Behind the Project: Reframed Initiative
Reframed is an initiative of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, the City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation, and the Pembina Institute. The initiative incorporates retro demonstration projects on six multi-unit residential buildings where Entuitive is the prime consultant on one of the buildings.
Recently, we sat down with Salah Imam, Lindsey Kindrat, Kitty Leung, Timothy Wong, and Kenny Yip to discuss the exciting initiative they’re working on in British Columbia.
Hi team, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us today. Tell us about your project.
Salah: Thanks for having us. The mission of Reframed is to make affordable housing more resilient to extreme weather events while reducing the overall carbon emissions to help Canada meet its net-zero emissions target by 2050. Pembina Institute and BC Housing conducted a survey to determine the six residential buildings, ensuring that they are representative of the wider market.
We’re working on Dany Guicher House, a supportive housing development. Our team is providing an array of services on the building, including structural, climate and seismic resilience, health and wellbeing, building envelope, energy modelling, and performance analysis. Sub-consultants on our team also include an architect, a quantity surveyor, and mechanical and electrical engineers. Another vital part of the initiative is collaborating in a series of workshops on the diverse services where team members, other project teams, and owners work together to determine design and build strategies as a group.
Timothy: To reiterate the importance of collaboration on this project, we run a parametric analysis that gives us the computing capabilities to process hundreds of simulations together to explore the optimal solution. Through our workshop collaboration, we generate input from all services to translate into a set of strategies that contribute to our vision of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions. From here, we have 50 strategies, and we plug these in a parametric model which can generate hundreds of simulations. The optimal solution between these simulations is what we filter when we get the results and then we communicate it to the cost consultant. We must work together as a team internally and externally instead of modelling strategies in isolation of others.
With the unpredictability of climate change, what are some additional precautions you include within your building design?
Salah: There are multiple hazards we analyzed and accounted for, including warming temperature, extreme heat, wildfire smoke, air quality impacts, storm water flooding, and wind and storms. The idea is for us to identify and produce strategies to counter these potential hazards while also taking into consideration our present climate and the climate in 2050 and 2080.
We want to design the building to be resilient enough to handle the climate of 2050 at least since the idea of retrofitting is to keep buildings around longer instead of tearing down and constructing new. For example, if a building has a present moderate risk of overheating, there is a greater chance that it will overheat in 2050 with climate change continuously warming the planet.
Lindsey: In Vancouver, we’re not as worried about extreme cold but moisture is a big issue with the envelope and the structure. With flooding, for example, we want to be able to construct the building so that it’s durable with the floodplain or the anticipated storm water depths. At the foundation for underground structures, we want to treat the structure and envelope materials with waterproofing or water-resistant finishes and reduce non-durable envelope and structural materials wherever possible.
Timothy: We’re also now seeing more frequently the use of durability catalogues to record our envelope materials. It tracks the design service life and every component that goes into the envelope. This is extremely helpful in terms of increasing resilience or the understanding of resilience.
With the mention of resilience in terms of energy performance, what are the considerations that the team needs to address when designing a resilient residential structure, especially considering seismic performance?
Kenny: In terms of seismic design, we have a higher demand in need of consideration since the current building codes are more stringent than the old codes due to the fact that we now have more advanced knowledge of buildings’ behaviour during an earthquake. Continual development in codes is a result of new seismologic data available from well instrumented sites and better understanding of seismic design based on ongoing research worldwide.
When considering the seismic performance of an existing building, we need to look at type of construction, the age and physical conditions of the building, structural irregularities, and the projection, etc. The issue with age is that the current building code was created in mind for new construction projects, making it less suitable for upgrades to older buildings since the material properties alone may have largely changed over the years due to aging or other effects such as water ingress. Similarly, having a structural irregularity in the original design may not be an issue or recognized as there was no such a thing as structural irregularities then.
In addition, when we are working to enhance the seismic performance of a building, collaboration with other disciplines has become much more important than it was before. Structural engineers have traditionally, although not ideal, worked on their own to enhance seismic performance, but now we must work effectively as a larger team, including mechanical engineers. If they plan to introduce heavy units on the roof, we need to take that into account. The same goes with building envelope and understanding the type of cladding they have selected since that also has a substantial impact on the seismic demand. Our design will also need to respect the current restraints of the existing layout and building configuration, with the least interruption to the occupants whenever possible.
Kitty: Adding to the importance of exploring seismic improvement strategies with other disciplines, it’s critical to have conversations early on to determine what works and what doesn’t. This project is different from a standalone energy upgrade or seismic upgrade project due to its integrated approach where we’re trying to make the building better holistically. I’ve been on previous projects where, because of funding constraints, decisions were made in silos. This project taught us the importance of collaborating, especially having early conversations through the workshops, where we’re all striving to work together to extend the life of the building. With this approach, we can make use of the available funding to full effectiveness.
Earthquakes are a real risk that we face but unfortunately some building owners pay very little attention to, largely because most people haven’t experienced one. It will impact more older buildings in the lower mainland because of the existing deficiencies. Old buildings were just not designed to resist seismic forces as Kenny mentioned earlier. It makes so much sense that upgrading the building to improve on seismic performance is considered together with other initiatives for extending the building life.
How can Entuitive’s engineering help to ensure residents’ best health and wellbeing?
