earning the credential.  My entry is below:


Posing for a picture at Greenbuild in Toronto a few months after earning my credential.

Earning my green associate while I was still a student was a great career move.  I wrote the exam while still in school and it helped me land a summer job in my field.  I worked with Thermalwise in Halifax as a Green Building Researcher.   In this role I developed case studies and video tours of green buildings throughout Atlantic Canada.   I wanted to learn more so I applied for and won a scholarship through the USGBC and the CaGBC Atlantic Chapter to attend the Greenbuild conference in Toronto.  Contacts I made at this conference helped me to land a job before I graduated with Morrison Hershfield in Ottawa as a Sustainability Analyst.

During my last year of school I applied and was accepted for a 3 week student exchange to Ireland to work on a passive house retro-fit design project.  My LEED Green Associate was a big talking point during the interview process and I know it helped me stand out and get selected.  I worked with Irish, Scottish, German, Dutch, and Canadian students.

Shortly after graduating and beginning work with Morrison Hershfield I earned my LEED AP with specialty in Existing Buildings (EBOM).  To date I’ve been involved on over 10 LEED projects, including an EBOM project that is pursuing LEED Platinum.

I wanted to be involved in Green Building outside of work as well.  I joined the Ottawa Emerging Green Builders (EGB) committee and I have held a number of roles including finance director, vice-chair, and chair.  I also joined the EGB National Committee as the Ottawa representative.  I went back to Greenbuild in San Francisco last year, and I met with members of the USGBC’s Emerging Professionals and USGBC Students.  We are now working together and sharing ideas across the border.  Since then I have led the development of the EGB handbook which serves as a guide on how to start and operate a chapter EGB committee.

Currently at Morrison Hershfield I have been helping out with LEED reviews for the CaGBC and will be taking over as leader of our LEED EBOM review team in November.  I have also been working as the lead carbon verifier on some high profile greenhouse gas projects, and working as the lead quantifier on our own carbon footprint.  I’m also working with our marketing team to help increase awareness of our carbon services and try to bring in new business.

My LEED Green Associate started me on this path.  It gave me a great story to tell in a job interview.  It showed employers that I was serious about sustainability and proved that I am committed to continuous learning.  It’s helped me get a career I can feel good about.  Taking the exam was my first interaction with the CaGBC and it opened the door to the wonderful chapter community I found in Halifax and then Ottawa.  It’s hard to believe how much has happened in the 2 years since I earned my LEED Green Associate.

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 (

Geographic Information Systems applied to LEED and Beyond

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are databases that contain geographical information. The leading GIS software is ArcGIS by ESRI. In the past months I have been exposed to both the software, and its uses in the green building industry. I had a chance to talk with some ESRI representatives at Greenbuild this year in Toronto. GIS has much to contribute to LEED and other rating systems as the industry builds momentum.

Maps can be used to assess the public transportation of a building, as well as the community connectivity and relative distance to other building types. ArcGIS also creates a geodatabase that the map is based on, and this can contain all sorts of useful data for analysis.

A buildings layer that is added to a map can contain a table of values with a row for each building drawn on the map. The tables can contain all sorts of data about the building. LEED points earned, the level of certification achieved, and the architects and engineers on the project are examples of useful data that could be stored. A detailed geodatabase could help future developers decide which LEED points to pursue based on a proposed buildings location.

ArcGIS can also create beautiful maps. I’ve created one as an example using the publicly available list of LEED projects in the Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada area. This list is available on the website of the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC). I’ve uploaded the map below.

Green Buildings in Halifax


CaGBC Atlantic Chapter AGM

Today I attended the annual general meeting for the Atlantic Chapter of the CaGBC. I recently joined the local chapter and wanted to attend to meet other members, board members, and learn about the chapter.

The Atlantic Chapter has one part time employee on the payroll, and this is the Executive Director Lara Ryan. The rest of the positions are volunteer based. The chapter has 16 board members. There are also four committees:
1) Education Committee
2) Residential Committee
3) Carbon Committee
4) Build Green Atlantic Committee

Over the past year the chapter has held lunch and learn sessions in NS, NB, and NL. They are working on establishing relationships in PEI to be able to do the same there. The chapter currently has 264 paid members with the breakdown as follows:
New Brunswick : 34
Newfoundland & Labrador: 17
Nova Scotia: 204
Prince Edward Island: 9

Build Green Atlantic is the chapter’s major event. It was held on May 5th at the NSCC Waterfront Campus and was attended by 224 people (myself included). The keynote speaker on May 4th was attended by 125. The chapter also held a 1/2 day mini-conference at the Waterfront Campus in December which offered sessions on green building and the industry.

They provided us with a status report on LEED Buildings in Atlantic Canada.
Registered Projects
NS: 107 (up from 78 last year)
NFLD: 39 (up from 29)
PEI: 3 (up from 2)
NB: 41 (up from 36)

Certified Projects
NS: 6 (up from 4 last year)
PEI: 2 (up from 0)
NB: 6 (up from 5)

I’m glad I attended the AGM because I learned a lot about what the chapter does that I wasn’t aware of. I intend to be more active with the chapter going forward. It was great to meet the board members who voted to send me to Greenbuild as their scholarship winner. I’m looking forward to connecting with the local chapter at the Canada House Pavilion at Greenbuild in Toronto next month.

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.

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.

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.