Canadian Consulting Engineer

Conversation: Educating tomorrow’s building scientists

June 20, 2022

“We knew there was a gap to fill in training students as building scientists.”

Cynthia Cruickshank

Photo courtesy Cynthia Cruickshank.

Cynthia Cruickshank, P.Eng., is the director of Carleton University’s newly built Centre for Advanced Building Envelope Research (CABER) in Ottawa. As a professor in the school’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, she has focused on the optimization of energy systems for buildings, from super-thin insulation to solar-assisted heat pumps. The CABER is a $5.1-million, 6,000-sf lab that will facilitate large-scale testing of products and methods for improving energy efficiency and resilience for new and existing buildings—but its main goal, in partnership with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), is to develop the next generation of building scientists.

How did the focus of your research expand from mechanical systems to the building envelope?

In 2013, in partnership with Algonquin College and Queen’s University, I was one of the lead faculty advisors for Team Ontario in the Solar Decathlon, which challenges students to design and build net-zero energy homes. Although my main focus was developing an integrated mechanical system, this project also introduced me to the design and testing of the building envelope, a key factor in reducing energy consumption. Team Ontario won first place in the engineering contest because of both our mechanical system design and our energy-efficient building envelope.

How did that experience lead to developing the CABER?

Afterwards, I reached out to NRCan—which had supported our Solar Decathlon team—to explore possible research opportunities with its buildings and renewables group. We knew from a needs assessment of the construction industry that there was a gap to fill in training students as building scientists.

There was also a need to test materials that were new to the building industry, such as vacuum-insulated panels that had previously only been used in freezers. In collaboration with NRCan, I set up a guarded hot box in my lab—i.e. a cube with an internal chamber wired with sensors that provide data to help calculate a wall’s ability to resist the transfer of heat.

Two years later, we recognized the need for larger-scale equipment. I applied for and received funding from NRCAN’s Office of Energy Research and Development (OERD) and the provincial government through the Ontario Research Fund (ORF) for new equipment and training for students.

What can the new facility do?

The CABER features a two-storey hot box and a pressurized spray rack to assess the air and water tightness of wall samples. There are six openings along the circumference of the facility where smaller samples can be placed for testing—even for up to two to three years.

Construction of the CABER is now complete and commissioning has started. After it opens, we will test systems for single-family homes, multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) and commercial and institutional projects. We have a 16-tonne crane and can test up to 600-mm wide envelopes, so we can handle large-scale applications. We also have a climate chamber that can simulate temperatures from -35 to 50 C.

In the meantime, we are starting our grad-level building engineering program this fall.

Are you partnering with industry, too?

Yes. We are in the process of developing an industry advisory committee to ensure what we are working on has the most impact. Consulting engineering firms are welcome to reach out and join us!


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