My summer with TAF

People around a desk

Energy efficiency retrofits should improve indoor comfort.

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.

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You must see this at TIFF


Films at TIFF tackle global warming.

Here’s a post from Vivien Leong, our new Executive Office Coordinator and film fanatic:

September  can be the harbinger of beginnings and endings – good bye summer, hello school – but for many Torontonians this month is all about the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF for short.

This year, the lineup includes two films that directly address our climate change mandate at Toronto Atmospheric Fund. Among the 300-plus films that will be showcased, there is Merchants of Doubt, from documentarian Robert Kenner, which explores the world of climate change skeptics – purported experts who make claims contrary to scientific consensus and cast public doubt on climate change. Kenner, who also directed the 2008 feature documentary Food, Inc., exposes high-profile skeptics, questioning their credentials and motivations. “I’m not a scientist, but I play one on TV,” says Marc Morano, a frequently cited pundit. The TIFF screening of Merchants of Doubt is a Canadian premiere.

Another film for concerned environmentalists is The Yes Men Are Revolting directed by Laura Nix and the infamous activist-prankster duo The Yes Men. The Yes Men, aka Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum (not their real names), are known for their outrageous stunts impersonating corporate executives and government officials. This latest film chronicles the activities in the last five years of Mike and Andy and their collaborators, showing the lengths they will go to raise awareness about climate change. The Yes Men will be in Toronto for the first weekend of the festival.

Merchants of Doubt public screening times:

Tuesday, September 9 at 9:15 pm (TIFF Bell Lightbox 2)

Wednesday, September 10 at 8:30 am (TIFF Bell Lightbox 3)


The Yes Men Are Revolting public screening times:

Friday, September 5 at 8:45 pm (Scotiabank 2)

Sunday, September 7 at 2:00 pm (Scotiabank 14)

Friday September 12 at 9:15 pm (Scotiabank 4)

Toronto International Film Festival runs September 4 to 14, 2014:

Climate-friendly tip: The fastest way to get from one screening venue to the next is by walking or cycling.

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Join us at the Complete Streets Forum


The Complete Streets Forum is a popular annual event hosted by TCAT.

This week we’re running a guest blog by Nancy Smith Lea, Director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, a project of Clean Air Partnership.

Every time a street in Toronto is built or re-designed – to accommodate a streetcar right-of-way for instance – we have an opportunity to improve that public space. We could construct streets to be more pedestrian friendly or include bike lanes; we could widen sidewalks to accommodate benches or trees.

Because so many people work on ways to improve our streets and how we move from point A to B, the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) hosts an annual Complete Streets Forum, which will be held on Oct 6, 2014 at Daniels Spectrum.

The Complete Streets Forum is specifically structured to foster cross-discipline knowledge exchange among a wide range of people engaged in novel approaches and thinking about how we use our streets, including planners, engineers, public health professionals, academics, and advocates.

Barbara McCann is credited with first introducing the term “Complete Streets” in 2003. McCann founded the National Complete Streets Coalition in the U.S., now a program of Smart Growth America.  According to the Smart Growth America website:  “Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”

Increasingly, Canadian municipalities are adopting Complete Streets policies and developing guidelines that allow for a more holistic approach to accommodating all the ways people use their streets. In Toronto, a Complete Streets policy – which would help ensure that pedestrian and cycling improvements are integrated into any new street designs – has been recommended in the Official Plan amendment which goes to City Council for approval at the end of this month. This policy base is important for Toronto’s Complete Streets Guidelines, intended to be a handbook for all City of Toronto departments involved in street planning, design and management.

TCAT’s annual forums are both aspirational – with a goal of overturning decades of car-centric planning – and practical, with a focus on common sense solutions and steady, incremental change.

The October forum includes keynote speakers Dr. John Pucher, the foremost American researcher on comparative government cycling policy, Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, and Dr. Jeannette Montufar, Professor in Civil Engineering at the University of Manitoba who is described as revolutionizing the field of transportation engineering by explicitly incorporating the needs of older pedestrians and people with physical disabilities into street design. Twenty-six parallel break-out sessions have been scheduled with presenters from the GTA, Montreal, Halifax, New York City, Los Angeles, the UK, and elsewhere.

There are a myriad of benefits to be gained from building Complete Streets – from increased safety for all road users, to reduced pollution and congestion, to improved health, as well as economic benefits. And, as this lovely video from the Netherlands demonstrates, embracing a more inclusive approach to transportation planning provides everyone, particularly the young, the old, and people with disabilities, increased autonomy and quality of life.

For more visionary ideas and practical solutions, come to our Complete Streets Forum as we continue to build momentum to improve our shared urban landscape.

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Can Toronto’s buildings be carbon-neutral?

Toronto buildings

Urban areas generate over 70% of global carbon pollution.

Earlier this month, the International Union of Architects (UIA) issued a stunning announcement. Member organizations of the UIA – representing more than 1.3 million architects in 124 countries around the world – unanimously adopted the “2050 Imperative,” a declaration to eliminate CO2 emissions in the built environment by 2050.

This lofty goal was initiated by Architecture 2030, a non-profit research organization with the mission of transforming the built environment from a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions to a central part of the solution to climate change.

