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Project secures $5.1 million to develop energy-efficient building envelope tech

Patricia Williams
Project secures $5.1 million to develop energy-efficient building envelope tech

Having secured $5.1 million in federal and provincial funding, Carleton University’s Centre for Advanced Building Envelope Research (CU-CABER) is forging ahead with studies in this sphere.

The intent of the project, led by centre director Cynthia Cruickshank, is to develop new envelope technologies that make buildings more energy-efficient and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Solutions for existing buildings will play the biggest role in meeting Canada’s climate-change goals,” Cruickshank, an associate professor, mechanical and aerospace engineering, said in a news release issued by the university.

Cruickshank has more than 12 years of experience in modelling and testing of advanced building energy systems, including research related to high-performance buildings, energy-efficient insulation materials, solar heating and cooling systems and thermal energy storage.

She has supervised 30 graduate students in advanced building energy research and has more than 70 “refereed” (peer-reviewed) publications on high-performance housing, building envelope testing methodologies, and related topics.

Cruickshank began drafting a funding proposal on behalf of CU-CABER in November 2015. She ultimately secured a total of $5.1 million from the NRCan Energy Innovation Program and the Ontario Research Fund (ORF). The announcement was made on campus in late July by Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna.

As project manager, Cruickshank will oversee and lead research on the development of building envelope technologies for both new construction and retrofit projects. Her team includes five colleagues from Carleton.

Drawing upon advances in super-thin insulation materials, prefabricated construction and panelized retrofits, the centre will develop new approaches to constructing building envelopes that are thinner and cheaper as well as new methods for renovating existing buildings with less cost and disruption, the university said.

As part of this work, Carleton will collaborate with researchers at Algonquin College and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Alaska to conceive, prototype, evaluate and optimize new building envelope systems.

Cruickshank said the partnership with Algonquin College is especially valuable as it creates learning opportunies at all levels in the workforce, including construction trades, building design professionals, engineers, project managers and building science researchers.

In addition, the project will enable future collaborations with key players in the built environment such as researchers from NRCan’s CanmetENERGY-Ottawa laboratories and the National Research Council.

To complete these trials, CU-CABER researchers will create new experimental infrastructure. The $5.1 million in funding supports construction of large-scale building envelope test equipment, including a state-of-the-art, two-storey guarded “hot box” with a spray rack capable of testing full-scale residential and building facades, and a materials “characterization” lab.

Carleton said the new infrastructure will enable researchers to study how heat, air and moisture move through materials and highly insulated wall systems and how these elements contribute to occupant health and comfort and building science risks including condensation, mould growth and rot.

“This research will create innovative opportunities for Canada’s manufacturing, construction and renovation industries and provide new technical solutions to cut heat loss in buildings and reduce the cost associated with net-zero-ready and deep-energy retrofit construction.”

In an email, Cruickshank said the proposed timeline for the residential and commercial envelope technology development research program is:

  • Evaluate new concepts for high-performance wall assemblies for new construction by simulation and experiments for residential and commercial applications 2021-2025;
  • Develop new methods to renovate homes and buildings using factory-built panels and evaluate hygrothermal performance of the developed prototypes 2022-2024;
  • Characterization of material properties, including degradation due to aging and long-term durability of new construction materials 2021-2025.

After drafting the CU-CABER proposal, Cruickshank submitted the funding request to the Ontario Research Fund – Large Infrastructure in October 2016.

The following November, the ORF awarded $2.1 million to the Carleton research centre for the purposes of designing and constructing new building envelope test equipment.

These funds were committed on the condition that Carleton obtained matching funding within one year. In September, 2018, Cruickshank submitted a proposal to NRCan’s Energy Innovation Program for the remaining matching funds and another $900,000 in student funding. She received the full $3 million in March.

During the proposal phase, Cruickshank said the project team received 14 letters of support for the initiative from government and other organizations. Industry stakeholders include the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, the Canadian Renovators’ Council, the Canadian Wood Council and three insulation manufacturers.

CU-CABER is located at the CanmetENERGY complex in Ottawa.

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