Wednesday, March 13, 2019

4Elements and MyHEAT offering free energy evaluations to Affordable Housing Providers

Energy efficiency in affordable housing is a key issue.  Rising energy costs are stressing existing operational budgets, while energy poverty risks adding more need for affordable housing solutions.  While new affordable housing projects garner much excitement and attention on all levels of government and in the public sphere, maintaining and updating existing homes is arguably more important.  MyHEAT inc has developed new technology utilizing airborne thermal scanning to provide valuable information about building performance across whole cities.  After a successful rollout focusing on single family homes across Alberta, this year MyHEAT is researching expanding the use of this tool beyond single family homes, into larger multifamily buildings.  MyHEAT is working with local energy efficiency experts at 4 Elements to provide onsite testing, thermography and energy modeling to assist in evaluating the use of the MyHEAT imagery as tool in assessing multifamily buildings.  

To assist in this development, larger buildings are needed for case studies to better understand how building performance can be interpreted from the aerial thermal images gathered.  MyHEAT is looking to work with interested affordable housing organizations to have a detailed energy efficiency evaluation provided.  This valuable service will be provided at no cost and includes:

- Interior and exterior thermography to assess insulation 
- Blower door testing to assess air tightness
- EnerGuide modeling and Label (MURB Single unit, or Whole Building)
- Comparison of onsite findings to aerial thermography provided by MyHEAT
- Summary Report of Findings

Eligible Buildings:
- Located in Calgary, Medicine Hat or Okotoks
- Building must be 3 storeys or less in height
- Building must contain stacked units, such as small apartment buildings

Interested affordable housing groups must be able to provide:
- Coordinated access to occupied units
- Supervision during the assessments (2 to 6 hours depending on building size)
- Release of images and information gathered to be used in public case-studies and marketing.  Address, organization information or other personal information will not be released. 
- Deadline to express interest is March 27, 2019.

4 Elements has over 10 years of experience in the testing and evaluation of energy performance of multifamily buildings, completing over 100 evaluations on housing of this type and over 500 single family homes.  The findings provided in this project will be valuable tools for planning future renovation work, applying for grants and raising awareness of the efficiency needs in existing affordable housing.  

We request that any interested not-for-profit affordable housing provider reach out to 4 Elements to discuss this opportunity to collaborate.  Email us at

We are happy to answer any questions and discuss the project in more detail.  More information about MyHEAT is available here:, and the previous case-study project is posted here:

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Job Postings!

It's been a long time since we've posted. We've had a very busy year, sorry about that. However it has been so busy, that we're looking to expand our team!

At the moment we're looking to fill the following positions:

Clicking on either will open a new window (hold ctrl when clicking if you have popups disabled) with a PDF page of the job posting.

Any interested parties, please send a cover letter and resume to

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why Don’t We Have Better Homes & How to Experience What You’re Missing:

There are many factors that are holding back the performance of most houses in Canada.  Homes these days are fairly complex and as a result of living in older, inefficient homes the average homeowner doesn’t have an understanding of just how great their home could be.  Many homeowners likely feel their home is "good enough" and they don't see a need to change it.

If you had only ever driven a 30 year old car with a manual transmission and no anti-lock brakes, then you might not understand what all the fuss is about with “modern” cars and you probably wouldn’t feel the need to upgrade.   However, it’s pretty easy to take a new car for a test drive to see for yourself what all the hype is about.   I personally had thought back up cameras were an unnecessary gimmick until I recently rented a car for work in Kelowna.  I was impressed with the backup camera system once I tried it out for a day and I am now looking forward to upgrading our car at home.

Most Canadians live in homes that are 30 years old or older.  Having never owned, lived in or experienced a high performance home, most homeowners can’t understand how comfortable, quiet and energy efficiency a home can potentially be.  It’s not exactly easy to just take a high performance home for a "test drive" or even know where to find them but here are some ideas to help you experience high performance homes for yourself.

