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How ‘passive homes’ are setting new green building standards, $2,000 cat door included

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Sometimes being energy conscious can mean geeking out on gigawatts, or studying the latest heat exchanger technology. But in this case, it involved splurging on a $2,000 cat door.

The super-insulated, radio-frequency-controlled designer cat passageway is one of many energy saving features in a super energy efficient house being built in West Vancouver.

“I was in Austria at a passive house conference, and it was amazing seeing all these building products being built,” said home owner James Dean. “One was a cat door where you needed a certain insulation level, [it] needs to be airtight, and they have an actuator that opens the door for your cat.”

Dean and his wife Janet Allan shared a laugh over the pricey pet portal on a recent tour of the house.

Their nearly completed structure is what’s known as a “passive house,” a category designed to far exceed building codes when it comes to energy efficiency.

The pet door is just one sign of how far they were willing to go to achieve their goal.

Solar panels cover the roof of the West Vancouver home. (Submitted)

They are hoping their family of four can have basically a zero emission lifestyle when it comes to their home and local transportation.

Solar panels, batteries, a fleet of bicycles and an electric car in the garage complete the picture. 

Costing about $3 million to build, it’s not far out of line in pricey West Vancouver. James said he kept close watch on the extras and said it only cost about 4 per cent more than it would have to build a similar home that meets existing building codes.

“We’re going to be what’s called net zero energy, so we’ll generate more electricity over the year and sell it back to BC Hydro than we use,” said Dean.

Passive house construction challenges

The almost finished home is perched on a hill looking over the large freighters anchored in B.C’s Burrard Inlet.

It features European-made eleven foot high triple glazed windows, a high tech ventilation system, and of course, the electric cat door.

In some ways that door highlights one of the problems facing passive house proponents.

Because few are built, costs are higher for many components. For instance, the huge triple glazed windows had to be brought in from Europe because no one could supply them locally.

Some of the other touches are low tech, such as emphasis on the 40-centimetre-thick walls packed with insulation and the work to have every seam sealed.

“Putting in a more insulated and airtight envelope you really simplify the heating ventilation and air conditioning system so you reduce the amount of heating and cooling you need by 90 per cent,” said Dean.

Not essential, but this high tech $2,000 cat door keeps the passive house air tight. (Petwalk)

No one keeps track of how many passive houses there are across the country.

The Victoria-based organization Passive House Canada said there are at least 100 buildings that it knows of that meet the standard, including residential and commercial structures.

The group said that both Vancouver and Victoria have about one million square feet of floor space in passive buildings.

Zero emission doesn’t mean super expensive

Dean’s early pitch to build a passive home wasn’t initially embraced by his wife, Janet Allan. She thought photos of passive houses looked dark and uninviting.

“They’re very blocky with small windows, and I said our family’s not going to live in a house like that. He said it doesn’t have to be that way, let’s build a beautiful home.”

The result is bright and open. Floor to ceiling windows on one wall look out over the ocean.

Dean said going zero emission doesn’t mean being super expensive, especially over the long haul.

“We’ll basically pay nothing in heating and cooling for the house so we’ll get that back over a number of years.”

As pressure mounts to cut carbon emissions all levels of government are pushing ahead with higher energy standards. The goal is less fossil fuel fired heating across Canada.

Matt Horne is the climate policy manager for the City of Vancouver.

“The city has what’s called a zero emissions building plan, and that’s a roadmap out to 2030, so between 2025 and 2030, depending on the building type, all new construction would be zero emissions,” Horne said.

The new Canadian standard being proposed is not as strict as passive house, and is known as “net zero ready.”

Horne said in Vancouver, emissions from homes and businesses add up to about 55 per cent of the total produced, so they’re a focus for those writing building codes across the country.

Few builders are certified for passive home construction. (BCIT/Youtube)

Costs falling for efficient homes

That worries David Foster, a spokesperson for the Canadian Home Builders Association. He said higher upfront costs might never be recovered through lower energy bills.

“We need to make sure the industry is ready, the building science is solid, the economics are there for home buyers so they can afford to get into these houses.”

He points to past mistakes such as the west coast’s leaky condo crisis, where thousands of units rotted due to a mix of bad design and poor building quality as an example of the need for caution before bringing in widespread changes.

Foster said currently the cost of transforming a 2,000 square foot single family home constructed from the current building code to the proposed standard of “net zero ready” is about $30,000. Net zero ready is a step below the passive house in terms of efficiency.

Foster said costs to attain the net zero ready standard have fallen 50 per cent in the last ten years.

The Canadian Home Builders association says costs to construct ‘net zero ready’ homes have fallen 50 per cent in the past decade. (Greg Rasmussen/CBC)

Passive home pioneers

At the West Vancouver passive house, Shawn Barr, with Naikoon Contracting, the company building the home, said few builders are certified for this type of construction.

He said far more attention to detail is needed by all the trades involved.

“If you don’t have the trades, the guys you’re working with, if they’re not on board and all trying to strive to the same thing, it’s not going to be possible. Everybody’s got to care when you’re building a passive house.”

The hope is builders in the upper end of the market will learn techniques that filter down to cheaper properties as building codes increasingly stress the need to reduce emissions.

Home owner Dean said it’s partly about being a pioneer and showing others how to make better use of energy.

“Being the first it’s always takes a bit longer, costs more money, but as more people start to do it i think the costs come down and it’s going to be much more affordable.”

Watch time lapse video of the passive house being built:

For Allan, it’s about creating a bright and livable home their kids can be proud of.

“Our boys are really excited about it and are growing up in an environment where they’re conscious of being energy efficient.”

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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