Why Two-Thirds of Fossil Fuel Reserves Must Remain in the Ground

IEA World Energy Outlook 2012 cover

IEA World Energy Outlook 2012 coverOver two-thirds of today’s proven fossil fuel reserves need to still be in the ground in 2050 to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change, says the International Energy Agency, an organization known for its optimism for being able to extract fossil fuels in the future at a reasonable rate, in its November 12 2012 World Energy Outlook.

Oil Change International has more on this important topic and its impact on Canadian tar/oil/bituminous sands processing.

I remain convinced that humans will attempt to burn all available fossil fuels on the planet, as fast as technology and geology permit. Now it’s not just half of the fossil fuels that must remain in the ground – it’s a full two-thirds. This proportion is likely to increase as many signs of global climate change are occurring sooner than many scientists have predicted. (Edit: Bill McKibben’s excellent article in Rolling Stone suggests that we leave 4/5 in the ground)

We are truly entering the “Long Emergency” of both energy decline and climate. I believe we must:

This list is far from comprehensive. There are many other measures to be undertaken. We need them all.

Posted in Energy Decline, Resources

CSA F280 M12 2012 Standard Form No. 1 Heat Loss Gain Calculation Summary Sheet

CSA F280 Standard Form No1 Screenshot

CSA F280 Standard Form No1 ScreenshotIn CSA Standard F280-12 “Determining the required capacity of residential space heating and cooling appliances” ($225) Annex D contains a Heat Loss and Gain Calculation Summary Sheet as a mandatory part of the Standard. The information on this form is a welcome change from earlier editions, as it shows all the assumptions up front. Often this information is excluded, or even when it is included a reviewer has to wade through pages of output from a software program. Note this is a summary of just the inputs and assumptions. It has no fields for  calculation results. Providing summary output is left up to the designer.

However despite being mandatory the form is not included in the accompanying spreadsheet package at http://www.csa.ca/documents/publications/CSA_F280-12.zip, so I have created one. Hopefully it will save you some time. In future I expect a version of this to be released by HRAI, perhaps as part of a revised certification program.

Here it is, courtesy of Elfstrom Engineering: CSA-F280-M12-Standard-Form-No-1.xlsx

Posted in Energy Modeling, Homes, Resources

10 Ways to Future-Proof Your New Home Design

New home design
New home design

Photo by Andreas Krappweis

For many design firms involved in the new homes sector, the majority of revenue is comprised of subdivisions or large custom homes. But let’s face it, this country doesn’t need any more homes, especially large custom homes built to the bare minimum code requirements on virgin land, or worse, productive farmland.  Do better. Design “future-proof” low-impact new homes that meet the following criteria:

  1. Keep the proposed home to a reasonable size, less than 1600 ft2 for a two-bedroom home or less than 3000 ft2 for a four-bedroom home. see further guidlines in note 1
  2. Located no further than 5 km from the nearest village or town, about a one-hour walk.
  3. No more than three stories high.
  4. The shape of the home should be simple rectangle, T-shape, or L-shape, with a low surface-area-to-volume ratio, and no floors over unheated space
  5. Designate an area outside the home with good solar exposure suitable for growing food, and add in a root cellar with fully insulated external door.
  6. Less than 13% window to wall area ratio. Just because some windows are good for passive solar gain doesn’t mean that a wall of windows is better. Too much window area leads to comfort problems and excessive energy use.
  7. All thermal resistance values minimum 25% above building code with minimal thermal bridging.
  8. Passive solar design meeting ALL of the items of LEED Canada for Homes IDc1.5 see note 2 for more
  9. Test the home for air-tightness prior to occupancy and aim to achieve 1.5 ACH at 50 Pa or lower, the R-2000 standard. The simpler the home shape, the easier this will be to achieve. Minimal uncontrolled air leakage improves comfort and reduces the size of the heating and cooling system.
  10. The builder, architect, and future homeowner must be willing to compromise on some perceived aesthetics (such as amount of window area) in order to achieve energy efficiency. The challenge for the designer is to make it look good but functional at the same time.

In short, Canadians know how to design and build good, energy-efficient homes, but generally don’t.


note 1

Area is for occupied (finished) and heated space, to the exterior wall surface. We use the neutral home size calculation from LEED Canada for Homes as our threshold.