Show Homes: 
There are some very innovated production builders with show homes that feature a host of high performance features.  Ranging from Passive House to Net Zero, single family to townhouses, these builders are embracing new ideas and technologies and testing out high performance home building.  Here are some of our favorites:

            Landmark Homes – Edmonton (Now Open)
Alberta’s first CHBA Net Zero Energy v1 Home, this show home features solar panels, heat pump technology for space and water heating and high performance building envelope and windows.

Brookfield Residential – Calgary (Opening Date: TBA)
Brookfield is setting a new standard in performance with the most energy efficiency homes constructed by a large volume builder.  As a research project, this show home is being built to the very stringent Passive House standard from Europe. Although this show home isn't open quite yet, be sure to stay informed as this is a home not to be missed and its performance will truly be unparalleled in the Alberta marketplace.

Informational Events:
There are also many other events happening around Alberta where you can go to learn more information about current and future high performance home features and check out some green homes.  Here are some suggestions:

            Green Homes Bike Tour – Calgary (Summer 2018)
For the past three summers, CaGBCEmerging Green Builders and 4 Elements have put together a bike route tour of some of Calgary’s greenest homes.  Using bike paths and the cycle track we enjoy Calgary's exceptional new bike infrastructure while checking out some cool houses and projects.  Last summer’s tour featured a LEED Platinum home, William Street SE (LEED Project No. 16644), Alberta’s largest LEED for homes development currently under construction: Raduis by Bucci Developments and a tour of the Green Building Technology Lab & Demonstration Centre located at SAIT.

Green Building Technology Lab & Demonstration Centre located at SAIT

Eco-Solar Home Tour – Edmonton (2018 Date: TBA)
This is a great tour hosted every year by the Eco-Solar Tour organization.  The tour travels around the City of Edmonton by bus and checks out amazing high performance, solar homes across the city.  Highly attended and well organized this tour is a must to check out.

Alberta Green Homes Summit – Red Deer (February 13, 2018)
Not a tour per say, but this one day conference is a great opportunity to hear about all the newest and greatest in green building residential projects in Alberta.  Along with great networking opportunities, this summit is packed full of valuable information.

Doors Open YYC – Calgary (2018 Date: TBA)
This open house day often features great local examples of high performance buildings and other green infrastructure around the City of Calgary.

Who to Follow:
Additional events are always coming up and it can be hard to stay up to date.  Here is where we watch to see what tours and events are coming and what is happening in the Alberta green building industry.

                        CaGBC –Alberta Chapter

Friday, October 27, 2017

How Energy Efficient Should My Home Be?

I've been trying to answer this question for many years.  A simple question seemingly impossible to answer.  How energy Efficient should my home be?

Maybe its an economic question, lets consider Return on Investment:

Energy saving upgrades typically need 10 years or more to "pay back" and "investors" seems stubborn to buy in even at these rates.  Energy is simply too cheap and the cost in construction to high.  Maybe the question we need to ask is how much of an "investment vehicle" should our homes be?  We don't expect a return on investment on our cars, our vacations, or the granite counter tops in the kitchen we dream about.  Maybe the performance of our homes should be more about investing in quality, comfort and responsibility rather than simple financial gains?
Instead of complex math formulas and graphs to project costs and savings over the long haul, I thought I would take a look at the problem another way.  What if energy was free?  Or what if energy cost millions of dollars?  Both extremes approach the problem of how much to invest in energy efficiency very differently. 

