Sunday, 15 November 2015

Heating & Ventilation - Part 2

Now that the temperatures are starting to dip around these parts our minds are on staying warm indoors rather than cooling off in the lake. It's time to talk about how we will be heating Casa Tortuga.

Usually by this time of year, in any of our previous residences, I would have already been wearing a turtleneck for a few weeks and we'd have cranked the thermostat up to 24°C. The furnace would run almost constantly and there would be times, even though the thermostat said 24°C, there still seemed to be a chill that made me want to wear my turtleneck to bed. And I did sometimes...socks too. It was not fun...nor sexy for that matter. Anyway...

This is also the time of year when the clocks have been turned back and it's dark by about 4:30 pm that I wish I had a time machine that could fast forward through the dark cold months and transport us right into spring again.

This year sheds a whole new light on how I feel about the arrival of winter. With the sun getting lower in the sky every day we are benefiting from the solar heat gain. So now I look at the shorter days in a completely different way than I have in the past. I actually find myself looking forward to the next shorter day to see how much further into the house the beautiful sunshine will reach. To date, a sunny day will easily get the interior temperature to 24°+C, without the help of any other heat source.

The turtlenecks are still waiting for me. I say let them wait!

One thing Ras and I have both noticed is that 21°C feels warmer in this house than it ever did in the last house. 21°C was turtleneck temperature for sure (for me at least) in the last house and reason to bump the thermostat to 24°C. In this house, 21°C is perfectly comfortable. I continue to wonder if 21°C inside will still be comfortable when it's -21°C outside and the sun hasn't shone for 2 weeks.

It's the cloudy days for which we had to install the heat sources. So here's what heats the place.

Two Fujitsu air source heat pumps (16,000 BTU/h), one for each level.
One indoor heat pump head (white box on the wall, top right) on the main level.
One indoor heat pump head on the lower level.
Artwork still not hung making walls look too too naked.

Supplemental heat sources include...

Ditra-Heat in-floor heat in the master bath area.
There are 2 LED fireplaces in the house, one on each level. The electric
heat function was used toward our supplemental heat source calculations.
We only wanted the fireplaces for the (light) ambience. It's doubtful
we will ever use the heat function.

The building inspector was concerned we would have cold rooms in the house because the heat sources are centralized rather than ducted, therefore he insisted we wire for baseboard heaters in every room. Sacrilege! We wired to appease him but I refuse to let a baseboard heater anywhere near the place.

This past weekend we kept the door closed on the north-east-corner room on the lower level. There is no heat source in that room other than the east facing window. After 48 hours with the door closed the temperature was incredibly close to the rest of the house, almost imperceptible.

So far, the inspector has been proven quite wrong. I know it's still relatively mild compared to what we are in for but all the rooms in the house are comfortably warm. I haven't done my geek thing yet to measure temperatures room by room. That's a project I will get to. The ERV was just commissioned earlier this week so I didn't want to get too crazy measuring stuff until that was done.

Last, but not least. Our choice for water heating.

 80 gallon A.O. Smith air-source heat pump water heater.

We chose an air-source heat pump water heater for it's energy efficiency. Some would argue that the purchase price of the unit wipes out any savings gained by the lower energy usage. That may very well be true in this case too, but we needed the unit's efficiency and cooling capabilities to help with our passive house numbers. In for a penny in for a pound, as they say.

The water heater has worked like a charm...but it is noisy. The compressor runs at about the noise level of a canister-type vacuum. Until we get the insulated door on the utility room we have taken to switching the unit over to electric (silent) mode only when we have overnight visitors. I have checked the hydro website to compare electricity usage of both modes. The heat pump mode is definitely more efficient using about 4 kWh for one heating cycle vs about 10kWh during one heating cycle in electric mode.