Specifically, the 2050 Imperative states that:

  • failing to act now on climate change will put future generations, and those already affected by extreme weather, natural disasters, and poverty, at great risk;
  • urban areas are responsible for over 70% of global CO2 emissions, mostly from buildings;
  • over the next two decades an area roughly equal to 60% of the world’s building stock will be built and rebuilt in urban areas; and
  • this provides an unprecedented opportunity to reduce fossil fuel CO2 emissions to zero by 2050.

Living in Canada’s largest city, we have to ask how Toronto can participate in this movement. There is, in fact, a Toronto member group – Toronto 2030 District – a relatively young organization that is currently in the process of forming partnerships to create a common vision and strategic course of action for long term greenhouse gas reduction across downtown Toronto.  The Toronto 2030 District has identified a lack of overall coordination within the conservation community as a key barrier. This includes programs and policies that use different targets or measurement processes and a lack of detailed district-wide information on consumption by building floor area, type, age, and use. Much of the available data exists in different formats and databases but is not brought together in such a way that it can inform strategic decision making for policy development, infrastructure planning, conservation program targeting and energy/water use tracking.

Toronto Atmospheric Fund will be a key partner for the Toronto 2030 District in supporting the alignment of energy conservation policies and programs with the shared goal of dramatically reducing fossil fuel consumption and GHG emissions generated by the city’s building stock.

We are already moving in the right direction. TAF was instrumental in raising the standards for energy efficiency in the construction of Toronto’s new buildings through the Toronto Green Standard, whereby buildings must exceed the efficiency requirements set out in the Ontario Building Code (OBC) by 15%. Buildings that exceed the OBC standards by 25% or more can qualify for a substantial development charge refund of up to $31/m2.

We are also exploring how energy reporting policies can be best implemented. These policies entail benchmarking the energy consumption of individual buildings annually. Data out of the U.S. shows a positive correlation between tracking energy use and reducing energy consumption. If Toronto launched an energy reporting requirement next year for all commercial and multi-residential buildings larger than 50,000 square feet, annual GHG emissions would drop by approximately 350,000 tonnes per year.

Can Toronto’s buildings be carbon neutral by 2050? This is the moment to join a global effort within the building sector to push toward an ambitious, but certainly achievable, goal.

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The art of the retrofit

paint brushes

A holistic approach to retrofits requires design as well as engineering.

The quandary of making buildings more energy efficient without forfeiting comfort and air quality is one that, as an engineer at TAF, I am preoccupied with. Sure I want to reduce leakage in the building envelope. But I also understand the need for fresh air and windows that open.

The more I study the built environment, the more I realize we need to approach the art of building retrofits in a holistic way, which is why I recently attended a full-day design “charrette” for a Toronto Community Housing building.  For those of you not familiar with the term, design charrettes are events where all the participants in a project come together so that, at the outset, the consequences of a wide variety of decisions can be considered by all those affected.  By having everyone at the table, a diverse group of stakeholders can share their perspectives on a particular design problem ensuring that trade-offs are fully understood and potential synergies realized.

In this instance, I joined architects, engineers, developers, suppliers and representatives from Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), local utilities, City Hall staff, and representatives from Sustainable Buildings Canada.  TAF has already been working closely with TCHC as we prepare plans to implement energy-efficient retrofits for seven TCHC buildings.  Our goal at the charrette was to brainstorm cost-effective ways to reduce water, electricity and natural gas consumption while making the building a more comfortable place to live.

The day before the charrette, we were taken on a tour of the site. TCHC’s community engagement specialists said that they had been consulting with residents since the beginning of the year to ensure that everyone who wanted to provide input on proposed changes could.  Through open houses, surveys, and door-to-door visits, our guides were able to determine features of the property that residents treasured most as well as highlight areas that could be renovated or repurposed.  For example, while we were up on the roof taking in a spectacular view of the lake, I wondered if we could find a way to transform the space into a rooftop garden, creating a common area in a lovely setting (albeit seasonal) in a building where residents would benefit from more access to green space.

At the charrette the next day, we learned that residents’ most common concerns included uneven heating and cooling, which was related to the state of the windows, elevators that break down, and safety and security issues.  Not surprisingly, their concerns aligned with the priorities identified by previous building condition assessments that noted the need to replace the windows and many components of the heating and ventilation systems, as well as the need to upgrade the elevators and add more security cameras.

As a group, we began brainstorming how we could best meet these needs within the constraints of the TCHC budget.  We split into two sub-groups: energy and sustainability.   Those of us focused on energy performance compared the merits of centralized versus decentralized heating and ventilation systems, alternatives ways to provide cooling to all residents and improvements to the building envelope such as window replacements and overcladding. The sustainability sub-group investigated alternative site layouts that would optimize the outdoor space available for residents, ways to make the lobby more welcoming and ideas for water conservation and storm water management.

At the end of the day, we reconvened to share our ideas and to look for synergies or challenges that we may have missed in our smaller groups.  This is where the true value of the charrette lies.  With representatives from so many different stakeholder groups, we can consider the residents’ point of view as well as that of the contractor, the manager, and the building owners simultaneously.  A more conventional approach doesn’t always allow for all of these stakeholders to influence the outcome.  Instead, they often discover what will be done to a building after most of the decisions have been made.  For example, the contractor would normally be involved only after the construction drawings were completed and residents would only see the completed project.

As TAF embarks on a seven-building retrofit project with TCHC next year, we will be undertaking a similarly integrated approach to design and welcomed this opportunity to experience the process.  Ultimately, buildings are for people. If residents don’t like living in them, then we need to do something differently.

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