What if energy was free?
50+ years ago, it almost seemed like energy was free.  Wood heated homes across the prairies were heated for "no cost" for 100's of years.  But that story isn't entirely true.  Wood heating a poorly insulated prairie farm house was exhaustive work.  It involved hauling, cutting, drying and stacking literally tons of wood as well as the mess and hassle of cleaning out the fireplaces.  My grandfather talks about moving from the farm to Calgary during the winters and staying in an apartment in Kensington because the farm house was too remote and too hard to heat during the winter months.
But what if energy suddenly became really free?  Imagine a magic technological innovation that makes for no environmental impacts and no cost to the consumer.  What would we build for our homes?
We could cut all the insulation out of the walls, go back to single pane glass in the windows and forget about closing the doors in the winter.  However, just because the heat is free doesn't make the home comfortable.  Cold drafts, large furnaces blowing massive amounts of air, dryness, dust and dirt would result in terribly uncomfortable homes.  There would still be frost on all the windows through the winter and condensation on the walls.  Sure it would be cheap to build, but it would be a miserable home to live in.
Even in a "free energy" future we would still want a home that is well insulated, air tight, and ventilated with good indoor humidity, clean filtered air, a quiet heating system, and windows that aren't drafty or frosted over.  All the fundamentals of today's high performance building would continue to be important in that free energy future case.  

       High Performance Fundamentals:
                 - R-Values - High level of insulation for warm surfaces even in winter
                 - Air Tightness - 0.6 to 1.5 ACH for a comfortable draft free home
                 - Windows - Triple glazed, high R-Value frames and free from 
                 - Heating System - Small, quiet heating system, evenly delivering heat
                    without spikes in temperature throughout the house and year. 
But what if energy was 10 times more expensive than today?
At the other end of the spectrum lies the question, what if all sources of energy were exceptionally expensive?  Most people wouldn't be able to purchase more than a little bit of electricity each month.  Heating a typical Canadian home would be impossible and most families would have to make do without.  In this case what would we build knowing that we could only afford to buy a tiny amount of energy.
We would want a home that could heat itself, using free heat from the sun, our bodies, and the small amount of electricity used for lighting and appliances.  We would want to add solar electric panels so we could make our own power and avoid the high costs.   Using large, well insulated windows facing south we'd bring in free heat from the sun and exceptional insulation and air tightness would hold all that heat inside the home.  To keep fresh air coming in we would need a very high efficiency Heat Recovery Ventilator, or even the use of ground preheating to provide fresh air through out the house with no energy loss.  Our homes would be so well insulated that they would naturally be very quite and take a very small, simple heating system to operate.  These homes would go beyond being just higher performance and would be classified as "passive" or "Net Zero" homes avoiding using energy from the expensive grid.  

        Passive House / Net Zero Performance Fundamentals:
                - R-Values - Very high levels of insulation
                - Air Tightness - As tight as possible, 0.6 ACH or less
                - Windows - Triple Glazed, high R-Value frames and smaller
                    windows, mostly pointing south. 
                - Heating System - tiny, or none at all
                - Solar Power (photovoltaic) to generate own energy

The interesting thing about these comparisons is that in both extremes the specifications of the buildings look remarkably similar.  Either scenario requires very good insulation, air tightness, and high performing windows.  Energy cost savings don't seem to be the driver after all when you look at construction from these extremes.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Energy Efficiency in the Building Code. 9.36: Opportunities and Challenges

The Alberta Building Code (ABC) has gone through one of its biggest overhauls ever in the last year. The final piece to that code change, Section 9.36, came into effect on Nov 1, 2016.  This long awaited piece of legislation will move the Alberta construction industry forward, making for more energy efficient buildings and homes across the province.

9.36 is a large section of the Code that has been written to bring together all elements relating to the energy performance of low rise buildings.  9.36 includes requirements for the envelope insulation, windows and doors, air tightness, as well as mechanical and ventilation systems. While the details of safety and durability remain in specific sections earlier in the code, 9.36 is the one stop shop for all things relating to Energy Efficiency.

The first major piece of 9.36 provides rules on navigating the section.  This is important as 9.36 is the first piece of Building Code that has allowed multiple pathways for compliance.   Builders now have the choice of:
     - Prescriptive Path
     - Prescriptive with a Trade-Off Path or
     - Performance Path.
This flexibility provides new opportunities for builders and architects to navigate the Code, providing a custom fit application to particular projects.  For the first time in Building Code History, Albertan's have the choice to find the best fit application of code requirements.

