Sunday, 26 January 2014

Rotting OSB - Why I refuse to perform rough-in construction during the winter!

I regularly go by a construction site where a friend of my neighbor is the G.C.   This house in out by the ferry terminal in West Vancouver and when done will be a very high cost home.

My latest visit reminded me of why I really do not want to expose my build to the winter rains.  In fact, I will try to keep all rain of the structure until closed in by installing a 60ft x 100ft tarp over a metal cable strung between two large trees.

But back to the visit, I have been visiting this property since before the old house got taken down, and in fact this is where I salvaged very nice cabinetry to use in the walk in closet, master bath, and family entrance as well as a new wall oven and a like new drawer dishwasher.  I also was able to salvage a lot of plant material from the property but so much more got left behind with the thinking it was out of the way, when in reality - they have just been trashed, such a shame.

Cabinet salvaged to be used in Master Bath

Gorgeous drawers and storage for Master Walk-In-Closet

Base cabinets to be used for family entrance
Wall cabinets to be used for family entrance
 But again I digress.  The new house has been under construction since the middle of May 2013.  The roof was installed sometime in December, but as of yesterday the majority of windows still have not been placed, and as the main floor living areas is 100% windows, the structure is very much NOT waterproof and has been subjected to many storm events leading to total saturation.  And the structure is starting to show its distress accordingly.  I noticed these symptoms a couple of weeks ago when there but was only able to return with a camera yesterday.

This dwelling is still at the rough in stage and is showing rather significant surface mould and rot fungi.  These OSB webs are now compromised **A conversation with someone much smarter than me indicated the webs should still be OK as long as this is dried out and cleaned off **.  Not only do I want to prevent this wetting with a tarped site, this is a perfect example of how poorly OSB stands up in wet environments.

 In the end, this will probably get cleaned up as the G.C. is quite conscientious, but normally, this would just get closed in and the occupants would wonder why their floors bounce a little more than they should.

Updated - Plumbing Design Complete - Not for the impatient!

Click here to view Completed 3D Plumbing Design - Updated

I plan on installing my own plumbing system in this house and am quite comfortable working with pipe.  However it had been several years since I had reviewed the plumbing codes and my memory from those days indicates there were a lot of rules regarding the sizing and routing of pipes!  So instead of talking the time to read and re-learn the code, I decided to contract out this part of the design.  I contacted an instructor of a BCIT 'Build your own house' course I had taken a few years back who provided the contact info for his son, a licensed plumber.

Richard Pugh 604-351-9145

I sent Richard off a set of preliminary drawings and asked if he could provide a plumbing isometric.  Now anyone who knows the plumbing business will understand that this is a strange request for a plumber and I was met with the expected hesitation.  Most residential plumbers do not draw out the system they install, and instead just complete a very rough plan, after the framing is complete, to allow for material ordering.  They then 'flesh' out the system as they are on site installing it.

If the designer (specifically those responsible for structural) has not taken into account the plumbing system, the plumber is left with some creative ways to route the pipes - especially the horizontal offsets and horizontal branch drains. And in some cases, with some plumbers that follow poorer practices, structure is modified to make room for the plumbing, compromising the stability of the structure (this seems to be rampant in the home renovation industry). In this conversation, it is important to remember that plumbers work in the world of 90º, 45º, and 22.5º fittings and all lines have to slope to drain.  If you have ever laid out a plumbing system, these constraints become front and center quite quickly and dramatically effect the routing of the pipes.

After a week or so, I met with Richard and went over his drawing markups. They identified the line routings and sizes and included key information like max change in direction between a water closet and its vent (225º) as well as the max distance between a WC flange and its vent (3m).  Everything looked great during our meeting review and I set off back to the office to fully flesh this plan out in my mind.

I have been using a program called Home Designer Pro to model the house in 3D and also create the plan views.  Unfortunately, this program does not include the functionality to add in plumbing.  So my Google search turned up a program called Quick Plumb (  It had a 30 day free trial and a by month subscription after that.  The program showed a lot of promise, so I downloaded and started to model the layout that Richard had provided.  The program while easy to use on the surface, did have considerable challenges and only perseverance and patience provided a completed 3D plumbing model (I will give a full review of Quick Plumb at a later time).

