What do we mean by that?
Some commonly used words and their definitions
Building science is the collection of scientific knowledge that focuses on the analysis of the physical phenomena affecting buildings. Building science traditionally includes the study of indoor thermal environment, indoor acoustic environment, indoor light environment, indoor air quality, and building resource use, including energy and building material use. These areas are studied in terms of physical principles, relationship to building occupant health, comfort, and productivity, and how they can be controlled by the building envelope and electrical and mechanical systems.
The practical purpose of building science is to provide predictive capability to optimize the building performance and sustainability of new and existing buildings, understand or prevent building failures, and guide the design of new techniques and technologies.
-Building science. (2022, April 20). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Building_science
A home's main job is to keep people comfortable. It should keep us dry when it's raining outside, keep us warm when it's cold outside, and keep us cool when it is hot outside. Many homes fall short of doing these functions well. It is common for buildings to have cold drafts in the winter, and areas that are too hot in the summer. Through building envelope, mechanical, and electrical upgrades, we strive to make buildings more comfortable to occupy.
Making a durable home requires design and construction techniques that utilize building science to minimize risks of leaks or condensation and the use of high quality materials to best resist the elements.
A durable home is more reliable and less prone to failures- which can result in costly repairs. In turn, this results in lower costs over the lifetime of a building, less maintenance, and reduced environmental impact than a similar home built with less durable designs and materials.
18% of Canada's greenhouse has emissions come from heating and running our homes and buildings. By making homes more efficient and durable, we hope to reduce their environmental impact. In doing so, we also aim to reduce the life cycle cost of homes and increase occupant health and comfort.
Mold, volatile organic compounds (VOC's), stale air, allergens, smoke, dust, and radon are all problems that can affect a home's indoor air quality.
Building envelope failures can result in leaks or condensation causing mold growth. We can help identify and rectify these issues.
A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV) is a system installed in many new homes and can be retro-fitted into existing homes. They can greatly reduce the amount of indoor air pollutants by removing stale indoor air (containing VOS's, mold, radon, and dust), replacing it with filtered outdoor fresh air (removing pollen and wildfire smoke). Their design allows them to recover heat or energy from the exhaust air. We work with specialty HVAC contractors that can install these types of systems.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a large group of chemicals that are found in many products we use to build and maintain our homes. Once these chemicals are in our homes, they are released or “off-gas” into the indoor air we breathe. In combination with an HRV or ERV, we do our best to use products that contain zero or low VOC's to minimize indoor air pollutants.
Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally when the uranium in soil and rock breaks down. It is invisible, odourless and tasteless. When radon is released from the ground into the outdoor air, it is diluted and is not a concern. However, in enclosed spaces like homes, it can accumulate to high levels. High radon levels can be a risk to the health of you and your family. We work with specialists to perform radon testing and establish mitigation strategies.
A building envelope is the physical separator between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building including the resistance to air, water, heat, light, and noise transfer.
This includes a building's
Doors and windows
Foundation walls and floor
Most commonly, homes are designed and built with an assembly-line approach. Tradespeople, designers, and other stakeholders are only brought in to do their part, and then leave. This can lead to cost overruns, and inefficiencies.
It can be very beneficial to take an integrated approach to design and construction by fostering communication between sub-trades at all stages of a project.
In construction, a holistic approach is to view each system in a home as part of a larger picture. For example, adding too many windows to the south side of a home can cause it to overheat in the day and cool too much at night, or upgrading a homes airtightness can lead to a buildup of moisture or stale air if not combined with an HRV (whole home fresh air delivery and filtration system). It's important to consider the interaction between each of the components and systems of a home and remember that any changes to one system may impact another.
Many buildings used to be simple wood boxes with four walls and a roof. That worked okay, and the buildings could certainly 'breathe', but the lack of insulation and airtightness allowed too much heat to move in or out of the house. When describing an old log house, my grandma once said "that old house had gaps between the logs so big you could throw a cat through them!". No shortage of fresh air there, but it certainly would have been drafty in the winter.
With increasing energy costs and a desire to reduce CO2 emissions, homes need to be more airtight. Making a building more airtight seems like a simple idea, but when done incorrectly can cause moisture build-up and mould growth in the walls or attic and can lead to poor indoor air quality.
Airtightness testing (usually called a blower door test) can help quantify the air leakage of a building. Measured in air exchanges per hour at 50 pascals (ACH50), a building can be de-pressurized with a fan and a calculation made based on airflow and building volume. Old houses can have over 10 ACH50. Some building codes are starting to adopt airtightness requirements at around 3 ACH50, while Passive House standards require less than 0.6 ACH50. The lower the better, but it's important to remember that mechanical ventilation is required when a home becomes more airtight.