  • Less than 1050 ft2 for a 1-bedroom home
  • Less than 1600 ft2 for a 2-bedroom home
  • Less than 2200 ft2 for a 3-bedroom home
  • Less than 3000 ft2 for a 4-bedroom home
  • Less than 3300 ft2 for a 5-bedroom home
  • 6 or more bedrooms: 250 ft2 for each additional bedroom

note 2

Items in LEED Canada for Homes, Innovative Design Credit 1, Part 5: Building Orientation for Solar Design:

  • The glazing area on the north- and south-facing walls of the building is at least 50% greater than the sum of the glazing area on the east- and west- facing walls.
  • The east-west axis of the building is within 15 degrees of due east-west.
  • The roof has a minimum of 42 square metres (450 sq ft) of south-facing area that is oriented appropriately for solar applications.
  • At least 90% of the glazing on the south-facing wall is completely shaded (using shading, overhangs, etc.) at noon on June 21 and unshaded at noon on December 21.
  • Include a dual purpose plumbing/electrical chase from the mechanical room to the attic, plus plumbing for the installation of a solar hot-water system according to the guidelines from CanSIA’s Solar Ready program and the CAN/CSA-F383-87 Installation Code for Solar Domestic Hot Water Systems.
Posted in Homes

Choose the Right Size of Heating and Cooling Equipment

Oil furnace
Oil furnace

Oil furnace, photo by David Elfstrom

Choosing the right size of air conditioner, furnace, heat pump, or boiler to fit your home is essential.

When considering adding or replacing air conditioning or heating to your home, insist that the installing contractor “sizes” the system properly. A qualified contractor will not recommend equipment size based solely on the size of your home or assume that your existing equipment was sized properly in the first place. Be sure to also tell your contractor if you plan to renovate in the near future. Changing windows, upgrading insulation levels, finishing the basement, air-sealing or a new addition will impact the sizing calculation for any new system.

To complete the design load calculation, the contractor will need to take measurements during the initial visit to your home and ask some questions. They also take into account:

  • Local climate conditions
  • Size and number of windows that let in heat from the sun
  • Existing insulation levels of the home
  • Number and lifestyle of your home’s occupants
  • Predicted or known air exchange rate of home

There is only one correct size of equipment for your home. Not only will a unit that is too big turn on and off more often, which is annoying but over-sizing equipment can result in increased fuel consumption and higher operating costs which is inefficient and can contribute to premature part failure, higher noise levels and reduced comfort (hot or cold spots within the home). You need just the right size! Under-sizing of equipment will also cause severe comfort problems. Ideally, the equipment should be designed within plus or minus 10% of the required size.

So hire a contractor that has the appropriate skills to perform a “heat loss and heat gain calculation” based on professional guidelines, to calculate the proper size of heating and cooling equipment that your home requires. A good estimate will take several hours. Do not agree to a simple “rule of thumb” calculation (e.g., X amount of BTUs per square foot). Be sure to request a ‘heat loss and heat gain calculation’ as part of your purchase process.

When a contractor completes the heat loss and heat-gain calculation and determines your needs, be sure to purchase the right equipment, and not stock that the contractor happens to have sitting on the truck or back at the shop.

There is a Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standard on how to properly size equipment. It is called “Determining the Required Capacity of Residential Space Heating and Cooling Appliances”, CAN/CSA F280-M90 (1998). This standard is also referenced in building codes. In the next few years this standard will be replaced by the 2012 edition, which is more accurate.

For more information on equipment options and tips to help make an informed decision, visit the information library at the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada website for homeowners at www.hrai.ca. You will also find information on how to choose a qualified contractor.

[Source: Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors of Canada]

Posted in Homes

Canadian Climate, Weather, and Solar Data

Red maple leaf
Red maple leaf

Photo by Magstefan

Much of the software used to evaluate performance of a building with weather and climate excludes Canadian locations. Here are some data sources for Canadian climate and weather.

Canadian Climate Normals 1971-2000
Environment Canada

Averages for:

  • Latitude, Longitude, Elevation
  • Monthly Temperature
  • Monthly Precipitation
  • Maximum hourly wind speed and date
  • Monthly degree day data in 5-degree increments

Historical Climate Data
Environment Canada

Historical data, useful for adjusting monthly energy consumption for weather. For a guide to the process see Weather Normalization of Utility Bills by John Avina of Abraxas Energy Consulting.

  • Max Temperature, Min Temperature, Mean Temperature
  • Heat Degree Days, Cool Degree Days
  • Total Rain Total Snow, Total Precipitation
  • Snow on Ground
  • Direction of Max Wind Gust, Speed of Max Wind Gust

NASA Surface meteorology and Solar Energy: RETScreen Data

Based on monthly satellite observation averaged from 22 years of data. Since RETScreen uses this data, use the historical Environment Canada data to normalize the actual energy consumption and adjust based on this data set to evaluate the correctness of your RETScreen building model.

