Project Fourth Pig are consultants on project featured on CBC and Tree-hugger

Image: Invizij Architects

Image: Invizij Architects

In Hamilton Ontario the community agency Indwell continues to build affordable housing and now is working toward Passive House. The Fourth Pig is proud to be the air-tightness consultants (plus we will be doing some detailing) for the Parkdale Landing Project. The designers on these projects are Invizij Architects.

Getting to the full Passive House standard on a renovation is very difficult but following the  Passive House approach, you can get a very good building. Lloyd Alter at Treehugger reviews some of the numbers in his piece on these Hamilton projects.  

The CBC also ran a piece on how the Passive Standard is being used in affordable housing (including the Parkdale Landing Project).  At the Fourth Pig we have long advocated for all affordable housing buildings to be Passive House. Passive House not only reduces the hard to pay fluctuating heating and cooling bills by a huge percentage (often 70-90%) it provides comfort and reduces greenhouse gases. 

We are proud to be working on these exciting inititatives! 




Energiesprong and the push for energy efficient social housing retrofits

Image: Source:

Image: Source:

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

Energiesprong ("energy leap") is an initiative launched in the Netherlands that is gaining interest around the globe. At the building level companies make prefabricated exterior wall and roof additions that can be put in place in about a week, essentially wrapping the house. The roof contains solar panels. In the Netherlands government support has been used to support the approach to social housing units with aims to have 100,000 units completed. To work economies of scale are important but homes are getting renovated right now. No word if they are using carbon sequestering materials. See videos below for more on how this works. 

The Pembina Institute recently wrote about the need to retrofit B.C's housing, particularly affordable housing and cited energiesprong as one possible model to draw on. Pembina will be launching an Affordable Housing Renewal Project which aims to "demonstrate that the challenges of aging, unhealthy buildings can be addressed with a solution that is affordable, fast, and scalable, while reducing carbon pollution and helping the province meet its climate commitments." 

The Energiesprong website lists France, the UK, Germany and New York State as other locations where initiatives are happening. However, this month the Rocky Mountain Institute was awarded funds for "Experimental Envelope Fabrication Process for Integrated Zero Energy Ready Multifamily Renovations." 

PHIUS and the Net Zero Energy Coalition (NZEC) are partners in this project. PHIUS reports that "This grant allows RMI, PHIUS and NZEC to develop high performance building envelope assemblies for new and retrofit buildings. PHIUS will take the lead in developing retrofit standards and industry guidance for single family and multifamily homes, and will oversee monitoring, measurement, and quality assurance for prototypes and pilot projects"  Katrin Klingenberg, Director of PHIUS, said "Tailoring envelope assemblies to climate zones is critical to making high performance buildings affordable and effective. “It is the most cost effective route to zero. We are excited to help in creating standards and design guidelines that make zero energy buildings possible everywhere.”

Wrapping buildings isn't a new idea, in fact we wrote about it in this newsletter awhile back. What is different here is the attempt to do it on a large scale, with full wall and roof systems, quickly so that residents can remain on site and with a focus on social housing. We will hear more about this approach in the months and years to come.  

The first video below explains the basic idea of Energiesprong and the second is a video of a one day Energiesprong retrofit:

An introduction to energiesprong

"Renovation in a day"- footage of an Energiesprong project

Fourth Pig Celebrates 10th Birthday!


Happy Birthday to us! Ten years ago Melinda Zytaruk, Sally Miller, Glen Byrom and Matthew Adams decided to launch a different kind of organization that would build buildings differently. Ten years ago we launched the Fourth Pig. Ten Years ago, on May 31st 2007, we were officially incorporated. 
One of our main concerns was and is the impact that buildings have on climate change. When it comes to affecting climate change changing the way we build is super low-hanging fruit. The United Nations reports that buildings account for 30% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. If you want to affect climate change you have to change the way buildings are built.