Very quickly while starting the 3D modeling, I was able to see that some of what Richard had provided was not going to work, and I realized how difficult it is for plumbers to visualize a dwelling when only provided standard 2D floor plans.  The architectural 2D plans often provided do not typically identify the structural details like floor beams.  It is also difficult to visualize the alignment of each floor without a lot of measuring or being given some form of 3D model.

I unfortunately had not completed the structure at the time I had Richard start on the project so could not give him the structural drawings showing final beam placements. And I had no easy way to provide the Home Designer Pro 3D model to others.  So we had beams in the way of branches and stacks going through cavities reserved for pocket doors and similar interferences.  The pipe layout as drawn was just not going to happen.

SO I utilized the sizing and 'rules' presented in Richard's markup and set out to alter the layout to fit my structure.  In the end, I had to drop three beams in the basement (my beams are generally flush so concealed within the floor cavities) and re-space some floor trusses.  Fortunately, these beams could be dropped into either wall assemblies below, or into rooms that I did not mind having lower ceilings (like bathroom and sauna shower room in basement).  I also had to dramatically reroute the plumbing venting as I just did not have enough space in the floor assemblies for the drains AND vents to pass over each other (my cavities are 11-7/8" deep).

Richard still has to check over the resultant design, but I believe it is quite close to what I will end up with.  A 3D 'spin' of the design is available on my YouTube channel

Update: Richard went through and essentially 'approved' the plan.  I have updated the 3D spin to show the model now that I have also added in the required clean-outs.  The model still contains a code error (it was just too difficult to edit in the program). Can you spot it?

The design meets the following considerations:
  •  Basement will drain to a sump and then 'pump up' to the building drain that gravity drains to the Municipal sewer (note this is not how it is drawn. The software does not have functionality that allows for a pump up)
  • Upper two floors to gravity drain to Municipal sewer. 
  • Upper floor grey water lines will pass through a heat recovery device before exiting the building.
  • Toilets will drain separately from the rest of the system to accommodate a future grey water heat recover system upgrade and possible grey water filtering system to allow it to be reused in toilets.
As always - thanks for reading and I look forward to any comments you may have.

Friday, 24 January 2014

January Update - Slowly we are proceeding.

I am getting a few questions as to where I am at on the build and so will provide this short update.

We are getting there! OK, that may have been too short.

Currently, we are waiting to hear if our development variance will be approved.  The notice went out to the neighbours between Christmas and New Years (Many Thanks to Erik at the District of North Vancouver for getting this out so quickly).  The neighbours had till Wednesday to respond with only one neighbour providing official comment (positive).  The next step is for staff to write the report to Council and for Council to deliberate on the application at the next available meeting.  This currently is scheduled for Feb 17 (I today found out it is too tight to make the Feb 3 meeting which is disappointing but totally understandable).

Back in November when I was discussing this Variance with staff, I was under the impression that they would allow me to apply for the building permit in advance of the Variance permit approval and proceed on the condition the variance is approved.  I found out this week, that I had it wrong, and that I cannot apply for the building permit until after, and if,  the variance has been accepted.  This news filled me with disappointment as I was budgeting 8-10 weeks for building permit approval based on previous conversations.  However, the kind District Plan Checker has advised they will do their best to fast track the application and could complete the process in as little as 2-4 weeks.  This would end up putting me slightly ahead of schedule.

The District staff have also confirmed I can apply for the demolition permit at any time.  This will again help, as regular readers remember, I plan to dismantle the existing dwelling by hand and reuse, sell, give away, or recycle/salvage as much of the materials as possible.  I estimated this process was going to take a month to complete.  Current plans are to move out the first few days in March, spend a couple of weeks dealing with all of 'my stuff' in the garage and attic and storage shed, and then start tackling the dismantling of items like flooring, cabinets, end the like, all stuff not controlled by a permit.  I would then schedule the services to be cut near the end of March and then start on the official 'demolition'.  These efforts would all take place in advance of the building permit and further improve my schedule.