Some advantages that this heat pump water heater has over a conventional water heater is that it cools the air in the room. That's how this water heater takes the heat from the surrounding air to heat the water. Our utility/storage room is plenty big enough to accommodate the air volume needs of the water heater so we have not noticed that the air temperature in the surrounding rooms is noticeably cooler. This cooling feature will come in handy in the summer. As well, it dehumidifies the air. keeps the air temperature of the utility room at the perfect temperature for storing wine. Bonus! Maybe the extra cost for the unit is not that bad after all.

That's enough for now...cheers,

Monday, 12 October 2015

First Annual Cold Turkey Plunge

I hope all you Canadians out there survived your over-indulgence of turkey this long Thanksgiving weekend. We did!

Just for fun, and mostly for our friends who have heard enough about passive house and long for something more fun to read about here on the blog, this one is for you.

Ras has decided that the Thanksgiving tradition here at Turtle Falls should be as invigorating as it is crazy. So she initiated the Cold Turkey Plunge. And believe it or not she was able to recruit four other keeners to join her. Here they are...

The brave ones...2 nephews, a sister, a sister-in-law, and Ras

Now let me explain why I am not in the picture. Someone had to take pictures. And since I actually have a degree in photographic arts, who better to take the photos? It matters not that my sister takes way better photographs than I do even though she doesn't have the 4 years of training under her camera belt as I do. It matters not that the water temperature was a seriously shivering 15°C (59°F). Someone had to document the First Annual Cold Turkey Plunge. Right?

Ok, the truth is...I'm a big wimp! Cold is not my cup of tea. 'Nuf said.

So here it is, as best I could do with only an iPhone for a camera in a 14' boat on a blustery day in front of the Turtle Falls dock...

Note how the instigator of the event is the first one to hit the water.
Note the passel of paparazzi shooting from behind.
Oh...that has got to be cold.
I'd say by the look on Ras's face's cold.

I've never seen so much clambering to be the first to get to the ladder. Note the nephew with the casted arm up in the air. Everyone blew past the poor dude trying to get out as fast as humanly possible. From the boat I kept wondering when someone was going to assist the one-armed lad out of the water. His mother finally offered a somewhat numbed helping hand.

The yelping was pretty impressive too. Our apologies to the neighbors if the commotion interrupted your peaceful Thanksgiving dinners.

I do have a little something-something for the readers that visit my blog strictly for passive house stuff. A product endorsement. In the cropped photo below, look at the cast protector on the arm of tall nephew. I said "the cast protector" people...eyes right. Eyes right!

No you have not been redirected to www.hot_1-armed_guys(dot)com

First I wrapped his cast with pallet wrap then taped that with Tuck tape, a clear plastic trash bag next, taped at the top with Siga Rissan tape for a water tight seal. It worked great...until it was time to unwrap him. Oh dear! Lordy, that stuff is sticky. I have to admit I started to sweat just a little when I was trying to get the tape to release from his skin. He smiled through the whole ordeal. He didn't spill any blood. I think he'll come back again to visit us.

These passive house sealing tapes really are sticky, seal tightly in some pretty wet conditions (a frigid lake dip then a hot shower to warm up) and will hold like crazy. I think we can rest assured our miles and miles of tapes will do their job for decades to come. I'm just thankful I didn't go that one step further and use the Dockskin primer on his arm before taping him up. ;)

I'll end my foolishness here.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

Heating & Ventilation - Part 1

It's been too long since I last wrote about the adventures of building this passive house. March I believe. When we passed our first blower door test. Most homes could be built in the length of time since my last post, but not Casa Tortuga. I joke that maybe we should have named the place Puma Palace and things may have happened much faster around here. But where's the fun in that?

Much has happened here since March. We have actually moved into the house and Priscilla has
left Turtle Falls for her next adventure. Will we miss her? Yes. And NO! The camping memories with
family and friends will always be a highlight of the Priscilla years. The cramped quarters, the leaky
roof, the the middle of the
night, the ants, black flies, mosquitos and deer
flies, the lack of showering and laundry facilities,
the mice, the mice and...THE MICE! These are
just a few of the things we will not miss.