We were and also remain committed to the use of non-toxic healthy materials. People spend a lot of time in buildings and what is in them matters to the health of the occupants. Out of these perspectives came our mission:  to foster ecologically balanced methods of construction and energy production in order to promote more sustainable and healthy communities.
To begin we incorporated as a worker cooperative. Worker co-ops are owned and operated by its members and as we promoted a different, more sustainable way of building, we wanted our organization to reflect a more sustainable model- one where workers not only a voice, but real control and shared responsibility for the organization. We also made the company a non-profit, with a commitment to providing public education around sustainability and resilience. 
Ten years later we are still at it. 
The organization has grown with amazing new members and we have a completed a number of interesting projects. We continue to be committed to energy efficient, low-carbon buildings and are active in promoting green building through talks, trainings, articles, open-houses, and social media. Of course we are walking the talk by building and renovating in a way that promotes the health of the building occupants and the health of the planet. 
Thank you to everyone in the green building and co-op communities for supporting our work over the last decade. We look forward to the next amazing ten years!

Getting it together through integrated design

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

If we want to change the way that buildings are made, then we should unsurprisingly, change the way buildings are made. Most of the focus on building differently has to do with constructing more energy efficient buildings and sometimes paying attention to the embodied carbon in the materials used in the construction process. More and more though people working on green buildings are changing the process of putting a building together. 

The common way of getting a building made is, broadly speaking, to have the different parties work in isolation ( architect, structural engineer, electric engineer, etc), plans are made and builders bid on a plan, hire subcontractors and it moves forward.  Another approach is what is called "integrated design". As Natural Resources Canada explains "An integrated design process (IDP) involves a holistic approach to high performance building design and construction. It relies upon every member of the project team sharing a vision of sustainability, and working collaboratively to implement sustainability goals. This process enables the team to optimize systems, reduce operating and maintenance costs and minimize the need for incremental capital. IDP has been shown to produce more significant results than investing in capital equipment upgrades at later stages."

In IDP the whole team (owner, architect, engineers, builders) come together to plan and design a project. However, there is a particular need when undertaking green building. The Green Building Alliance argues that "The enhanced definition [of Integrated Design], however, includes the collaboration of what these various team members are working around:  climate, building design, use, and systems. Around 70% of the decisions associated with environmental impacts are made within the first 10% of the design process."

In some projects the goal is to go beyond those directly working on a building, to residents, neighbors, local businesses. If we are going to change our building standards our success will require changing the process of design and construction itself.  For more see this piece from Green Building Advisor and the video below which gives a strong overview of the importance of stakeholders working together from day one. 

We're hiring a Working Site Supervisor

The Fourth Pig Green & Natural Construction
Working Site Supervisor

Posting Date: February 6th, 2017

The Fourth Pig Green & Natural Construction fulfills contracts in sustainable building design, education and construction, natural building materials design and installation, and renewable energy installation. Fourth Pig provides consultation and training for clients in the green building and alternative energy sectors.  Our mission is to foster ecologically balanced methods of construction and energy production in order to promote more sustainable and healthy communities.
Position: Working Site Supervisor
Employment type: Full-time available now
Wage: commensurate with experience
Location: Flexibility required, primarily northern GTA, Simcoe county
Start date: Potentially immediately, depending on availability of successful candidate
Reports to: Project/Site Manager


  • Manage the day-to-day site operations for construction projects.
  • Coordinate, manage and schedule sub trades and company labourers
  • Finish carpentry, framing and other construction skills related to renovations, additions and new builds
  • Report daily project progress to Project manager
  • Other duties as required


  • Have 5+ years’ experience as a construction site supervisor 
  • Have 10+  years construction site experience, with strong skills in framing, finish carpentry,and experience in renovations and additions, experience in natural building, and passive house an asset
  • Comfortable reading and interpreting floor plans and blueprints
  • Strong ability to manage budgets, schedules and subtrades
  • Knowledge of the current Ontario Building Code as it applies to residential low-rise and light-commercial construction. Knowledge of Tarion Construction Standards is an asset.
  • Strong verbal communication skills, additional languages an asset
  • Highly organized
  • Fall protection, WHMIS and first aid training.  Additional related training an asset
  • Own a full compliment of tools
  • Posses a valid Class G driver’s license with insurance.
  • Posses a reliable vehicle, (possession of a vehicle capable of moving large materials, such as lumber).
  • Possess a personal computer in good working condition with internet access.
  • Knowledge of common computer software
  • Knowledge of and experience in green and natural  building techniques and products an asset
  •  Experience and knowledge of Passive House techniques is an asset. 