I am also nearing completion with Tacoma, the structural engineers I hired.  This process has gone on longer than I believe both Tacoma and I expected, but we have made excellent progress and I believe are getting to the final drawing edits, having been through all the drawings at least once to date.  There has been a struggle with my desire for a thermal bridge free envelope and Tacoma's desire to ensure the dwelling stays standing for decades to come, that has been worked out with lots of 1 and 0's flying through the internet email pathways, and I am grateful for Tacoma and specifically Heather's patience through this process.  In the end, it is difficult (impossible?) to build a thermal bridge free structure utilizing 2x4 wall construction, and while complying with zoning requirements, and I have had to compromise in several areas in order to allow us to proceed with permit drawings in any reasonable time frame.  There are a few areas I will try to 'upgrade' after the permit process, but will only be able to do so if ROXUL is able to provide some compressive strength testing results for their insulation in a 6" wide configuration (what I will have as continuous insulation on the exterior of the sheathing).

As you recall I recently completed a proposed plumbing waste pipe design and am now waiting for the licensed plumber to approve or adjust as required.

I also recently commissioned EcoLighten Energy Solutions to complete a room by room heat loss calculation that I will then use to design my radiant panels.  I will speak to this a lot more in the future, but it is my feeling that the method I was taught as part of the TECA Residential Hydronic Designer course, is too crude for high performance homes.  I plan on doing a comparison between that which EcoLighten provides and that completed using the TECA method, and will post the differences here.  The preliminary model from EcoLighten shows that I will use around 50% of the energy used by a 'code built' home.  With the levels of insulation and air tightness I planned, this is actually a disappointing result, as I was hoping for something closer to a 70%+ reduction. I will go over the model in the upcoming weeks and see if there are any assumptions that can be tweaked to represent what I believe will be the final reality.

I have also commissioned HoneyComb Creative to build the project website.  HoneyComb created my home inspection website and were an obvious choice to approach for my build needs.  The website should be 'live' in approximately 4-8 weeks with at least the basic functionality, and then will be fleshed out as the project proceeds.  The site will include 'live' video, time laps photographs,  a link to this blog, a daily project diary, special component installation videos, dwelling design details, sponsorship links with promotional literature for sponsored products, and finally information and basic instrument readings for the science lab (once the dwelling is complete).  I am looking forward to the site launch and have been very pleased with the initial artwork provided.

Well, I believe you are caught up.   I will be posting documents pertaining to the variance application and the permit application, including all drawings, as I get through those hurdles.

As always, thanks for reading!  Please drop me a line if you have any questions or comments.


Monday, 20 January 2014

A 9V battery can kill! Important Fire Safety Announcement

A friend recently forwarded a YouTube video series describing a families near death experience with a fire in their home caused by the 9V battery in their smoke detector.

The husband has tried to create a positive out of this terrible tragedy by creating a video series on fire safety.  There are 4 videos in the Kids and Character Series and I would like to recommend that you make it a priority to review these with your family ASAP.  Taking a few moments now can save your life later.

I have personally been involved with extinguishing two substantial fires in my life and can attest to the ineffectiveness of a single fire extinguisher and the irrational thoughts that one has in the heat of the moment.  In both my cases, I had multiple extinguishers being supplied (6 or more 20lb units) by others and was able to extinguish the blaze, but in both cases I was at risk due to the confined quarters of the blase, or in the first case, by the fact that if I had been unable to extinguish the blaze, my path of escape would have been blocked.

I have known about the power of a 9V for some time because it is a common camping fire starter using just the battery and some steel wool.   I was horrified when I viewed these videos and decided to check out my own 'bag of batteries' and was very grateful I did.  As you can see in the photos below, I have several 9V batteries embroiled with the other batteries in the bag.  Fortunately none of them had yet shorted out, but as I would have added more batteries or placed something over top of the bag, who knows if the contact between the terminals of two of the 9V's could have occurred.