Moving on...

Recently someone asked us what has been the
most challenging or difficult part of the building of this house. Unequivocally, it has been the heating and ventilation system. Not because it is a difficult thing to do, but because we are building a house that no one in the building department in this township has ever seen. Mass confusion and misunderstanding ensued!

To back up a little, we originally were going to install an EcoLogix cold climate heat pump. After going through the whole process of having the heat/ventilation system designed for Casa Tortuga we were advised that maybe EcoLogix wasn't quite ready to offer the customer service we would want in the future. The product is apparently quite awesome, the support...not so much. Then we got jostled around from a ducted Daiken multi-split heat pump/Zehnder ERV (energy recovery ventilator) system to a ducted Mitsubishi multi-split heat pump/AirPohoda ERV system and finally to two individual ductless Fujitsu mini-split heat pumps/Zehnder ERV system.

Zehnder ComfoAir 550 Luxe ERV (L) with the
ComfoFond Brine Loop (R) option.

The move to a local HVAC company rather than the original company chosen by our architect makes for the first change for our system. The second, the heat pump we wanted was not available yet and the ERV was not on the approved list. And finally we settled on the best available cold climate heat pump and ERV options available to us for the least amount of grief. All the best laid plans of mice and men...

Too many mice may have been our problem, I think.

Or it could be said that the building inspector has been the main reason for so much of the jumping around from system to system. AirPohoda, virtually unheard of here, has not yet made it to the list of approved ERVs for Canada and as much as we fought to get this incredibly efficient system in our house, the inspector was making the hoop-jumping impossible for us. Our last option was to go with something that was on the approved list. The Zehnder products are recognizable and approved here in Canada. And even though the efficiency of the AirPohoda trumps the Zehnder by a few percentage points, this machine is also pretty impressive.

Having a tightly sealed house requires good ventilation. The ERV runs silently in the background 24/7 exhausting the stale air and replenishing with filtered fresh outdoor air. Within the confines of that darker gray box hanging on the wall, like magic, the majority of the heat from the warm exhaust air gets transferred (with no cross contamination) to the incoming fresh air. Efficiency at its best.

Sometimes more details are just not necessary. It's kind of like electricity for me...flip a switch and a light comes on. I don't need to know how it works, I just need to know it will work. Same goes for the ventilation. Plugged it in. It works. I'm happy. Finally! It sure was a long haul getting to this point.

The brine loop option (the light gray box) bumps up the efficiency of the ERV even more by pre-heating (pre-cooling in summer) the incoming fresh air. There is just under 500 feet (152m) of glycol-filled 3/4" Pex tubing buried in the ground on the north side of the house. While air temperatures can occasionally go below -30°C (-22°F) here in the winter, the ground temperature stays fairly constant at around +10°C (50°F) past 4' (1.22m) below the surface. The ground loop will temper that -30°C (-22°F) outdoor air so the ERV will work more efficiently. This will also work in reverse in the summer time when air temperatures are +30°C (86°F). The ground loop will help to lower the temperature of the incoming fresh air before it even reaches the ERV.

With limited space for the ground loop, the 500' (152m)
was installed in layers with a minimum of 2' (0.6m)
of fill separating each layer. The top layer of tubing
 is 4' (1.22m) below the surface.

The 2 smaller grey vents are the intake and exhaust for the ERV. At the 
time of this photo, the spray foam around each pipe and cutting pipes to
length is yet to be done. These need to be tightly sealed to maintain our
super tight air seal.

The two units sitting on the stands in the photo above are the mini-split heat pumps. I will talk about those in the next post since I've probably already bored you to tears with this post. Lucky for you...there will not be a 7 month wait for the next post.

And for those thinking of building a passive house, fear not! Our experience building a passive house is by no means typical. Far, far from it. Although we may not have approached this project with the simplest of ideals and plans, the resulting house is proving to be completely 100% worth the seemingly never-ending grief and gargantuan effort. As I write this, the morning sun is streaming in the gorgeously large east windows, gently warming the interior...for free. Life is good.

