Fin MacDonald

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Tag Archives: Fin MacDonald

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

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

NSYCC Orientation

I spent the last three days doing orientation and training for the Nova Scotia Youth Conservation Corps. I will be working with the NSYCC on assignment with ThermalWise for the next two months doing green building research. Training camp took place at Acadia University in Wolfville. I was impressed with how many other people they employ. There are at least 50 others working on various environmental projects throughout the province. I found some crews who have work that relates to mine and we will be collaborating over the summer. I travelled up with Laura Hayes, who is my crew partner on the ThermalWise project, as well as Adam Hayter and Megan Borden who are working together with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities.

Training included a full day of first aid as well as an introduction to WHMIS and occupational health and safety. We also did several team building exercises and got to know one another. Lil MacPherson from the Wooden Monkey Restaurant in Halifax gave a spectacular presentation on global warming and the impacts it will have on our food supply. She taked extensively about sustainable food and why it is so important. This is of particular interest to me because it represents one of the credits in the LEED Operations and Maintenance certification.

The weekend wasn’t all work and no play. We managed to find time for a trip to the local swimming hole on White Rock Road and had some group musical jam sessions as well.

At the end of the summer we will get back together and present on our projects to each other. I’m really excited to see how everyone makes out.

Megan, Adam, Laura, and myself on the first day of training camp.

Group jam session led by Mr. Mustard.

Part of my new job over the next two months will be to maintain and improve the website . I will be working as part of a three person team with another student in Halifax and one in Newfoundland. provides information on green building products and services available in Atlantic Canada. This can be very useful to building owners and builders who are working to obtain LEED certification. Having all the information together for them in one place and verified by a third party makes planning easier. It also helps eliminate green washing, which is when a company pretends to be environmentally conscious but really isn’t.

The website features a virtual tour of green buildings in the area, as well as project profiles on them. The list is short at the moment but we will soon be adding case studies on some of the new and amazing green buildings that have been opened in the past year. This year we will have lots to choose from and that is evidence that green buildings are becoming the standard way of building. There have been several LEED for homes projects in the area over the past year.

Information on rebates is available to consumers on the website for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, and Newfoundland. This section will be changing quite a bit for Nova Scotia because of the recent launch of programs by Efficiency Nova Scotia.

I know this project will be a learning experience for me and I am excited to begin. Researching the different products and services on the market will make me more aware of what options there are out there. By doing case studies of existing LEED buildings I will witness the different approaches that can be taken to achieve the different levels of LEED certification. I am planning to someday write my LEED AP exam and I think that this work will contribute to my studying for that as well.

NSCC Waterfront Solar Monitoring (Part 3)

Friday was my final day with NSCC Applied Research working full time. When I left Friday the monitoring system was not live. There are still some challenges to overcome with this very large project. When we replaced the wire with CAT5 network wire the system worked for a little while but then we started getting shorted bus errors. Because of the number of connections the resistance on the wire was too high. We will need to solder the connections instead of using quick connect clips in order to improve the signal. The WEL sends 5V over the 1-wire bus and because of the amount of quick connects we used for sensors runs we were getting too much resistance and noise on the line. We reduced the system to include only one of the evacuated tube collectors and the signal returned to normal. Once the soldering is done we can include the others again.

Our network connection is browning out as well. We are able to get a wireless signal on the roof with the equipment we have but we can’t keep it connected. This meant we couldn’t go live with the system. We will need to replace the antenna with something stronger. We have an access point on the roof for the solar photovoltaic monitoring and we may need to try connecting through that as well. That would require significant changes to the way the photovoltaic monitoring system communicates though so we would consider that a last resort.

I leave the project in the very capable hands of Dr. Alain Joseph and they rest of the crew. They will continue to move the project forward and I expect to see the system live this summer. I prepared a manual for them documenting the process of solar hot water monitoring using the WEL. I’m sure that will provide them with the knowledge transfer required for someone else to step in and continue the project. I have also agreed to offer them support on a part time basis as needed.

The experience of working on a large project like this one has been very valuable to me. We’ve worked through a number of different problems, and learned to anticipate things to go wrong. I know now that I shouldn’t expect anything to work right the first time. I also learned the importance of documenting your work properly, so that others can pick up where you left off.

Connecting a Pyranometer to the WEL

Getting a pyranometer to work with the Web Energy Logger (WEL) was a long process for us in the lab. A pyranometer is a device that measures the solar intensity in watts per meter squared. We used a 0-5V pyranometer from Apogee ( This was a challenge because the WEL does not have a 0-5V input. We needed to convert the signal to 4-20 mA so that it could be read by the WEL. There is a benefit to 4-20mA though since it is a current signal and not voltage it doesn’t drop off when you use a long wire run. Originally we had an electronics student design us a signal converting circuit board because we had the tools to design and mill circuit boards here at the college. We found a company that manufactures boards like this ( and it is much more practical to purchase them then make them in most cases.

When testing the pyranometer we noticed that the 4-20 mA signal would drop off around the 12 or 13 mA mark and saturate. The WEL would never receive the full 20 mA. We ran numerous tests with our equipment and determined that the problem was within the WEL itself. We spoke to the manufacturer of the WEL and he explained the problem and how to fix it. It requires some cutting to fix it. There are two zener diodes inside the WEL that need to be snipped off. To do this you need to remove the rabbit board network chip by wiggling it and lifting it at the same time. It is fairly snug so you will need to work at it to get it off. Once it is off you will have access to the zener diodes and you can snip them out with some wire cutters. You will see them next to the green 4-20 mA plug on the WEL sandwiched between two resistors. I took a picture of our board with them removed below and have identified where they used to be with a red circle. Once we removed the zener diodes it worked perfectly.

You need to scale the numbers in order to get the proper engineering units. We used the formula f(x)=78.125x-312.5 to convert the 4-20 mA signal into watts per meter squared. This was specific to the equipment we used so if you use a different pyranometer you will need to do the math yourself.

Pyranometers are important for research because they allow you to see how solar panel output changes with solar intensity. We are particularly interested in how solar performs in the winter time in our climate. It is cold but often the sun is shining. With a pyranometer in our system we will be able to draw more meaningful conclusions from our data.


Web Energy Logger Repair Job Today

Today I travelled to Bridgewater, NS to help an industry partner repair a Web Energy Logger (WEL) installation. The solar system uses 30 evacuated tube collectors to supply heat to an in-floor heating loop and dumps the heat in the summer time. Since I did not take part in the original monitoring system installation this presented challenges that were new to me. I had to look over the monitoring system to understand what it was doing before I started work. I needed to not just be able to understand how it was working, but also make sure that it was working. I located the sensors that were installed and tested their readings against readings on my temperature gun. I found one sensor that was not reading properly and replaced it with a new one. I also installed a current sensing switch on the glycol pump to detect when it is running. Since the in-floor heat loop has a constant flow rate we don’t need to install a flow meter to determine the heat provided by the system. I programmed the WEL with some thermodynamics calculations related to mass flow and it now calculates the energy output in kWh.

The repair job took just over an hour and I gained valuable experience in interpreting the work of others. Its easy to jump in and repair a system you set up yourself but when you are trying to follow the work of others it can be a challenge. Pictured below is the box containing the WEL and router (LEFT) and the building with evacuated tube solar collectors on the roof (RIGHT).