The Evolving Face of Building Science

Building Knowledge Canada
Written by William Young

Building Knowledge Canada (BKC) is an Ontario-based professional engineering firm with a focus on low-rise residential construction, with specialties in building science and sustainability. Building science reflects the study and mastery of the interaction of heat, air, and moisture with a building enclosure, its service systems, and its occupants.

The term building science evolved from the much older designation of ‘master builder’ in England—those who would apprentice for years and learn about structure and support science as well as the environment of a building. However, over the ensuing centuries, trades and engineering practices generally became much more specific and compartmentalized. As a result, the durability of modern buildings often failed to maintain healthy interior conditions for occupants and enclosures failed due to poor hygrothermal performance. Building science supports the holistic approach to building design notionally called “Buildings -as-a-system.”

BKC offers design and testing services delivered through the lens of building science. “Let’s rationalize the enclosure so that we can… rationalize the mechanical systems and thus provide a healthy, resilient environment for humans to thrive in,” Vice President Andy Oding says of BKC’s intentions with regards to creating better structures.

BKC, to date, has over 70,000 buildings and homes to its credit and its aims for bringing building science to the construction industry in Canada continue to take shape. Since we last spoke in 2022, Oding says that the National Building Code of Canada (NBC) continues to evolve very quickly. Many provinces and territories are considering appropriate timeframes wherein to harmonize with the tiered energy code from section 9.36 of the NBC 2020 and the NBC 2025: new requirements for houses and small buildings to improve energy efficiency and reduce operational greenhouse gas emissions. The 2020 NBC code, specifically tier 4 and 5, represent building types that are net-zero ready—homes or buildings which are 70 percent more efficient than Canadian Homes constructed in the early 1990s.

The NBC 2025 edition is now available for national, public review. The NBC and NECB 2025 propose new tiered operational carbon emission targets for homes and buildings. The code is stirring up a lot of interest within the construction and homebuilding industries in reducing operational emissions, and it may potentially bring in a proposed embodied carbon structure in the draft NBC/NECB 2030, in practices that promise to be industry-wide.

In the past two years, BKC has also amalgamated its business with that of Building Energy Incorporated (BEI), an energy design consulting firm out of Ottawa. Previously, BKC had worked with BEI on several projects, and the two businesses developed organically alongside each other, promoting internal cultures that were very similar in thought and intent. BEI has now become the eastern Ontario/Ottawa division of BKC, headed up by Senior Project Manager Troy Tilbury and his team.

“We enjoy working with homebuilders and helping them,” says Oding, and this is why this new venture makes so much sense. BKC also has presence in other Provinces and Territories through its building science division, headed up by BEI President Mark Rosen. Since 2022, BKC has been involved with projects with builder clients and developers across every province and even into the territories.

Beyond its historic amalgamation and continued national growth, many partnerships and relationships have helped BKC continually achieve its goals. One of its biggest is the direct relationship it shares with Construction Instruction (CI), its American partner company based in Denver, Colorado. CI conducts product testing for materials and systems as well as training for builders, engineers, and architects on mechanicals and enclosures. With CI, the company also has the Ci App, which is the most used construction-based application in North America and features videos and articles for construction professionals.

Domestically, Oding says a growing number of Canadian home builders are swiftly and successfully leading the industry transition to low-carbon, low-energy housing. One shining example of this leadership is CanmetENERGY, and its Local Energy Efficiency Partnerships (LEEP) programs are focusing on helping the homebuilding and low-rise residential industry adopt new technologies and practices, which BKC has been greatly enjoying. BKC also actively supports the Canadian Association of Consulting Energy Advisors CACEA, a group that supports the professional development and sustainable business careers of Energy Advisors across Canada.

BKC is a long-time member of the Canadian and U.S. Green Building Councils, for which it does a large amount of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Homes certification; in fact, one of its recently completed projects was one of the largest LEED for Homes-certified communities in Canada: Downsview Park in North York, Ontario, completed by Mattamy Homes. The company’s Green Building Council memberships continue to provide it with engaging opportunities and backing.

BKC has been very pleased to support Mattamy Homes and their role in founding the Climate Smart Building Alliance CSBA along with Ellis Don and Royal Bank of Canada. This alliance challenges the building industry toward decarbonization more swiftly than regulation while doing so profitably and sustainably.

Concern for environmental issues in sectors like construction continues to grow beyond efforts like the CSBA, but a current challenge appears to be the speed at which new initiatives are being processed. Oding says that everyone in the industry is trying to take a breath because so much is happening so quickly due to climate-related challenges. The development of codes, standards, and practices like the National Building Code of Canada is exponential, making it hard for developers to keep up and even harder for people in the industry to keep track of how things are changing. It is a very challenging time right now in the industry, he says, but one that BKC feels equipped to deal with.

Company growth and diversification are set to continue. Alongside its energy and carbon sustainability analysis and code compliance support, BKC expects testing for large commercial building air tightness and air barriers to increase significantly. This is now done in Toronto under the Toronto Green Building Standards and in other provinces and cities under varying rules. With the National Building Code of Canada tiered energy code, once tiers three and four are achieved, buildings must meet those standards.

Oding says that large building air tightness testing used to be more akin to an academic exercise, but the BKC team has learned to do air testing on large buildings and how to get accurate results that can shape energy modelling and mechanical design, as well as reinforce good building practices. This is a high-growth area for the business with at least one project a week.

BKC is now also embarking on expanding its work on mechanical design for residential buildings. The company has a great deal of expertise in this space, having done forensics for mechanical systems and training, but it will now look to design the systems for homes and buildings, a practice that has already grown considerably.

“Between now and the next five years, holistic, house-as-a-system mechanical design will be a swift-growing part of our business,” Oding says. Always prepared to meet a challenge head-on, there are a plethora of reasons why this company remains optimistic and motivated in the face of a rapidly changing and expanding industry.

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