We remain grateful to the ever expanding league of extraordinary gentlemen helping us breathe life...and fresh air...into this labour of love known as Casa Tortuga.

Happy Thanksgiving to all the Canucks out there.


Friday, 27 March 2015

0.34 ACH @ 50Pa - We passed the first test!

Ross Elliott and Stephen Magneron from
Homesol Building Solutions collecting the numbers
from our initial blower door test.
It's was a pretty exciting day here at Turtle Falls yesterday. After months of building in record cold temperatures we finally reached the stage where we could put the house and its airtight barrier through its first blower door test. I have to admit I was a bit nervous. Tests have always jarred my nerves and probably always will.

But as the title of this post reveals, there was no need to be nervous. The guys from Crane Building Service have done an outstanding job so far building their first passive house, which was amazingly designed by Chris Straka at Vert Design Inc, modeled to achieve passive house standard by Homesol Building Solutions and the airtight installation of superior quality passive house certified windows and doors by Herrmann's Timber-Frame Homes. Ras and I extend our greatest gratitude to all the guys for their continuing support and careful attention to all the details required to get us on the right path to passive house certification.

One of the most important features of a passive house is it must be airtight to within 0.6 air changes per hour under a pressure of 50 pascal (0.60 ACH@50Pa), meaning that it will take one hour for 60% of the volume of air in the whole house to be exchanged or about an hour and 40 minutes for one complete air change. Little ol' Casa Tortuga and its band of brilliant builders achieved a mid-term test score of 0.34 ACH@50...pretty good indeed.

The meticulous men from Crane's Building Service
(l-r) Lee Ostrom, Mark Raison and Al Paige.
0.34 ACH@50Pa...well below the 0.6 required. 

To put that number in perspective, as tightly sealed as Casa Tortuga is it would take about three hours for one complete air change and this means that in the dead of winter with all the ventilation and heating systems switched off, a passive house would typically lose about 0.5°C per day, stabilizing somewhere between 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F). And that's if the sun isn't shining.

Now I'll compare that to the house I grew up in...(sorry mom). Mom has been a real sweetheart to allow us to live with her during this crazy cold winter while construction continued. As much as we love Priscilla, winter is just too much for her thin-tinned walls to handle so mom graciously took us in. I must tell you that my childhood home is easily 100 years old and has had some updates over the years including a new kitchen addition, windows and furnace. I don't ever remember there being any insulation top-ups though. One cold night I noticed that the furnace was running almost constantly so my inner geek thought it might be fun to time this furnace cycling. It ran for 20 minutes, stopped for 3 minutes, ran for 20 minutes, stopped for 3...all night long and all day long for as long as those nasty -27°C days (and some -32°C) lasted. This house was losing about 1°C every 20 minutes with the heating/ventilation systems on. Compare that to the anticipated (systems off) passive house heat loss of 0.5°C per day. It makes the grief we have gone through with construction and weather delays worth every moment when I look at everything from this perspective.

So let me go back and show you some of the reasons we achieved such a good number.

The excellent triple-glazed Gaulhofer passive house windows installed by
perfectionists Adrian & Andreas of Herrmann's Timber-Frame Homes.
 These guys had smiles on their faces all week while installing in nasty
cold temperatures, even when they had to apply sealing tapes with
ungloved hands. I think they must be part polar bear! Fun guys.
Look at all the beautiful sunshine. But you know what sunshine in January
means in Eastern Ontario, eh? Minus 27°C (-17°F) or worse!  Ah, but days
like this make for some cozy temperatures inside a passive house.
The completed airtight envelope. This one inch of foil-faced insulation board
 is really all the wall/ceiling we have at the moment. The 6" (15cm) of Roxul
on the inside and 16" (40cm) of dense pack cellulose outside is still not
installed but we were reaching temperatures as high as 24°C (75°F) and
 maintaining at least 13°C (55°F) even in the -27°C (-17°F) weather,
using just one electric construction heater.
28" (71cm) of cellulose has been blown into the attic space
 by Green Giant Design Build. When settled, it should sit
 at a depth of about 25" (63cm). The R-value of the
insulation above the ceiling is closing in on 90.
The 2x6 space below the airtight foil barrier is the service chase for electrical
wires and ventilation ducts. All lights/ducts can be installed in the ceiling
 now without compromising the airtight envelope.