Physical ability requirements:

  • Work an 8 hour day of physical labour
  • Work inside and outside 
  • Ability to lift 50lb over a sustained period of time
  •  Ability to safely carry out a full slate of physical demands throughout a work day of construction such as climbing ladders and scaffold, reaching and lifting overhead, shoveling

The successful candidate is:

  • Keenly interested in environmentally, natural, sustainable and energy efficient building techniques
  • Committed to maintaining a safe and efficient job site and to ensuring the personal safety of yourself and your co-workers
  • Interested in joining a hard working team that can be proud of their results

Workers in the Fourth Pig may be eligible to become worker-members after a period of work.   The Fourth Pig encourages members of equity seeking groups to apply. We are an LGBTQ positive environment. 

Please send resume and cover letter to Please no calls. Please respond ASAP.

Not so Zero Carbon buildings. Why we need to make embodied carbon count.

Image: NYC's daily carbon emissions as one tonne spheres. Credit: Creative Commons

Image: NYC's daily carbon emissions as one tonne spheres. Credit: Creative Commons

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

The simple fact is that our buildings are a climate change catastrophe (PDF). If we don't change how buildings are made then we will not meet the green house gas targets we need to to address climate change. The good news is that great strides are being made around the world to push for better buildings. We've reported on the Living Building Challenge, and other certifications like LEED and Passive House. Increasingly the news is about an exciting initiative often named "zero carbon buildings" or "Zero emission" buildings. In fact at least ten countries (including Canada) have now committed to recognize zero-carbon emission buildings.

This is a strong step forward. However, it is important to note that few if any of these "zero" certifications are really net zero. Some will not be even close. There is a very key term here and that is the word "emissions." These standards are targeting an important goal (operational emissions) but are missing in their metrics the embodied carbon from the building materials. This approach has some dramatic and surprising negative results in terms of carbon emissions that come from buildings. 

This month the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) announced the Zero Carbon Building Framework (PDF). As the CaGBC says, this "is the first stage of a broader CaGBC Zero Carbon Buildings Initiative to champion the move to lower-carbon buildings in support of Canada's efforts to reduce GHG emissions by 30 per cent by 2030." The CaGBC says "The Framework facilitates broad participation across a range of building types and sizes, provides a clear definition for zero carbon buildings, and establishes five key components for the evaluation of building carbon footprints." 

The Framework is calculating operational energy/carbon, not the embodied carbon that goes into buildings. While the Framework acknowledges the importance of embodied carbon, and says that "the zero carbon building framework should require or encourage building designers to note the embodied carbon in building envelope and structural materials" it also states that "embodied carbon should not be used in calculating a building’s progress toward a zero carbon balance."[emphasis added, Zero Carbon Building Framework, page 43].

In other words, zero is not zero. 

This is (currently) true as well for Vancouver's ground-breaking "Zero Emissions Building Plan." (PDF). The plan states "The City of Vancouver’s green building and community-wide greenhouse gas emission reduction targets do not account for embodied (also referred to as upstream) emissions that occur as a result of energy used and GHGs emitted from building material resource extraction, production and transportation."[emphasis added, Zero Emissions Building Plan, 2016, page 11). Like the CaGBC, Vancouver's plan recognizes the importance of embodied energy: "In anticipation of the near term importance of measuring and reducing the embodied emissions of building materials, it is essential that the City 11 begin collecting data from new developments on their estimated embodied carbon in order to inform future incentive, policy, and potentially regulatory mechanisms targeted at reducing the embodied emissions of new buildings as these become an increasingly significant portion of overall building lifecycle emissions." [ibid].