  • Air temperature
  • Relative humidity
  • Daily solar radiation – horizontal
  • Atmospheric pressure
  • Wind speed
  • Earth temperature
  • Heating degree-days
  • Cooling degree-days

NASA Surface meteorology and Solar Energy

Based on monthly satellite observation averaged from 22 years of data

  • Parameters for Solar Cooking
  • Parameters for Sizing and Pointing of Solar Panels and for Solar Thermal Applications
  • Solar Geometry
  • Parameters for Tilted Solar Panels
  • Parameters for Sizing Battery or other Energy-storage Systems
  • Parameters for Sizing Surplus-product Storage Systems
  • Diurnal Cloud Information
  • Meteorology (Temperature)
  • Meteorology (Wind)

EnergyPlus Weather Simulation Data

Large amount of average weather data (including ground temperatures) assembled from multiple data sources.

Posted in Energy Modeling, Resources

Can Resilience Help Us Escape Jevons Paradox?


Photo by Odan Jaeger

You say “redundant”, I say resilient.

Resilience is the new “sustainability”. When the definition of sustainability was co-opted to include sustaining our existing lifestyle, a new term was needed. Resilience has a number of meanings, but it is starting to mean the ability to weather our coming energy decline and inexorable decline of industrial civilization.

Achieving resilience includes conservation of resources – doing more with less – but comes at a cost of poorer efficiency. Yet strictly speaking, efficiency is also about doing more with less. Globalized “Just-in-time” manufacturing is cost efficient but not at all resilient, as demonstrated with the tsunami in Japan.

An example of resiliency is having a function served by multiple means (heat served by solar, wood burning, electricity for example). This is actually a core principle in permacultureWikipedia. And although resilience can be less efficient, in the end it is closer to the operation of a natural system.

Jevons paradoxWikipedia, is when increases in total energy occur despite improved efficiency. However it assumes a business-as-usual situation with increasing resource supplies. But as finite resources deplete we will be forced into consuming less in total amount, with increased resilience by switching fuels where possible in order to meet needs and demands. And increased resilience leads to decreased efficiency, so Jevons Paradox won’t generally apply in a post-peak world.

By all means, increase efficiency where there is obvious waste, and don’t worry about Jevons Paradox. Go and choose the most energy efficient goods and strategies that you can afford. Efficiency buys us all much needed time to prepare for using less in total, while the interconnected webs of system resilience are expanding.

Posted in Energy Decline

Heating With Wood Can Leave You Feeling Burnt

Open fireplace
Open fireplace

Photo by Johan Lissbol

via Sierra Club Insider e-mail newsletter

Keep a Home Fire Burning?

Cold winter nights are a tempting reason to light a fire for heat and comfort. But whether you throw a log in the fireplace or use a modern US EPA-approved stove, it pays to know the pros and cons of wood-burning. Sierra magazine’s Mr. Green has the particulars on particulates in fireplaces, which usually aren’t efficient heating sources anyway.

Wood stoves, however, are another matter. Under the right circumstances, a modern one can be a cheap, relatively low-carbon home-heating source. Sierra Club Green Home’s guide to wood and pellet stoves has everything you need to know about the modern home fire.

Also on Sierra Club Green Homes web site is a good article about ground source heat pumps (geothermal) for heating and cooling.

Posted in Homes

Examining the Passive House Standard in a North American Cold Climate Context

John Straube

John StraubeThere was a bit of a stir lately within the building science online communities when a well-known and respected building scientist published a review of the Passive House standard.

John Straube published a review of the Passive House standard on BuildingScience.com compared to standards and practices applicable in the U.S. and Canada, available at http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-025-the-passivhaus-passive-house-standard. In it Straube takes a close look at Passive House from a North American context, comparing it to other low-energy building systems for cold climates.

Katrin Klingenberg of Passive House Institute U.S. posted a lengthy response to John Straube’s article at http://www.passivehouse.us/bulletinBoard/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=208, correcting a few misunderstandings.

On GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, there is an initial discussion and reaction to Straube’s article at http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/community/forum/passive-house/14647/very-recent-passivhaus-article. Later, Marc Rosenbaum and David White wrote a point-by-point clarification of why the Passive House Standard sets a worthy goal for North America at http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/green-building-blog/defense-passive-house-standard

Also on GreenBuildingAdvisor.com, Martin Holladay and John Straube discuss the lowest cost approach, which differs from Passive House. The lowest cost approach improves the building envelope until the incremental cost of further improvements would be more expensive than photovoltaic technology. Passive House on the other hand looks at absolute energy consumption of the building envelope, so in a sense it is more “future-proof” than a house with more technology, and is likely the best choice for a future with constrained energy supply. Plus, it is much less expensive to add PV later than to retrofit additional underslab insulation. See http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/can-foam-insulation-be-too-thick

And finally, John Straube clarified his position in the whole discussion at http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-026-passivhaus-becomes-active-further-commentary-on-passivhaus.

If you are interested in helping bring Passive House to Canada, visit http://www.passivebuilding.ca and join the email discussion list.

