The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) Building Science Centre of Excellence (BSCE) is young and small, but very ambitious.
"The centre is the de facto R&D (research and development) arm of the local building industry," said Fitsum Tariku, director of the BSCE in Burnaby, B.C.
The BSCE came out of the leaky condo crisis in the Lower Mainland in 2005.
"The centre was founded at the request of the BC building industry to do research for and support the local industry," Tariku said. "In addition to education, we look at building products, materials and design."
The BSCE has 42 graduate students enrolled in three Masters programs and a faculty of six, two of whom are from the construction industry.
BSCE test facilities and equipment include the hygrothermal property measurement laboratory (measuring the movement of heat and moisture through buildings) and the building envelope test facility, as well as building envelope and whole-building performance modeling tools.
Terry Radford, president of Just BioFiber Structural Solutions Corp. in Calgary, collaborated with BSCE on hygrothermal materials testing.
"We develop and manufacture sustainable building materials for the construction industry," said Radford. "We needed a credible testing facility to provide data for modeling thermal resistance and thermal capacity, as well as moisture absorption and permeability."
Radford says the tests at BSCE concluded that using conventional lime stucco and plasters does not require a vapour barrier and poses no risk of mold growth.
"It has been demonstrated that mold grows in a conventional wall cavity when condensation accumulates inside the insulation next to the vapour barrier," Radford said. "Our exterior wall system does not require a vapour barrier and resists the growth of mold in the wall material."
MagO Building Products Ltd. in Vancouver has developed a proprietary commercial-grade cladding system made of magnesium oxide cement called the MagO Cladding System.
"Our goal is to have these materials widely accepted in North American construction," said MagO president Peter Francis. "To do that, we need credible material property information, which is where BSCE comes in.
Together we are developing standards for the correct ways to make, use and test these products."
At the moment, MagO imports and distribute magnesium oxide cement boards from China.
MagO is preparing to make boards locally with local materials.
"We hope to be able to support both an existing and a new magnesite mine in eastern BC," said Francis.
Hamid Heidarali, principle of Hamid Design Build Ltd. in Burnaby, is one of two BSCE instructors who also works in industry. "Our firm deals with improving thermal performance, moisture management and durability of building envelope, as well as improving the thermal comfort of occupants. ," he said.
For the past three years Heidarali has taught two courses on building envelopes for the Master of Building Science degree: One about above-grade walls and windows, the other about roofs, roof decks, balconies and below-grade assemblies.
"Every day when I'm at work I find out something new that I can apply at school," Heidarli said. "That way my students learn about real challenges in the real world, not just abstract theory."
Leslie Peer, principal of RJC Engineers in Vancouver and part-time faculty, taught a course on construction industry materials engineering for seven years.
"I have been a consulting engineer for 27 years," Peer said. "I bring to the course what I have seen in my work, so that it has a theoretical component and a directly practical aspect."
Peer says materials engineering deals with the gap between design and construction.
"The course is about how to select, source, and fabricate using construction materials like metals, masonry, concrete, glass, plastics, rubbers and composites," he said.
Students come from around the world to study at the BSCE.
Alula Assef, who is enrolled in the Master of Building Science program, came to Burnaby from Ethiopia two years ago.
"My research is about whole building performance," he said.
Assef has performed 25 experiments on four kinds of heating systems that are used mostly in single- and multiple-family residences: Radiant floor heat; air-source heat pump; electric baseboard heater; and portable radiator heater.
"I have found that the heat pump consumes one-half the energy of an electric baseboard heater or portable radiator heater," Assef said.
Ali Vaseghi has been studying how to use better envelope design to improve the thermal performance of concrete buildings.
"Assemblies with two layers of insulation perform better than assemblies with one layer of insulation but the same R-value," Vaseghi said. "Also, moving insulation material from the interior side of assemblies to the exterior improves their thermal performance."