The Performance Pathway option is an entirely new approach to code compliance, using a computer energy simulation to show compliance with the intent of the Building Code without having to meet the requirements of every specific measure.  The energy simulation, also known as an energy model, takes a holistic view of the home's energy efficiency and allows builders to use whatever strategies they wish to meet the equivalent performance of the Reference House.  The Reference House is an identical energy model built using the Prescriptive (Code minimum) Pathway.   Reductions in glazing percentage, improvements in mechanical systems, and enhanced insulation all are calculated together to show the overall performance of the proposed house and that it meets or beats the code minimum Reference House.

The Performance Pathway option provides projects extensive flexibility, rather than limiting them to prescribed limits in the design of wall assemblies, windows or mechanical systems.  Once the home has been modelled and is shown to meet Code Compliance, a report, or Letter of Compliance, is submitted to the AHJ for review along with Development Permit submission.

CaseStudy - Lowering Wall Insulation
The new Code substantially increases the minimum R-value requirements for wall assemblies.  For some projects, this may not be a cost effective option, given their current building practices.  Instead, by using the Performance Pathway and energy modelling a house before it is built, a project team can find other areas in which to make up for the energy losses from a reduced R-value in the wall systems.  This could be achieved by a combination of:
     - Decreased window to wall ratios (FDWR)
     - Improved ventilation efficiency with an Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV)
     - Improved furnace efficiency
This recognition of alternative measures to meet the intent of the Building Code allows for builders, designers and homeowners to make the choices that make the most sense for their particular project.

4 Elements has been doing performance modelling and reporting for residential construction since 2008.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse in LEED home

With increasing awareness and concern over the energy costs and health impacts of new homes, the idea of building a sustainable home is quickly catching on across Canada.  What many people do not realize is that resilient, green homes can help families ride out the collapse of society in any number of scenarios.

As Canada's most stringently verified and sustainable homes,  LEED homes are more energy efficient, durable and sustainable then other homes. These homes also feature increased resiliency against future disasters, be it a bad blizzard, extended power outages or the occasionally predicted Zombie Apocalypse.

Long Term Grid Down (LTGD)
The first things to shut down in an emergency situation are typically the electricity and gas grids. LEED homes are better insulated than average homes built to Code minimum specification.  Many LEED homes take advantage of passive solar heat and feature improved window and wall insulation, meaning a the home will stay warmer in a grid down scenario.  Many LEED homes even earn credit for solar electric PV arrays which can provide sustainable power to the home during an emergency situation, ensuring frozen food stockpiles are kept fresh and the electric fence stays on.

Indoor Air Quality
During many disasters, ensuring clean indoor air is critical.  Air tightness and air filtration are key to keeping out super bugs and the ashes of society as we know it. All LEED homes are third party tested and are required to have an extremely tight building envelope. To further ensure healthy indoor air quality, LEED homes require balanced ventilation systems and good air filtration. MERV 12 air filters can filter out many bacteria strains including, we're sure, the more common Zombie related strains; MERV 14 filters will keep out the smoke from the burning bodies.

Building a durable home is a key requirement of the LEED program. Builders must add 15 to 25 durability measures specific to their region and climate. Durable siding will help prevent damage during zombie raids and allow for easy cleaning of blood and gore.  Pest control features will help keep the rats and cockroaches from infesting your home as other food sources collapse, and maintaining minimum distances between the house and landscape vegetation will limit the areas that zombies can lie in wait for the unsuspecting homeowner.

Water efficiency
LEED provides credit for rainwater and grey water reuse. These features can allow for off-the-grid water and back up systems. With city water systems down, and no outside help or food sources available for the foreseeable future, being able to water your food garden and sustain your family will mean the difference between surviving or not.  As long as you have running water, the end of the world may be coming, but at least you can still flush your water efficient toilet and enjoy a low-flow shower.

