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Better Understanding of the House as a System

November 23, 2017

For the average homeowner, a house is a basic building structure that provides comfortable, and sometimes luxurious comfort. And while many homeowners understand the ABCs of plumbing, electrical, heating, and cooling, not many have an understanding of “the house as a system”.

It’s time to start viewing your home as a whole system

Even on an elementary basis, it’s clear that a house comprises various mechanical components that all work together as an inter-dependent system. Looking at “the house as a system” allows for a different perspective – including everything from the residents to the building materials.

“The house as a system” comprises the people who live in the house, the construction materials used to build the house, and all of the mechanical components that interact daily. Over the years, changes to one mechanical component of the house can dramatically affect other components.

As a unique building structure, a house needs to be protected from the outdoor environment; it needs to breath in and out; and it needs to regulate indoor living temperatures. As such, changes to any one mechanical system will have unanticipated impact on the “the house as a system”.

As a multi-component, interactive system, a house has a number of fundamental components:

The Building Envelope

Includes everything that separates interior from exterior (roof, walls, windows, foundation)

Mechanical Systems

Includes components that provide, remove, or regulate heat, air and moisture (HVAC system)

The Home Occupants

This would include the number of people in the home, lifestyle choices, and general operation.

Changes, renovations, and retrofits to “the house as a system”

  • With a home renovation, consideration should be given to improving insulation, airtightness, and ventilation. Anything less is a failed opportunity to improve energy efficiency and home comfort.
  • Moisture issues in the home (water, vapour, ice) can cause damage over time. Installing effective air barriers/vapour barriers helps to control air movement and air moisture from intruding.
  • On the exterior of the house, rainwater and melt-water must be managed properly to prevent any penetration into the house. Drainage should flow away from the building envelope itself.
  • Making a house airtight significantly reduces air leakage. Energy efficient windows, quality insulation, and an airtight building envelope will effectively reduce indoor/outdoor air exchange.
  • Proper ventilation throughout the building envelope ensures balanced humidity and moisture control, both of which prevent damage and enhance home comfort (sealed tight/ventilated right).

When a renovation includes upgrades to any of the combustion appliances (furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters) proper back drafting is essential maintaining pollutant free air circulation.

To avoid and prevent the negative effects of Volatile Organic Compounds during renovation, safer product options (non-toxic) are available through endorsements like EcoLogo™ and Green Leaf™.

With any renovation, carbon monoxide exposure can result because of improper installation or poor maintenance. The simple answer is a carbon monoxide detector – a must for every house.

New construction can pose hazards with radon gas and other soil gases. These should be tested for, and remediation arranged where necessary. Here, air sealing may be an added measure.

The benefits of “the house as a system” approach

Whether renovating or retrofitting, “the house as a system” approach allows for important issues to be addressed before any work commences. This approach is pro-active, and ensures long-term value for the renovation work undertaken, avoiding costly changes and/or future re-installations.

Today, contractors who subscribe to “the house as a system” can offer astute homeowners a well-planned renovation, with maximum performance of all mechanical components. This is truly a holistic approach to building practices – giving high priority to occupant health and safety; energy efficiency and sustainability; and pure and simple home comfort.

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