Still, under both systems, it seems one can declare a building "zero emissions" or "zero carbon" when it simply is not. With both the CaGBC and Vancouver system, the case is made that operational carbon emissions greatly outweigh embodied carbon and that, for now at least, we should focus on reducing operational emissions. As operational emissions are reduced, the argument goes, the importance of embedded carbon increases and in the future more emphasis can be put on embodied emissions. The trouble is that the assumption that embodied carbon emissions are low doesn't seem to be holding up to scrutiny. Many new buildings are using materials with a lot of embodied carbon and therefore even a building with low operating emissions can be responsible for a tremendous amount of carbon emissions.

Furthermore, calculating the operating emissions of a building is based on modeling which has its own problems, including the variations of construction quality and the energy source used in a building. What is crucial to understand about operational energy is that the energy use of a building depends dramatically on the behavior of the occupants. Different thermostat settings in the cold months can have significant impacts on energy use. This month reported that many LEED buildings in Vancouver are failing to meet energy targets "due to gaps in oversight and poor operations management." These buildings are not meeting the operational standards they are certified to have met. 

Because of this failure Vancouver is working on policies to require reporting and monitoring. As one consultant put it in the article, “If you want to evolve and continue having a community of interests and a truly green building, it requires cooperation of the tenants and it requires green behaviour, as opposed to just green building systems.” According to natural builder, author and research Chris Magwood  a Passive House Institute report in 2007 found deviations of +- 50% from the average consumption value in identical houses based on occupant behavior. Notably embodied carbon is fixed and measurable and as Magwood observes, reductions in embodied carbon have an immediate affect and are not dependent on behaviour, building energy source or quality of construction. 

Magwood has done important work on the issue of embodied carbon in construction including through his pieces "The Carbon Elephant in the Room" and the "Carbon Elephant in the Room, Part 2". As he writes "Every time we make or renovate a building, there is a carbon footprint as a result of the harvesting and manufacturing of the materials as well as the transportation involved. If we think this carbon footprint is negligible, we’re ignoring the elephant in the room!" 

In the chart below Magwood compares the embodied carbon of different building approaches. He researched different sample homes in two different climates. His comparison included a high-performance house that was insulated with spray foam, a conventional home, a conventional home built with low carbon materials, and a high-performance (energy efficient) home with natural (low-carbon materials). Note the effect of using low-carbon materials, both in the conventional home and in the high performance natural building. The shorter the yellow bar, the less carbon the building is emitting.

Based on Magwood's calculations we are not talking about an insignificant amount of carbon here, in fact, quite the opposite. The research had some surprising results. For example, if the homes were using low-carbon energy sources the "conventionally-built example with low-carbon materials can have a lower 35 year carbon footprint than the high performance house" even in a cold climate. And again with low-carbon energy sources his home with natural materials had lower embodied and operational carbon combined than just the embodied carbon of the high performance house. This was in a cold climate and true "even if the owner's energy use is double the predicted amount." This is big news. 

In fact as design and engineer consultants Engin Ayaz and Frances Yang show "that for structures taking on popular approaches to carbon reduction (lowering operational demand, sourcing cleaner energy, facade and MEP refurbishment, or rebuild), embodied carbon can account for up to 50 percent of the total carbon emissions (Smith, 2008)." The chart below is from a presentation by Ayaz and Yang (along with Scott Simpson and Fiona Cousins). It shows how different studies have estimated embodied energy and embodied carbon in a project. In this case "embodied energy" does not include energy sources, chemical processes or transportation fuel types, but "embodied carbon" does. One study showed that up to 80% of the life-cycle carbon emissions in a building is embodied carbon!

Magwood's illustration below shows embodied carbon (EC) emissions cumulatively that different building approaches can mean (based on U.S housing). There is a 24% reduction in tons of carbon if we build with natural (carbon sequestering) materials compared to just 'building with better materials."

While the different studies on embodied carbon show different impacts, all are significant. For more reading, see this research piece from the University of Bath (PDF). The fact is that you will get a lot closer to "net zero" carbon if your building materials are sequestering carbon. 

We can't control what people do in a building, but we can encourage and reward green behaviour (as Vancouver is seeking to do with LEED). Good building design will help. Good buildings also require good energy and we need to move to 100% renewables now. This is especially true in terms of the operational energy of a building. 