Salah: We are determining the existing health and wellbeing issues of the building user groups that are affected by this project. We’re mapping out solutions regarding thermal health, noise, lighting, air quality, mould, and healthy materials.
First with thermal comfort and thermal health, we are mindful of vulnerable occupants who may be less adaptable in coping with thermal comfort issues such as the need for specific room temperatures. Second is noise since it often causes problems between tenants, so we want to design acoustically sound buildings. Another area is light since we recognized it wasn’t used to its full extent and we believe natural light contributes positively to good health and wellbeing. Analyzing air quality is also critical since our analysis showed that indoor spaces have more CO2 PPM than they should have. This is due to the lack of mechanical ventilation, causing it to rely on natural ventilation which is not well designed and poor for the air flow per unit. In addition, mould has also been an issue that we’re fixing through envelope design. Lastly, we must ensure the materials we choose will not introduce toxic chemicals or cause any other building issues.
Timothy: On the envelope side, we are focusing on daylight considerations for occupant wellbeing such as glazing or natural ventilation opportunities. Particularly with the latter, we’re increasing the operable occupant control to create natural ventilation which includes opening a vent or a sliding door. With envelope, we want our solutions to be predominantly passive but when they’re active, we want the occupants to be in control of that activation.
Lindsey: Besides focusing on the lighting and acoustics within the interior environmental quality, we also concentrate on the materials, including the flooring, paints, adhesives, ceiling tiles, and dry walls. We want to ensure our materials and products are non-toxic and low in volatile organic compounds (VOCS). If residents are constantly exposed to these toxic chemicals, they may suffer from headaches, lung problems, and other health issues.
We also considered biophilic design in hopes of connecting residents with nature. Some of the biophilic design elements included repetitive patterns that you see in nature, natural wood finishes like wood or earth tones, and actual plants. Another idea is incorporating finishes that have plant or natural materials, such as glass that has leaves in it or tabletops that have wood in it.
How will your design help with reducing the buildings’ carbon footprint?
Lindsey: Pembina brought in embodied carbon specialists to provide us with an advisory demonstration on which materials would be higher in terms of the carbon footprint and which alternatives would be more suitable. The specialists highlighted materials, blowing agents, and refrigerants.
The onus is on our project teams to consider and evaluate the embodied carbon of the material in the designs and the operations of the building. There’s not only carbon within materials, but there’s also refrigerants that are released into the atmosphere, causing similar impacts as carbon dioxide. These refrigerants that we use in the mechanical system or that are used within blown-in insulation impact global warming and contribute to pollution. We must make good decisions about which products and materials to use.
What building design, construction methods, and technologies are being used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?
Salah: One of our core goals within this project is to explore ways to reduce overall carbon emissions by 50% and then 80% in comparison to the baseline building, where baseline refers to the current stage. In terms of strategies for approaching any design we first must understand how the building is performing, so we obtain a set of utility data of natural gas and electricity to understand the patterns and how people currently are using the building.
Next, we obtain drawings, and we work to build an energy model for the building that correlates with our existing utility data. Once this is complete, we have a calibrated model that virtually shows you what exists in reality. At this point, we have developed an understanding of how the building is performing in terms of energy consumption, as well as the current level of carbon emissions. From here, you can approach the design of the building from an envelope first or an architectural first approach since these are more effective approaches with prolonging the lifespan as opposed to adding a filter or system that you would have to change in a decade or two.
We also explored passive design strategies and asked if it was possible to naturally ventilate the building. We then moved onto the building envelope to determine the potential performance of the envelope, whether it’s single, double, or triple glazed. Here, we’re trying to reduce the heating load since it contributes to the overall energy consumption that’s linked to greenhouse gas emissions.
The final steps are working with systems as we explore how we can reduce overall energy consumption. These systems include the envelope, mechanical systems, and the current building that doesn’t have any cooling loads or ventilation. We’re working to strike the perfect balance between reducing energy consumption and sourcing materials that have low embodied carbon impact while not introducing other loads that would increase the overall energy use.
Specifically with envelope design, what are additional factors for energy efficiency?
Timothy: When examining energy improvement or energy upgrades, our main target is to slow down heat loss by increasing insulation or tightening up the envelope from an air barrier perspective so that we’re minimizing any areas that can act as transfers of cold or hot air.
This sounds like a great project! Any final thoughts?
Kenny: From a technical perspective, the subject building appears to have just reached its design service life. It’s interesting to see that we are going to retrofit it by taking a holistic approach, involving a joint effort of a multi-disciplinary team, and I am glad that I am part of the team.
Lindsey: My role involves ensuring that contractors are following sustainable construction practices, including carrying out waste management plans, ensuring good indoor quality, and preventing vehicle idling.
We suggested to have the contractor conduct a daily toybox meeting where they will tell the residents what their construction plans are that day and if they have any questions. We believe it’s important to have an open conversation and interactivity between the contractor and the occupants. These residents are typically in a demographic that is vulnerable and having a general contractor uproot their life may be traumatic. We are encouraging as much communication as possible, and we hope to hold a barbecue once a month for the residents to give back to the community.
Kitty: It’s great for us to be able to contribute our diverse knowledge on the Reframed Initiative which aligns so much with Entuitive’s purpose to building a better world.
Thanks for sitting down with us today, guys. We can’t wait to hear more updates about the project.