Heat, housing and health: Marianne Touchie and the complexity of multi-unit residential buildings

Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE) is working with Toronto Community Housing and The Atmospheric Fund to better understand how changes to energy use affect indoor environmental quality in multi-unit residential buildings. Toronto Public Health is collaborating to use their data to inform policy. (Photo: Kevin Soobrian)

Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE) is working with Toronto Community Housing and The Atmospheric Fund to better understand how changes to energy use affect indoor environmental quality in multi-unit residential buildings. Toronto Public Health is collaborating to use their data to inform policy. (Photo: Kevin Soobrian)

Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE) is working with Toronto Community Housing and The Atmospheric Fund to better understand how changes to energy use affect indoor environmental quality in multi-unit residential buildings. Toronto Public Health is collaborating to use their data to inform policy. (Photo: Kevin Soobrian)


This story originally appeared at U of T Engineering News

This story is a part of a  five-part #RisingStars series, highlighting the work of our early-career professors.

In cities from coast to coast, condominium towers are being constructed at an unprecedented rate, with 30,000 new units added in 2015 to the Toronto market alone. This is driven both by recent advances in the design, engineering and construction of tall buildings, and a stark increase in demand for these multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs). “More people are moving downtown,” says Professor Marianne Touchie (CivE, MIE). “There’s very limited space, so we need high-density housing options and MURBs provide that.”

With a background in building science, Touchie studies the relationships between energy efficiency and indoor environment quality parameters, such as thermal comfort, in these high-density buildings. In Toronto, one of the largest suppliers of MURBs is Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), which owns 50 million square feet of residential space and houses 110,000 residents. Many of these are older buildings without air conditioning.

“A lot of these buildings rely on ventilation through the building envelope, which is not terribly effective. At the same time, we need to reduce our energy consumption and energy use,” she says. “But reducing energy usage has implications for occupants, and that’s what I’m interested in studying.”

Touchie is currently collaborating with The Atmospheric Fund (formerly the Toronto Atmospheric Fund) on a large research project—one that she has been involved with since her role as their Building Research Manager from 2014 to 2015. She and her colleagues are collecting data on energy consumption, temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide concentration in more than 70 apartments spanning seven different TCHC buildings.

“It’s probably the most comprehensive MURB monitoring project in North America, if not the world,” says Touchie.

They are also working with Professor Jeffrey Siegel (CivE), who is examining concentrations of formaldehyde, particulate matter and, through a partnership with Health Canada, radon concentrations. Touchie says that collaborations, such as those with TCHC, The Atmospheric Fund and Siegel, are critical to creating a comprehensive picture of the MURBs she studies. “Buildings are so complex,” says Touchie. “I have training in one particular area, but I’m not an indoor air quality expert. When we make changes from an energy perspective to the ventilation system, or the heating and cooling system, it has an influence on the air quality. Working with other experts, like Professor Siegel, we can gather data on all sides.”

Touchie’s findings with The Atmospheric Fund and TCHC have drawn the interest of Toronto Public Health. The agency is interested in the health impact of extreme heat, and the study has found that these TCHC buildings are often overheated, especially in the summer.

“Extreme heat is a health problem, especially for the most vulnerable populations,” says Sarah Gingrich, a Health Policy Specialist at Toronto Public Health. Very young children, the elderly and people with illnesses or taking certain medications are most at risk. “This work is providing evidence that excessive heat is a problem in older apartment buildings in Toronto. The research is showing that although the temperature cools down at night outside, in these buildings it rises during the day and they stay hot all night long.”

Touchie and her collaborators are finding that a major culprit for the inefficient heating and cooling performance is uncontrolled air leakage. These leaks often occur around windows, doors, exhaust fans and elevator shafts. But inefficiencies aren’t just a building issue: she adds that “because people can do whatever they want in their own homes, like open and close their windows, MURBs combine the complexity of high-rise buildings with the occupant wild card,” which makes managing the indoor environment even trickier.

“The study provides valuable information on Toronto apartment buildings that will help to inform policy development,” says Toronto Public Health’s Gingrich. “It fills a very important gap by providing up-to-date data that highlights some of the challenges in this type of building, and points to potential solutions.”

Next, Touchie hopes to expand her research to newer condos, where data is even scarcer. “They’re going up so quickly, and we really have no information about the quality of the indoor environment or their energy performance,” she says. “I am very curious whether their energy consumption matches the performance level promised at the design stage.”

Remembering Margaret and John Bahen

Margaret & John Bahen

This story originally appeared on U of T Engineering News.

Margaret & John Bahen

Margaret and John Bahen (CivE 5T4). Both U of T alumni, their visionary philanthropy is seeding breakthroughs in medicine, engineering, math and computer science.

The University of Toronto has lost two remarkable alumni and supporters. Margaret and John Bahen (CivE 5T4) both passed away in November, within days of one another. The couple, who met at U of T and raised three children together, leave behind many friends and family members, as well as a strong legacy at their alma mater.