Again, the initiatives that aim toward "zero emissions" are to be applauded, including the recognition of the need to track embodied carbon (and perhaps require its accounting in the future). Many builders and designers are aware of the need to reduce embodied carbon and are paying more attention to materials. Evidence of this includes the journal of Energy and Building who is planning a special issue entitled "Embodied Energy and Carbon Efficiency: The Next Major Step Towards Zero-Impact Buildings."

However, given where we are now, with green building standards focusing on operational emissions largely based on modeling, we need to ask in terms of public education and public policy what does it mean to call something "zero emissions" when it is not? Perhaps the standard, for now, should be  "low carbon" or "near zero" (though in some cases that simply isn't true). 

When it comes to buildings, mistakes last decades, even centuries. Short-term decisions we are making now around building codes and standards can lead to serious long-term effects. We can control the amount of carbon we put into building and how much it sequesters. If we want to succeed in making buildings that properly respond to climate change we need to account for and reduce embodied carbon as well as account for and track energy efficiencies. There are more and more tools available to track both, including the Swiss building standard, the Minergie A (PDF), that attempts to do this very thing. We can too. The climate depends on it. 

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2019: The World Green Building Council released a report “Bringing Embodied Carbon Upfront: Coordinated action for the building and construction sector to tackle embodied carbon” calling for immediate action on reducing embodied carbon.

Short video on European research into bio materials to reduce embodied carbon:

Biomass materials offer 20 percent better insulation than traditional ones. And data shows that by reducing the energy and CO2 emissions needed to create and transport construction materials, the total “embodied energy” across the whole lifestyle of a building could be cut by up to 50 percent.

Going up! The rise of the wooden skyscraper

Image: Michael Green CC

Image: Michael Green CC

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

Two years ago, October 2014, the U.S government (in partnership with the Softwood Lumber Board and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council), announced the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition. "Wood may be one of the world's oldest building materials, but it is now also one of the most advanced," said Secretary Vilsack. Canadian architect Michael Green says (see video below) that "Wood is the most technologically advanced material I can build with. It just happens to be that Mother Nature owns the patent." 

And now wooden buildings and even skyscrapers are beginning to crop up. In Vancouver a student residence, 18 storeys tall, and made of wood, will be completed in 2017. Rules in BC about wooden structures have been relaxed over the last few years. This month, in Vienna, Austria, construction began on what is planned to be the world's tallest wooden skyscraper at 24 floors (84 meters)

However, this is not the log cabin approach. What builders and designers are using in general is Cross Laminated Timber (CLT). As the Softwood Lumber Board explains "Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is a wood panel typically consisting of three, five, or seven layers of dimension lumber oriented at right angles to one another and then glued to form structural panels with exceptional strength, dimensional stability, and rigidity."

There are a few reasons provinces like British Columbia and the U.S. government have been pushing wooden buildings. One is the lost of forests to pests. Millions and millions of trees have been wiped out by the Mountain Pine Beetle. If the wood is burnt or used left to rot, the Co2 is released to the atmosphere. Instead, if portions of the trees can be used for construction the GHG are sequestered and provide a commercial use. Some versions of CLT use young trees that can be farmed and applied quickly into mass timber panels (again see video below).

As Lloyd Alter in Tree Hugger reported a few years ago "[CLT] replaces concrete, which is responsible for as much as 5% of the world's CO2 and the excavation of mountains worth of aggregate. It is fast flatpack design and construction; . . .  This three storey showroom at the XTLEXPO in Milan was assembled by two men in ten hours."

CLT is very strong (similar to steel) and is 25% of the weight of concrete. But what about fire? Most Canadians live in wooden buildings already but a wooden skyscraper is a different thing (and so is CLT). Architect Michael Green spoke to CBC about fire and wooden buildings:

"It is always the first question and with any building you have to worry about fire, and of course with a wood building there are some special conditions that we work with. And so the analogy I often use is, little pieces of wood catch fire, big pieces of wood are very difficult to catch fire. So we all know that in our fireplace. Little sticks will start a fire, but if you tried to light a big log, it will never catch, or it will be very hard to catch. And so the premise is we use huge-scale wood that resists fire naturally and burns very predictably in a very similar way to control a fire as it would be in a steel or a concrete building."

