Category Archives: Uncategorized

Looking after your door locks

The other day I posted about one of several probably entirely preventable problems we’ve had over the last couple of years since moving in – the problem of HRV operations at low temperatures. The second of these problems also has to do with low temperatures, but this time relating to door handles and locks. It’s not something I would ever have thought about before building this house, since we never used to bother locking our front door in our old house, but since we now have a front door that automatically locks when you leave, door locks have become an important topic, especially in winter.

Our front door, a passive house certified, super-insulated model made by a company called Tarredo in Germany, is the single most expensive item in the house. It’s also very secure: you can’t just leave it unlocked. And the only way of opening it is with a key – and there is no turnable handle or back-up. This might not seem like a problem, but the lock is also a cold bridge to the outside, and because of the frequent high contrast in temperatures between the inside and outside, we sometimes get a significant build up of ice in the lock itself.

We’ve already had to replace the lock spindle once, as last winter it ‘cold-welded’* to other parts of the lock and sheared off. That’s right, it broke in half! I only recognised what had happened because this is an occupational hazard for cyclists – winter temperatures can often result in seat posts becoming chemically bonded to the inside of the frames of bikes. It makes me wonder whether these lock mechanisms have ever been tested down to the kinds of extreme winter temperatures we get in Canada (as low as -30ºC here).

The solution we’ve come up with is threefold:

1. grease the spindle with some heavy grease that works at low temperatures;

2. spray de-icer into the lock periodically in winter; and

3. Simply cover the lock itself to prevent the passage of moist air from outside to inside. I made a neoprene and duck tape cover, which works just fine.

*yes, I know that technically this is not ‘cold-welding’ in the sense of metals combining in a vacuum.


One House, Many Nations

While we’ve been through an interesting journey building our own place, there are many people in Canada who don’t have the choice of doing so. This is an amazing country in many ways, but its deepest and most unresolved issue remains its relationship to First Nations, and the conditions in which many indigenous people are living, after years of colonial dispossession, extermination, and attempts to destroy culture and connections to the land. The housing situation in indigenous communities is one of the worst current scandals. Many indigenous communities have terrible housing conditions, made worse rather than improved by multiple failed central government attempts to improve things with inappropriate and ill-thought out solutions.

But this is a government issue, right? Nothing I can do about it personally? Well, leaving aside what we might do to organise at that level, there are many things one can do to support indigenous communities, and in the area of sustainable, livable housing, there is a new and excellent initiative which we’ve been following to support the development of a new model for sustainable, expandable indigenous housing. The One House, Many Nations project is now at the stage of building a prototype to take forward to design expos and look for further funding for improvement and eventual implementation.

We encourage everyone to give the project something. They are looking to raise just $50,000 in the next month. If everyone who regularly reads this blog gave $50 that would almost cover it. It’s not a lot. But it could make a huge difference.

Preliminary winter performance data

We have had temperature and humidity data recorded in the house over the last 4 months as part of a project conducted by Anthony Mach, a passive house designer and Building Science research student at Algonquin College. The preliminary data is now available, courtesy of Anthony. What we have here is essentially the raw temperature and humidity records in two locations: one in the middle of the open-plan downstairs space (1st Floor), and the other upstairs on the landing (2nd Floor). There is a lot of analysis to be done with this data combined with other data on external temperatures, energy use and so on.

A few things to note when looking at these charts:

  1. We were only half-moved in for most of November – we started using the kitchen sometime in the second week.
  2. When we moved in (around the 21st November), the HRV (which actually turned out to have an ERV core – for more on the differences, see here) had still not been properly balanced and we were still only using the system on its lowest setting.
  3. After the HRV had been balanced properly on the 4th December, we started using it on the middle setting, with boosts after baths and during cooking.
  4. We only had the 2kW Thermolec heating element, that works with the HRV, installed on December 14th. Up until that point we had only been using a single 1kW space heater. If it was cloudy in the morning after this point we used both, but if it was sunny we didn’t need the later.
  5. However, that installation coincided with a serious cold spell where external temperatures dropped to -25ºC or lower.
  6. We were away from the 20th to the 30th of December, and had the HRV just ticking over, which means that the house would have had almost no internal heating. You can see the drop, but what’s remarkable is that the place still never got below 13ºC.
  7. Once everything was back to normal and functioning properly, from early January, the temperatures in the house were generally between 17ºC (average night-time low) and 19ºC (average day time high) upstairs, with the extremes being 15.5ºC and 21ºC; and 18ºC (average night-time low) and 20.5ºC (average day time high) upstairs, with extremes of 16.5ºC and 22ºC. The difference is probably explained by a combination of the use of the extra heating downstairs, the passive solar effect from the larger windows, and generally that there is more activity downstairs for more of the time.
  8. The humidity has generally been where you’d want it, between 40 and 50%, gradually drying out as winter goes on. Our HRV having an ERV core helps in stopping the place getting too dry.