That's all for this post. Next up will be a smallish rambling about the heat and ventilation system for Casa Tortuga. I've lost count of how many times we've had to endure the comment that a house should not be so tightly sealed..."houses need to breathe, ya know!"

More later,

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Turtle's pace Downgraded to a Snail's pace

It's been months since I've written a post and I'm having trouble knowing where to begin. It will seem to you, from the photos, like a lot has been accomplished here at Turtle Falls but then when I remind you that the last post was August 22nd you may wonder what is taking so long. I wonder that every day too even though I'm livin' the dream. 
The number of roadblocks we have encountered can truly get us down at times. Weather, architectural design flaws, architectural detail omissions, weather, material delays, painstaking attention to air-tightness details, weather, health issues with the building crew, not having enough building crew, engineering omissions and the delays associated with waiting for new engineered details. Oh...and did I mention weather? We are now just waiting for the winter to kick into high gear. That should really help with our schedule!
Sarcasm aside, we are happy to have a crew that takes the time to do things with care and attention to detail. We are confident that we are getting a very well built house. Now, if only we could find them a faster turtle!
Here are some photos of what's gone into building passive house Casa Tortuga to date:
One inch (2.5cm) thick polyisocyanurate board (foil-faced foam) is glued
on every stud and nailed to the exterior side of the stud wall.
One inch (2.5cm) thick high density Styrofoam is installed where floor
joists/rim boards will sit.
Then all seams are taped with Siga Rissan for air-tightness.
The first section of wall raised. Yeah! The seam between wall sections gets
taped from the inside to continue that complete air-tight barrier.
Corners get wrapped with foam board and taped
 before the section gets moved to its final spot.
A bead of adhesive gets applied at the floor...
And the wall section is lowered over the anchor bolts and onto the
adhesive, completing the air tight seal at the floor.
Steel beams and massive window headers are boomed into place.
A rare moment of joyful-jumping and exuberance when weather and
construction speed are playing nicely together.'re too cute!
All seams taped. High density styro on the tops of all walls (you may need
 to zoom in to see that detail) to which the ceiling polyisocyanurate boards
get taped. Once that polyiso is in place, the continuous air-tight bubble of
foam around the living space will be complete. It will eliminate
all thermal bridging as well.
Trusses and roof sheathing finally arrive.
What's with the weird looking window openings, you ask?
Before I get to windows...
the concrete gets two coats of elastomeric waterproofing membrane.
The window bucks are built to accommodate the windows in the 23" (58cm)
thick walls. It looks rather odd right now but once the exterior 16" (40cm)
of insulation gets installed they will look like any other window.

I realize this post is getting excessively long so I will end here for now. You can see from the photos the amount of detail that you will not see in conventional building. Details...just one of the items in the list of why this project seems to take forever to go anywhere.

More later...giddyup turtle, winter is fast approaching!