"What we do with all the buildings is we cover them in a envelope. So it's a lot like, if you think about our bodies, we are a skeleton. Building structure is what we're talking about, it's the skeleton, and we cover up in layers that protect our skeleton and we do the same in buildings to prevent them from weathering conditions and insects and so forth. So, we always protect the structure from that."

If we are going to meet our GHG goals we need to build better and smarter. Building taller buildings from wood to account for more dense housing has real potential. Of course it also has dangers, such as under-regulated, under-supervised forestry practices in parts of the world. For now though, the future of wood buildings is high. For more reading see Michael Green's report "The Case for Tall Wooden Buildings" (PDF). 


Fourth Pig doing consulting on home featured in Globe and Mail

In a Globe and Mail piece entitled "Green features add value to a home, but do they make it sell?" journalist Josh O'Kane spoke with Sumit Ajwani who is gutting his home and doing a renovation to make it super energy efficient. The Fourth pig has been hired on as consultants to assist in the project. We are assisting Mr. Ajwani around Passive House design and practice, general energy efficiency and in materials selection. 

As reported in the Globe “Mr. Ajwani said "We are building a house for the Tesla generation. There’s this group of people coming up willing to pay the premium to do the right thing.”  Here at the Fourth Pig we also agree with Mike Reynolds, co-founder and editor of EcoHome who said, "Most buyers don’t realize that they could keep more money in their pockets every month by buying a better-performing home, because the added costs on a building mortgage can be offset completely by lower utility bills.” 

We are excited to be part of this project!


Biowhat now? A look at Bioclimatic and Biophilic design

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

In the green and natural building world we have a growing dictionary of terms that can keep things confusing. Passive House. LEED. WELL Standard. Living Building Standard. Net Zero Energy Building. Well hang on to your thesaurus because we give you now Bioclimatic and the related Biophilic design approaches.  

Both approaches, unsurprisingly, draw on and are inspired by the natural world. As the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Savings explains: "Bioclimatic architecture refers to the design of buildings and spaces (interior – exterior – outdoor) based on local climate, aimed at providing thermal and visual comfort, making use of solar energy and other environmental sources."  In many ways, this is an ancient practice, building to the local environment and focusing on low-energy passive systems (as well as more modern active systems of energy and heat management). The fact remains though that most buildings, at least in the west, ignore this practice. However there is a growing push to do more bioclimatic buildings. Inhabitat recently reported on a bioclimatic home in Italy that used local volcano ash and prickly pear fibers in a building. Wind direction and sun path were accounted for in the direction of the home and wide walls were built for strong thermal mass.

Biophilic design is related but in some ways is more broad. In an interview with Architect Design William Browning co-author of 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design, explained “Bioclimatic design responds to the specific climatic and weather patterns of a site and biomimetic design uses nature as source of inspiration for design. Biophilia is the innate human need to connect with nature, with the result being improvements in our health and wellbeing. Biophilic design is focused on the enabling a human connection to nature in the built environment.” But practically what does that mean? Terrapin Bright Green and Browning attempt to answer that very questions. 

The 14 Patterns of Biophilic Browning and Terrapin Bright Green outline are: 

Nature in the Space
Visual Connection to Nature
Non-Visual Connection to Nature
Non-Rhythmic Sensory Stimuli
Thermal & Airflow Variability
Presence of Water
Dynamic & Diffuse Light
Connection to Natural Systems

Natural Analogues
Biomorphic Forms & Patterns
Material Connection to Nature
Complexity & Order

Nature of the Space

Examples from the patterns include "Auditory, haptic, olfactory, or gustatory stimuli that engender a deliberate and positive reference to nature, living systems or natural processes" (Non-Visual Connection to Nature); and "Rich sensory information that adheres to a spatial hierarchy similar to those encountered in nature" (Complexity and Order).

One can see a connection of this to the Living Building Challenge and the WELL Building Standard. All these approaches and philosophies are attempting to make buildings healthy for the occupants and the planet and a great way to do that is to look to natural systems.

Click the image below for a short video on Biophillic Design. 

Image above from 14 Patterns of Bibliographic Design