Posted in Homes

Addressing Resource Depletion in the Ontario Building Code

2006 Ontario Building Code binder

2006 Ontario Building Code binderBeing concerned about resource depletion such as peak oil, peak natural gas, and overall energy production and natural resource decline, I thought it would be interesting to see if the Ontario Building Code acknowledges these very serious and imminent issues. I say imminent, because even if a resource peaks and enters decline 25 years from now, the buildings being constructed today under the current Code will still be around, consuming what’s left, and will have contributed to the problem in the first place. The same can be applied to climate change, given that construction and building operations account for 40% of greenhouse gas production.

The Ontario Building Code (2006) establishes its goals in Division A. It has overall objectives that the Code seeks to achieve and then functional statements relating to those objectives. Both the objectives and functional statements are inherently qualitative, meaning no numbers or other facts. This is an appropriate way to separate goals from the solutions to those goals.

In Division A Table, objective OR2 is “Resource Conservation – Energy Conservation”. It states:

An objective of this Code is to limit the probability that, as a result of the design or construction of a building, a natural resource will be exposed to an unacceptable risk of depletion or the capacity of the infrastructure supporting the use of the resource will be exposed to an unnatural risk of being exceeded, caused by the consumption of energy.

Then the related functional statement F131 in table indicates that statements in the building code relating to resource conservation are designed “To limit excessive energy consumption“.

That’s interesting. The entire goal of the energy components of the building code boils down to resource depletion or the ability to produce and deliver the resource, and not to use it all up too quickly. But notice the lack of numbers.

Who defines what an unacceptable risk is? Well, Appendix A comes along and says Division B with all of its prescriptive requirements forming the bulk of the Building Code that everyone talks about is considered to be boundaries between acceptable risk and unacceptable risk. That is, “the risk remaining once the acceptable solutions in Division B have been implemented represents the residual level of risk deemed to be acceptable by the broad base of Canadians who have taken part in the consensus process used to develop the Code.”

There we have it. The key to changing the building code is to somehow get into the consensus process. But how does it work?

Here is my understanding of the process. The Province of Ontario sets out in legislation in the Building Code Act the various powers that the regulations under the act will have. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing administers those regulations in the documents comprising the Ontario Building Code. It’s good to leave an act as general as possible because it’s hard to change an act, while regulations can be changed without having to pass through the legislature.

The Building Advisory Council is the vehicle by which the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing solicits strategic advice on policy, technical and administrative issues related to the Building Code Act and the Building Code regulations. The terms of reference of the council is available in a PDF document on the Ministry web site, search for “building advisory council”.

Those terms of reference spell out the organizations who may have a designate to be on the Building Advisory Council, although the Minister can appoint additional members at will. To find out who the current designates are, have a look at the most recent minutes, available at the Building Advisory Council’s index page on the Ministry web site.

Following the chain of command approach, as an engineer I would contact the designate for Professional Engineers Ontario, the designate from the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, or the representative from the Consulting Engineers of Ontario. A contractor might contact the representative from the Ontario General Contractors Association, and/or the designate for the Council of Ontario Construction Associations.

Any individual can always make submissions directly to the Ministry or the Minister, without having to do through the Building Advisory Council. But having a recommendation endorsed by the committee is helpful.

However, the Building Advisory Council is only an advisory panel. The Ministry as a whole, and ultimately the Minister, can do what they please. They can take recommendations under advisement and then turn around at make a step in a different direction, for political or other reasons. I’m sure when the engineers had an issue with Building Code Act about jurisdiction between it and the Professional Engineers Act, their complaints were dutifully passed along through the Building Advisory Council to the Ministry, which were then dutifully ignored. Nothing was changed until PEO applied to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2006 and won in May 2007.

In conclusion, to reform the Building Code such that Division B significantly raises the bar on energy performance of buildings and in effect lowers the threshold for the acceptable risk of resource depletion, we need to work with the Building Advisory Council members, the Acting Director of the Buildings and Development Branch as well as other people from the Building and Development Branch who are present at the BAC meetings, the Minister, and finally the Premier of Ontario. It wouldn’t hurt to work with your local Member of Provincial Parliament too. And if all else fails and you think you have a case, go to court.

The Ontario Building Code (2006), as with as all provincial acts and regulations, is available for free in a Word document on e-Laws but the online version does not contain the contents of the Volume 2, such as the supplementary standards.

Posted in Energy Decline

Rules of Thumb for Daylighting Design

Daylighting diagram

Daylighting diagramTiffany Otis & Christoph Reinhart of Harvard have published a presentation-document “Daylighting rules of thumb: A Design Sequence for Diffuse Daylighting” (PDF). Really, it’s more than just rules of thumb. There’s geometric calculations and multiple steps. This is a great way to start off a building design with daylighting in mind.

Posted in Energy Modeling

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