The end of modern society is really only one super bug, nuclear strike, meteor impact or zombie apocalypse away, and the effects of climate change may stretch our municipal services to their breaking points.  LEED homes provide a welcome resilience to an uncertain future while providing comfort and energy savings for today.

Friday, August 19, 2016


Landscaping begins

As the renovation continues (and continues and continues!), we’ve moved outside and have started on the backyard.  Last fall saw the removal of what remained of the old fence…..

…and the installation of the new one.  We chose to excavate back right to the property line, opening up a surprisingly large amount of space that had previously been unusable because of the overgrown slope.  The team from Chris Smith Landscaping arrived onsite in early October and quickly pulled out the old and got started on the new….

Because of the slope of the property, and the amount of traffic in the alley above the yard sees, we wanted something very solid.  Both visually and structurally.   The posts are 8x8 pressure treated wood, installed 6’ below yard grade.  They form continuous support upwards for the 3’ retaining wall (4x6 pressure treated lumber) and then the 6’ fence above the wall.  We’re pretty confident that the construction trucks frequenting the alley in the winters will not end up sliding into the yard now.

As it was late October by this point, we chose to put the rest of the yard on hold for the winter so we laid down landscape cloth to hold the worst of the dirt down for the season.  Given the lack of snow cover, this was a good choice.

As spring approached, we were in touch with Eagle Lake Landscaping to discuss pricing of their drought resistant fescue sod which contains a mix of sheep fescue, red fescue and hard fescue.  Fescue sod is relatively new on the market and has seen mostly commercial applications.  Eagle Lake generously offered us Freedom Fescue product to use in our yard as a test site for residential application.  We’re excited to see how it holds up to kid traffic.  (If you are in Calgary and are interested in seeing the sod in person, please contact us at

Fescue is a "non-conventional" turf in LEED environmental speak.  With its very good drought tolerance, reduced need for maintenance and care such as fertilizing, in projects pursuing LEED for Homes certification such as ours, sod like this can contribute points in Sustainable Sites.  

As soon as the sod was ready to cut, we jumped on it and were treated to the perfect weekend weather for sodding (rain and snow pellets).
Eight long hours of rototilling, raking, picking rocks and sod chunks, more raking, rolling, laying sod and more rolling...

The end of the day.  And the sun started to peak out.

Now at the beginning of August, the fescue sod is well established.  It is soft, whether left long or cut short, and a deep, lush green. As a fescue, even when allowed to grow in, it looks looks less unkempt that a regular lawn, thanks to a growth habit that leaves it slightly bent over rather than straight upright, and it feels amazing to walk on it with bare feet.  

We'll need to do a bit of overseeding next spring to patch a few small spots that didn't take or that we missed in the early watering.  These spots are minimal though and it is otherwise impossible to see where the sod seams w.
We've also discovered that, while tilling some of the old sod under kept it out of the landfill and left the organic material in the topsoil, it's added some lumps ad bumps underneath that we didn't manage to roll out.  Hopefully these will level out and soften as they start to compost!

Cut short it looks more like a conventional turf but feels softer on the feet.

So far our overall impression of this seed mix is that it is a fantastic.   What we have not yet had occasion to test is drought tolerance, since we’ve had so much rain, but it does stand up well to wet and to a wide range of lighting conditions ( we have full sun, full shade and partial shade in the yard)

The finished fence and planting bed!  In the corner is a Swedish Columnar Aspen, chosen to fill in the corner without taking over the yard.  We've also planted a few hops plants and plan to add trellising on the fence to encourage growth upward and outward to break up the height of the wall and provide some natural cooling.

Landscaping is a huge part of a sustainable home.  Outdoor water can easily exceed indoor use so water efficient faucets and toilets only can go so far.  Small changes to the traditional back yard can create a space that is still a very kid friendly play space without the water demand or maintenance of typical sod.