A bag of batteries can kill.  I looked at the bag of batteries I have in my own house only to discover 6 or more 9V batteries tossed in.
If you look close, you will see a 9V battery buried in the pile in an inverted position and resting against other batteries.  Good thing they had a plastic coating. But what happens when a 9V shorts out with the terminals on another 9 volt.  Watch the videos to find out.

So please stay safe and put a little time aside to watch the four videos and make the required changes in your life.  Especially look at the end of the second video discussing the need to replace the emergency release chord on your garage doors with a chain.  Should you have any questions on how to do this, please do not hesitate to contact me.

I want to thank Dave for taking such a difficult step to document his personal tragedy.  You just may have saved a life or property at my house.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Concrete – Can you reduce its embodied energy?

Concrete has a reputation for being one of the highest carbon contributors of all building materials, next only to metals.  The shear volume of concrete made around the world is a primary factor, but the creation of cement powder itself, the key ingredient in concrete, is not only energy intensive (usually coal is used to power boilers), but the chemical changes that occur to the limestone during the calcinations process also produces carbon dioxide.  The Chemistry World March 2008 reported that concrete productions contribute to 5% of annual anthropogenic global CO2 production.

Pretty much all concrete producers have been supplementing cement powder in concrete formulations with other supplementary cementitious materials (SCM) for many years.  This is done to reduce the cost of producing the concrete, and to provide a reduction in the emissions created while making concrete.  Fortunately, the practice of adding SCM's also results in improvements to the final concrete’s strength, chemical resistance, and can often reduce the permeability of concrete.  The most common three SCM’s are blast furnace slag, fly ash, and silica fume.

Blast Furnace Slag is a by-product of the iron industry. The material in rough terms, is the impurities and flux that floats to the top of the molten iron where it is then skimmed off.  It often contains high concentrations of limestone, forsterite and in some cases dolomite. When incorporated, it is touted as increasing the durability and strength of concrete.  It can also be used to extend the set times and reduces the risk of cold joints. One aspect I am particularly looking for in the concrete for my suspended garage slab, is its ability to resists the ingress of salts and therefore reducing the risk of reinforcement corrosion. A typical formulation replaces 40-50% of the cement powder with ground-granulated blast-furnace slag.  One of the negatives of using slag for concrete is the large volume of water needed to quench and rapidly cool the molten slag to prevent the crystallization of the slag, and then the energy needed to dry and grind the finished granulated product prior to inclusion into concrete.

Fly ash is created by the coal power industry and is captured by precipitators or other filters within the Coal Thermal Plants before it is able to enter the atmosphere.  It is substantially made up of silicone dioxide and calcium oxide.  It also includes a concoction of toxic constituents like heavy metals in quantities from trace amounts to several percent. About 43% of fly ash is recycled, with the majority used as a constituent of concrete, with the rest is often land filled or stockpiled in ponds where if not carefully controlled, can leach into ground water supplies.  The use of fly ash in concrete is closely regulated and is usually restricted to Class F ash. Class C ash can have volatile effects on concrete with entrained air, causing reduced resistance to freeze/thaw damage.  Fly ash is often added in ratios of 30% by mass over Portland in concrete mixes.  Fly ash, like slag, is also reported to increase concretes strength and chemical resistance and also improves the workability of concrete and can reduce water demand lowering shrinkage crack potential.  Finally, it is reported that the use of fly ash to replace 1 ton of Portland cement, offsets one ton of Carbon Dioxide. Of course this does not take into account the 20-30 tons of CO2 created by the burning of the coal needed to produce one ton of Fly ash, but as the coal is being burned anyway to produce power, and this is a waste product that is not further transformed for use in concrete, we can ignore this fact.