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Big Bunker Theory

No doubt some of you have heard of the Diefenbunker. Most everyone who has visited Turtle Falls while the rebar was being installed wondered if we were building the next Diefenbunker. Oh wait...that would mean it might be named the Harperbunker. Hell way!! I'll admit there is a lot of steel in this house and I suppose if you use your imagination you may see some similarities in the following photos.
The Diefenbunker under construction 1961. Courtesy of
The TurtleBunker under construction 2014.
(Sorry PM Harper, you cannot have your name on this bunker!)
21,000 linear feet of rebar in the slab and walls equals about 10 tons.
The Diefenbunker has 5000 tons of steel. Not even close!
Forming the TurtleBunker walls.
So why so much steel, you ask? The concrete slab is a full 12 inches (30.5cm) thick sitting on a 14 inch (35.5cm) floating bed of Styrofoam. Concrete not only shrinks as it dries but continues to expand and contract with temperature changes. The rebar reduces the amount of cracking the slab will endure over its lifetime and helps distribute the weight of loadbearing walls. No saw-cut contraction joints were allowed to be cut in this slab, as specified by the engineers, probably because these saw cuts would likely have to be about 3 inches (7.6cm) deep and would therefore cut through the top layer of rebar installed just 2 inches (5cm) from the slab's surface.

The walls required a similar seemingly over-abundance of rebar. The back wall of the house will be a retaining wall for the hill behind it. Since the concrete is only 6 inches (15.2cm) thick, standing 10 feet (3m) tall, the steel needed to be plentiful and steadfast. There will be massive amounts of pressure against that back wall once backfilled. And even though every last person who has seen the rebar for this house has shaken their heads or rolled their eyes in disbelief and asked us if we are building a skyscraper...or the next Diefenbunker...or if we've just lost our minds all together, we simply smile inside and feel a great sense of security knowing this house has been engineered to last. Nuclear attack, earthquakes and hurricanes be damned. Why should governmental figures be the only ones allowed to hunker down in a bunker when the outside world gets a little out of control?

We have so many names for this house: Casa Tortuga, The Turtle Palace, TurtleBunker. But maybe it really needs to be named Castle Tortuga. At one moment during the removal of forms from the walls the whole scene reminded us of a castle. Yes? All we need now is a moat and a drawbridge.

Castle Tortuga in the making?
A stressful, yet successful pour complete.

Notice all the little nibs left behind from the form ties both inside and out in the above photo. Since we will be installing a rigid insulation on both the inside and outside of the concrete, each and every one of those nibs needed to be knocked off. Fun times at Turtle Falls consisted of nib-knocking for days...and days!

The last nib gets knocked.

I just wouldn't be a good Canadian if I didn't mention the weather. This summer has looked like the following picture every other day. We got one lonely week of solid sunshine somewhere between the first and second weeks of August. Ever since, we've been back to rain almost every other day.

This is the very tiresome scene we see too much of from Priscilla's window.

The ironic part about waterproofing is that things need to be dry to apply waterproofing materials. As you may have guessed from my weather report there was quite a waiting period before we could get to the waterproofing of the joint at the floor and wall. Once we did get our sunny week we wasted no time. The first step was an elastomeric caulk right in the joint. This product needed a week to cure before we could roll on the rubberized membrane. Mother Nature played nice that week and gave us just enough dry days to get this very important step done. Passive houses need to be very air tight and this sealing detail had to be done before we can proceed with anything else.

Those of you familiar with sealing joints for passive house may wonder why we opted not to use the more convenient tapes for this step. It turns out we have a few uneven sections in our floor where the water collects up against this joint and the tapes would most likely fail after successive water submersions thanks to all the rain we've been getting. Even once we get rolling with the framing it will be a while before the roof is installed and any rainwater would be impossible to remove from those collection areas once the 2x6 stud wall is in place. So we chose to caulk and roll! {groan}

Floor/wall joint is sealed with elastomeric caulk for water and air-tightness.
Tooling the caulk for better coverage and adhesion.
Rolling on the first of 2 coats of rubberized
waterproofing membrane.

Not all has been lost due to weather though. We have kept the crew busy with building the Turtle Falls workshop while we got the TurtleBunker prepped for them. Here's what they've been up to while we've been nib-knocking and waterproof caulking...

The Turtle Falls workshop is looking mighty fine. Nice work guys!

That's all for now. Pray for sunshine!

More later,