Our summer intern, Nicole Langballe, wrote this guest blog about her time with us at TAF. Nicole is now a graduate student in the engineering program at University of Toronto.
I just concluded my six-week internship with Toronto Atmospheric Fund before heading back to school this month to start my Master’s in civil engineering. Over the summer, I was the Indoor Environmental Quality Research Intern meaning that I supported TAF’s work on energy-efficiency retrofits by researching the best ways to monitor the indoor environmental quality of buildings before and after a retrofit.
Let me give you a little background on what my job entailed. Retrofits aim to improve the energy consumption of a structure so that energy is used more efficiently throughout the year. At the same time, indoor environmental conditions should be either maintained or, as with energy efficiency, improved. By assessing environmental conditions – primarily indoor air quality and temperature consistency – before a retrofit is undertaken, we can figure out what aspects of a building would benefit from an upgrade. Repeating this exercise after a retrofit is completed lets us accurately evaluate how successful the retrofit was in terms of energy conservation and also enhanced interior environmental conditions.
I discovered that implementing monitoring strategies while people are living in the building we’re trying to assess has its challenges. For example, our monitoring activity requires us to enter people’s homes. We realized that we need monitoring solutions that are unobtrusive and can be installed and disassembled quickly to ensure minimal disruption to residents.
Another challenge I encountered was that large-scale monitoring requires installing lots of sensors. High accuracy sensors are expensive, so we had to consider how to optimize our budget without sacrificing quality.
We noticed, too, that individuals and families use their homes differently, resulting in different interior conditions and energy consumption patterns. For example, variation in cooking or bathing activities can alter how much energy is used as can suite temperature and relative humidity. To be able to directly compare data from different suites, we had to consider how occupant behavior influences the data and how to control for this variation.
My six weeks at TAF went by quickly with many lessons learned. I found it truly rewarding to be part of a project that has the potential to improve individuals’ living conditions and the environment. If we were to implement energy-efficiency retrofits on a broad scale, we would see a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions along with great improvements in our air quality. So much opportunity exists in the green building industry. Implementing energy conservation measures in the built environment is a positive step towards a more sustainable city.