ERIA EcoSystems
ERIA EcoSystems

MSSB - Towards More Self-Sufficient Buildings
(4 page primer compiled by Chris Ives)

KEY FEATURES of More Self-Sufficient Buildings for the North.

"The two biggest problems the world faces - energy and climate change - can only be solved by renewable energy" - Hermann Scheer, World Council for Renewable Energy, an industry association based in Bonn.

This "primer" discusses approaches & technologies for Northern and Far Northern environments.

MSS Buildings are not only healthy for the people living/working inside, but are an integral part of a community that can actually retain productive land, forest, and wetlands. Such quality is not necessarily more expensive and may actually cost less overall, not to mention lower energy bills and maintenance/upkeep costs.

Materials are carefully chosen for occupant/worker health to avoid allergies and respiratory problems.

Building designs & construction techniques avoid moisture, humidity, and mold buildup. Building envelopes go beyond R2000 (even less heating if using passive solar energy) with some thermal mass to eliminate frost and condensation damage when left unoccupied.

Continuous ventilation systems remove polluted air, and circulate fresh filtered air, with heat recovery.

Biological treatment of potable water removes bacteria/parasites without chemicals or high-tech membranes.

Training & materials can be provided on Indoor Air Quality inspection / mitigation (for example, by CMHC).


KEY FEATURES of More Self-Sufficient
Buildings for the North

or"It's the Environment Stupid."

TOP 10 POINTS to Improve Northern
Building Renewable Energy

Internet based energy &
water management


Flexible building design/construction accommodates changing needs - and also permits seniors, disabled people and children to move more freely (originally derived from "Flex Housing" Innovations, developed by CMHC).

Community & building designs provide healthier and more secure areas for youth activities, plus traditional occupations and lifestyles, including temporarily high occupancies. These designs can also permit integration of indoor/outdoor facilities for crafts and the processing of game & produce (traditional foodstuffs/remedies).

Encourage plans for sustainable harvesting/recovery of local timber for fuel/building materials, and where appropriate the growing/storage of local herbs, vegetables, fruits, grains. Also plan for community agriculture & aquaculture, composting, recycling, tree planting, road/trail/river/stream, and stormdrain management.

"EcoSystem Rescue” designs reduce infrastructure requirements for water / sewage / heat / power / firefighting and stormwater. Alternatives to conventional sewage infrastructure reduce pollution/save water by on-site biological treatment of wastewater for direct discharge, and even reclaim 40-80% water for local reuse onsite.

Planning & site development should extend all the way – from streets and subdivisions up to retaining 2/3 of site as farmland, forest, wetland - up to 2/3 less infrastructure, 2/3 less land development, not to mention up to 2/3 less cost (CMHC’s "Fused Grid" street designs use 36% less land, and ensure better pedestrian access).

Build Smart / Operate Smart to encourage the supply and usage of water, heat and power in more efficient ways. Like CO-GENERATING heat/power to recover 2/3 of the fuel energy normally wasted, and choosing equipment that uses 2-20x less power. Use factory or site prefabrication methods to reduce building costs up to 40% over local stick-built construction (Builder/Inspector capacity training/certification is available eg CMHC). Consider in-house firefighting installations based on non-freezing pre-charged foam systems. Specify autonomous building designs where appropriate - eg. camps, recreation, farm, and remote facilities. Consider Internet based energy/water management systems (see "BlueEnergyMonitor" program by ERIA)

It’s the Environment, Stupid.”

Communities of homes/buildings (for example housing developments) are man made components placed in the ecosystem where they assume a role similar to other ecosystem components. As artificially created components this role is not always self evident. As a result most community developments tend to degrade their own supportive networks by demanding energy, resources, water and land which they cannot replace or rejuvenate, unlike natural components which restore what they draw from the ecosystem.

This stewardship role of buildings is not always self evident or understood, especially in large urban centres. In many remote, rural, northern and First Nations communities however, environmental degradation is becoming more and more self evident, and the role that settlement plays in this is much better understood. Many of these same communities also have less access to energy, finished materials and "southern" technological expertise. Furthermore they may still be dependent on traditional foods, materials, and energy sources.

This combination of improved awareness, diminished resources and acute needs has led to the development of a number of healthier building solutions which underscore the issues of sustainable development. Both healthier buildings and sustainable community planning are strongly linked, thanks to alternative infrastructure approaches which make better land use patterns possible - they certainly don't have to "cost the earth". These "Healthier Building" principles and ideas are equally valid in other parts of Canada and across the world, even in urban and suburban areas. They help all of us to address key questions like - Do our communities have to be land short? Can we protect our farmland, forests and wetlands - our ecosystems? Is it possible to build quality buildings that are affordable?

Healthier Buildings are more self-sufficient. They minimise their needs for land, materials, energy and water by optimizing natural forces for support, and maximizing efficiencies from appropriate technologies and methodologies. This allows the greatest flexibility and lowest cost to encourage "non-mainstream" solutions including renewable energy and the greater use of locally available materials. Sustainable on-site community infrastructures deliver clean air, water, soil and some foods for these healthier buildings, and receive their wastes and wastewater, restoring them to their original state or better, before returning them to the ecosystem.

LAND USE CHOICES - Alternative infrastructure permits efficient land / resource usage, protects ecosystems & watersheds, retains agriculture, saves money & scarce resources (Example - Connecticut river - 300 acres).

 TOP 10 POINTS to Improve Northern Building Renewable
Energy Performance

1. LOCATION: point main windows south; shelter entrances from prevailing winds.

2. FOUNDATION: build on rock rather than permafrost; insulate the crawlspace. Rock can be a good building material, also soil-clay-cement mix. These may be suitable locally to reduce dependence on imported materials.

