Building greener, more affordable housing starts with research

Imagine that your house loses a significant amount of heat through an exterior wall. The traditional solution may be to open up the wall and add insulation, but that can be an expensive, time-consuming and disruptive repair.

Thanks to ongoing research by a multidisciplinary team at Carleton University, there may be faster, cheaper, and more effective ways to solve this problem in the future. For example, a company could fabricate a new custom exterior wall offsite and attach it to the existing structure. Optimal materials would be chosen to ensure the resilience of the building envelope for years to come, maximizing energy efficiency while minimizing repair costs and inconvenience to occupants.

This is just one example of sustainability-focused research being conducted in the new Building Envelope Advanced Research Center (CABER) in Ottawa, under the direction of Cynthia Cruickshank of Carleton University.

CABER is the latest addition to Carleton’s Building Performance Research Center, which has 10 researchers and 60 graduate students. CABER researchers will collaborate with government and industrial partners to test innovative materials and design strategies to perform retrofits and build new homes in ways that prioritize energy conservation and affordability. Many students will be part of Carleton’s inaugural cohort of the Building Engineering Graduate Program launching in September 2022, the only program of its kind in Ontario.

The CABER building under construction.

Given that energy use in residential and commercial buildings accounts for 22% of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and nearly two-thirds of energy is used for space heating, conservation energy to reduce GHGs is a key research priority for the team, in addition to addressing challenges such as housing shortages and affordable construction.

“A lot of people are on waiting lists for housing,” says Cruickshank. “Finding solutions for quick and affordable renovations is one way to keep those lists from growing by keeping people in their homes during renovations.

Along with the housing shortage, there is a construction labor shortage in Canada. Automated and robotic construction has the potential to help alleviate this shortage while making housing more affordable, according to CABER investigator Liam O’Brien.

“If we’re building dozens or hundreds of houses in a factory, we don’t have all the wasted construction materials on site,” says O’Brien. “There’s also less damage because partially built homes will be protected from the elements during construction.”

The CABER team will use machine learning and data-driven methods to assess the energy performance of homes and collect information from thermographic imagery using drones, laser scans or photogrammetry to identify priority areas for renovations based on weaknesses in the building envelope.

“There’s a huge gap in building performance expertise,” says O’Brien. “It’s an emerging field somewhere between mechanical and civil engineering and architecture. Students in our programs are hired even before they graduate.

Developing a thorough understanding of optimal building performance is of particular importance as the realities of climate change become more apparent. CABER researchers will use computer modeling to apply future extreme weather scenarios to a wide range of building materials and use this information to develop design strategies that ensure homes remain comfortable for longer periods after power outages. power and other failures.

The CABER facility is equipped to test materials under simulated climatic conditions, ranging from -40°C to 40°C, to replicate the extent of the Canadian climate and the potential impacts of climate change on these materials over time .

“We hope to influence building codes through our research,” says Cruickshank. “The federal government is very keen to support the development of more efficient and resilient buildings.

CABER is one of the research facilities that can be visited during Doors Open Ottawa on June 4 at NRCan’s CanmetENERGY complex in Bells Corners. For more information on CABER, visit

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