Silica fume is an ultra-fine powder collected as a by-product of the silicon and ferrosilicon alloy production in electric arc furnaces.  Silica fume, when added to concrete is reported to improve the concrete’s compressive strength, bond strength, and abrasion resistance. And like the above two SCM’s, it too reduces the risk of reinforcement corrosion.  Silica fume is reported to reduce bleed water significantly due to the large surface area its particles represent in the concrete matrix.  This property also blocks the concrete pores and prevents mix water from coming to the surface.  Silica fume, like Fly ash also has the benefit of not requiring any further processing to be utilized in concrete.  One down side to the incorporation if silica fume into a concrete matrix is its tendency to lower workability by making the concrete ‘stickier’ and therefore requiring increased volumes of water.

Were off to a good start, but how else can a cement producer reduce the embodied energy of the finished product – Concrete.

Lafarge’s cement plant in Richmond BC, currently the eighth largest carbon producer in the Province per Pacific Carbon Trust, is trying and succeeding in changing this statistic.  They have and are implementing two programs that will significantly reduce their carbon output going forward.

The first project involves switching part of the boiler fuel needs from coal to construction waste that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill and released methane.  This will result in a reduction of 83,000 tonnes of carbon output over a 6 year period (28%) or the equivalent of 16,275 cars being taken off the road for one year.

The second project involves evolving to a new generation of cement powder called Portland Limestone cement (PLC).  Lafarge is able to reduce its fuel consumption and cut its GHG emissions by roughly 8% (or the equivalent of taking 4,667 cars of the road for one year) by displacing conventional clinker with finely ground limestone in a ‘raw’ state, up to a ratio of 15% when formulating its cement powder.

In Canada, the PLC product is made on the east coast by Holcim and St. Mary's and in the Lower Mainland is made by Lafarge - branded: Contempra and  by Lehigh - branded EcoCem.  While this formulation has been used in Europe of over 25 years, it was only introduced to Canada in 2009.  These producers are to be congratulated for making this commitment to the future and reducing their global impact on our planet.

Additional Reading:

1) Concrete CO2 Fact Sheet produced by the NRMCA
2) Concrete and SCM use for sustainable future by Lafarge
3) Concrete in Practice - Why/What/How by NRMCA
4) PCA Manual - Design and Control of Concrete Mixtures, Chapter 3 hosted by University of Memphis
5) Understanding Supplementary Cementitious Materials and Their Benifits by Julie Buffenbarger

Monday, 13 January 2014

How It's Made - Roxul Stone Wool Insulation

The popular 'How It's Made' TV series visits the ROXUL factory in this 5 minute video

You may also be interested in this video of ROXUL's "Test The Best" demo presented at building stores across the country.

ROXUL Mineral Wool Insulation - Highly Vapour Open

Dr. John Straube of Building Science Corp dispels the misconceptions of mineral wool insulation and identifies some of the many benefits from choosing ROXUL in this 3.5 minute video.

Of particular importance is his comments regarding the vapour permeance of a mineral wool insulation in comparison with rigid or spray foam insulation and why this is so important.

"Some insulation products that have built-in vapour resistance can impede drying and this can become an important concern during design. The resiliency of a wall to built-in construction moisture or accidental flaws in water control needs to consider how that insulation will allow drying outward."

"There are many types of foam insulation but all of them are characterized by limiting vapour flow through them."

"If the design is not taking into account resistant properties of foam, you can trap moisture in a wall or roof assembly, and of course trapped moisture leads to damage such as mould growth, corrosion or decay."

"One of the unique features of stone wool is that it is very open to vapour flow" "This means there are some tremendous advantages if you are trying to dry a wall or roof out or in, because water vapour came move almost unimpeded through the actual insulation product"

Saturday, 11 January 2014

SENWiEco adds a weather station.

As part of the instrument package for the new build, I have installed a Vantage Pro2 Plus weather station.  I have had this recording weather since September of 2013, but only setup the web based access today.

My blog will show the current conditions, but clicking on the icon will take you to the station on the Weather Underground website where you will be able to look at historical data.

The station is currently uploading saved data and should be 'live' by tomorrow.