3. ENVELOPE: better than R2000 if possible (?); can we go beyond minimum energy code requirements (?); choose quality windows that can be readily repaired (i.e. not too big); shutters for windows (standard in many European buildings & homes); consider SIP panel systems for the building shell (Structural Insulated Panels).

4. VENTILATION: tempered airlock entrance rooms with dedicated ventilation system (to catch the humidity generated from boots and clothing before the humidity gets into the heated area of the building); “Solar-Wall” systems for preheating of ventilation air; preheat Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) exhaust air to avoid intake air freeze-up; try to control / manage humidity at source(s); find cooking/drying methods that don't produce so much humidity (example - why not use pressure cookers and exhaust hoods more often?).

5. APPLIANCES: combo furnaces for space & DHW heating (external utility rooms for homes gain space for extra bedrooms - no more need for vent holes in the building envelope); STOP leaving lights/appliances on, and avoid ‘instant-on' operation. Choose QL induction or LED lighting (better/healthier than compact fluorescents).

6. COMMUNITY ENERGY: cogeneration of heat and power; AVOID resistance heating; clustering buildings and homes allows symbiotic integration of work and living spaces to optimize mechanical systems; efficient street lights (three times less power draw and better lighting); micro co-generation systems “daisy-chained” to allow for embedded communal power generation and back-up if main power generation system fails; vehicle docking stations allow for building/vehicle interfaces - sometimes called “HOUSE-CAR” or hV2G.

BIODIESEL can be generated from community wastes (particularly the biodegradable stuff from garbage & sewage) and can be an eventual energy source in the larger communities like Kuujjuak. Note that BioDiesel contains similar power to regular D2 diesel and 30% more power than cold weather diesel fuel. As a result, the power losses that can be attributed to using higher percentage blends of other additives are not present when using BioDiesel. There are also other ways to harness energy from waste-materials and reduce landfilling.

7. RENEWABLE ENERGY: solar air pre-heaters for daytime ventilation; solar domestic hot-water (DHW) heaters; rugged yacht type wind turbines (0.4 kW output, mounted nearby, NOT on large remote towers); new vertical axis wind turbines (3-12 kW output, mounted on the garage); small PV arrays for grid inter-tied power.

8. BUILDING WATER SYSTEMS: low flow (or even composting toilets – that provide a clean sterile soil); Wastewater treatment microsystems that permit on-site water re-use. Also grey-water heat reclamation systems can recover 2/3 of heat energy); bath and shower water can be reclaimed-treated for use in toilets & laundry.

9. MUNICIPAL WATER SYSTEMS: are there alternatives to continuous pumping? Alternatives are needed that avoid freezing of buried / exposed water lines.

10. TRAIN PEOPLE about key differences: maintenance, operation, choices.


Can we avoid the “Northern Thermostat”- Heat set to Maximum and Open the Windows?


Internet based energy & water management

The dramatically increasing costs of hydrocarbon fuels and the realities of a carbon-constrained economy make the ability to optimize the efficiency of energy consumption in commercial and residential buildings critically important. A major tool for improving the energy efficiency of such buildings is Real-Time Monitoring of the performance of energy equipment (boilers, water heaters, pumps/blowers, etc.) and of energy use. For example many companies have already recognized the importance of energy performance and consumption monitoring, and they have data capture and transmission systems in place for reading meters. One commonly used system is Metretek, which uses a datalogger and telephone modem connected to a gas meter with pulse output.

The "BlueEnergyMonitor" program (BEM) provides an example of how to take monitoring of fuel/energy/water usage and building/appliance/systems performance and safety to the next technology level.

The major components are as follows:
- Development of advanced energy use monitoring, reporting and mapping systems - specific to client needs.
- “BlueEnergyMonitor” technology uses Internet data transfer instead of phone lines to allow monitoring performance and consumption data in real time at low cost.
- The data collected is processed, analysed and presented to energy suppliers and end-users in a format allowing them to determine energy usage opportunities and make decisions on energy efficiency measures.
- The fuel/energy/water consumption monitoring system is developed on a GIS platform with online service delivery to allow clients to implement a holistic and highly scalable approach to fuel/energy/water consumption and performance/safety/security monitoring.

"BlueEnergyMonitor" - from Watershed Technologies, Green Power Labs, Eria EcoSystems.

Real Time Fuel/Energy/Water Consumption & Performance Monitoring for Continuous Commissioning.

Hourly performance monitoring of fuel/resource consumption in real time over the Internet can provide a host of benefits to the consumer, improving the comfort/safety/security of buildings, reducing annual utility costs, and most important, conserving our environment.

Innovations are integrated that improve the physical monitoring process, and greatly enhance supplier/consumer useability, by insuring that equipment always performs in its new “As-First-Commissioned” condition.

Early monitoring technologies have focussed on telephone modems to transfer hourly data from data loggers; however this technology has been plagued with high maintenance issues, and delayed data recovery. Recent technology innovations now allow the Internet to transfer data, making it available to the consumer in real time, "as it happens". In addition, new statistical methods are incorporated to track and quickly identify performance issues, translate these into potential savings, and communicate to the end-user in real time to the desktop.

On the commercial side, the “BlueEnergyMonitor” technology enables the end-user to react quickly to problems and opportunities, before they get out of hand. In addition, it provides energy and service businesses with a new tool to safeguard their customers’ equipment/buildings/contents/business, as they can be provided with on-line access to customer performance information. For example by a constant regression function against weather, the system will provide fast identification of problems. If a sensor fails, or a damper sticks open causing high fuel/energy/water consumption, this can be identified immediately online. Emails, or online alerts are provided to a local service company, together with cost savings, and they can be on-site in a timely manner to insure safety and good performance. Without feedback, these problems can go undetected for months or even years.