By Peter Saunders
Engineers ‘push the envelope’ at The Buildings ShowBuildings Building Envelope consulting engineer Cx deep retrofit Engineering Green building insulation Morrison Hershfield Net Zero Ruitenberg Inc. Stephenson Engineering WSP
“Engineers are capturing more of the construction industry through the building envelope,” Nova Scotia’s Gary Ruitenberg, P.Eng., commented in an interview with Canadian Consulting Engineer magazine, a few days after attending Informa’s The Buildings Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC).
As it sprawls across the MTCC’s north and south buildings each year, The Buildings Show is about a lot more than engineering, of course. Contractors rub elbows with property managers, architects, real estate developers and renovators, among other professionals in the overall building sector. There’s even a ‘World of Concrete’ pavilion.
To Ruitenberg’s point, though, there are clearly opportunities for engineering firms to play a larger role in the future of Canada’s buildings.
By way of example, seminar presenter Jeremiah Vanderlaan, P.Eng., manager of business development for Newton Group in Guelph, Ont., discussed how civil and structural engineers can work with architects to challenge the traditional ways of doing things in the construction industry.
“Buildings need to perform better in terms of energy consumption, durability and the building envelope,” he said. “Many political entities around the world have adopted a net-zero target for 2050. And this show is where you can access all of the new technologies that can make that target more attainable.”
While Vanderlaan highlighted the benefits of prefabrication—e.g. increasing support for integration of building design and delivery, saving time and money and enhancing safety—Paul Kocsis, P.Eng., of Hamilton-based Kocsis Engineering made the case for insulated concrete forms (ICFs) in his seminar.
“Nothing else on the market is a better insulating material,” he said. “There is negligible thermal bridging across the mass of a concrete core. The exterior faces of an ICF meet air and vapour barrier standards. And an ICF foundation wall cures continuously in all weather, with negligible moisture loss.”
As an example, he previewed Discovery House, a ‘net-positive’ greenhouse planned for construction in Creemore, Ont., with the support of the federal and provincial ministries of agriculture. In addition to an ICF building envelope, it is expected to use two-way solar, tinted glazing (to diffuse light for optimal crop growth) and Tesla Powerwall on-site energy storage.
Peter Adams, P.Eng., principal and building science specialist with Toronto-based Morrison Hershfield, focused on the importance of building envelope commissioning (BECx) in measuring, documenting and verifying building performance.
“Buildings used to be big, dumb and stupid,” he said. “Now they are much more complicated and ‘green building’ standards like Toronto’s are becoming pretty aggressive on energy performance.”
He encouraged engineers to take a collaborative approach with construction companies and building users alike.
“And try to keep the team consistent,” he said. “If you change it up, you can lose some coherency.”
Beyond opportunities to enhance building envelope performance in new construction, “deep retrofits will also play an important role,” said Ali Hoss, P.Eng., Toronto-based manager of existing building energy management for WSP, in a seminar about energy efficiency.
This point was echoed by Pravin Pai, P.Eng., principal with Stephenson Engineering’s Toronto office. He used two aging apartment buildings in nearby Mississauga, Ont., as examples of his company’s efforts in this direction. From energy modelling to intrusive investigations, his team measures on-site conditions before determining which would be the best strategies for reducing heat loss, preventing solar heat gain and stopping moisture from passing through the building envelope.
“The philosophy of building design has changed to address energy efficiency,” he said, “and the same changes can be applied to retrofit jobs.”