The Bahens gave generously to the Faculties of Medicine and Applied Science & Engineering. Their commitment to advancing medical research and scholarship, and their lasting contributions to the campus through their support of the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, leave an indelible mark.

“The University is proud to count John and Margaret among our most distinguished alumni and champions,” says U of T President Meric Gertler. “We greatly appreciate their dedication to advancing excellence in research and scholarship across disciplines, and their visionary understanding of how shared space in state-of-the-art facilities fosters innovation and collaboration.”

John and Margaret’s legacy of philanthropy to U of T Engineering is embodied in the Bahen Centre for Information Technology. Completed in 2002, the building houses advanced research and teaching facilities, which support faculty, staff and students in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Mathematics.

“It is impossible to overstate the impact of John and Margaret’s generosity,” says Cristina Amon, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “Their support of engineering research and the visionary design of the Bahen Centre as a focal point for collaborative information-technology research will be felt by U of T and Canadians for generations to come.”

A 1954 graduate of the Department of Civil Engineering, John Bahen began his career at McNamara Construction, specializing in large-scale projects such as hydroelectric dams and major highways. In 1980, he was appointed President of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Co. Ltd., where he directed landmark projects such as the SkyTrain light rail system in Vancouver. Upon his retirement in 1994, he and classmate Joey Tanenbaum co-established the Bahen/Tanenbaum Chairs in Civil Engineering, which focus on applications of structural engineering.

Professor Michael Collins (CivE) held one of the endowed chairs for 19 years. “While engineering professors should conduct research, teach and provide service to the community and the profession, it is my belief that teaching students the basic principles of the art of engineering is the central role,” says Collins. “The Bahen/Tanenbaum funds have been a significant factor in enabling me to greatly increase the number of students I teach while still maintaining very high standards.”

“In making a generous commitment of time and financial support to the Bahen Centre for Information Technology at a crucial time in the Faculty’s development, John and Margaret Bahen had a major and lasting impact on the Faculty’s quest to be counted among the world’s leading engineering schools,” said Michael Charles, former Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “My wife, Barbara, and I are grateful that we had the opportunity to know and enjoy the friendship of Margaret and John Bahen, and to witness their admirable loyalty to the University.”

At the Faculty of Medicine, the Bahens’ support is making a major impact on health care. “John and Margaret Bahen have left a great legacy in medical research and scholarship,” says Trevor Young, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. “Their support continues to be felt through promising work in epilepsy and occupational therapy.”

In memory of their late son Michael, Margaret and John Bahen created the Michael Bahen Chair in Epilepsy Research. Chair-holder Dr. Berge Minassian has discovered genetic mutations underlying several types of epilepsies, including the severest type—Lafora disease. These discoveries have led to the identification of a potential drug to counter the disease, which will soon be undergoing clinical trials. The Bahens also contributed generously to the Epilepsy Research Fund within the Clinician Scientist Training Program in the Department of Paediatrics.

“The Bahens have brought us to the threshold of overcoming severe epilepsy,” says Minassian. “I am extremely grateful for their support, which has been crucial to this research and continues to push this area of medicine forward.”

Following her graduation with a diploma in Occupational Therapy in 1952, Margaret Bahen worked at Sunnybrook Hospital’s Veterans K Wing. She created the Pamela Cowie Gray Generosity of Spirit Award in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, to honour her lifelong friend from the program, and remained connected to the department and to U of T’s rehabilitation sector.

“We are tremendously grateful for Margaret Bahen’s support,” says the department’s Chair, Susan Rappolt. “As an alumna of the program, she understood the value of hope and engagement as a resource for health, and was dedicated to helping future students pursue research and professional development.”

In 2001, then-University President Robert Prichard and his wife Ann Wilson established the endowed Margaret Bahen Gold Medal in Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, a convocation award given annually to a student excelling in academic courses, clinical fieldwork and overall leadership.

“John and Margaret were strong champions of our faculties of Medicine and Engineering, demonstrating their belief in the ability of academic research and higher education to transform people’s lives and build better societies,” says David Palmer, who is Vice-President Advancement of U of T. “The Bahens were standard-bearers of philanthropy in this country and will be remembered for their thoughtful and generous vision.”

Give us the tools

remembrance day - photo of one of the murals in the bunkhouse at survey camp

A legacy of duty captured in wartime murals at U of T Engineering’s Gull Lake Camp 

Story originally appeared on Engineering News.

On February 9, 1941, as the Second World War raged, Winston Churchill closed one of his famous speeches with the words, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.” Churchill was addressing the British public, but his words had a resounding impact on the engineering students at the University of Toronto.

At a time when many of their friends and classmates were leaving to enlist overseas, some U of T Engineering students made the difficult decision to finish their educations and gain the skills required to contribute to Canadian war effort as engineers.

In 1941, civil and mining Engineering students painted ‘GIVE US-‘…‘-THE TOOLS’, alongside their names, on the walls of U of T Engineering’s property at Gull Lake, commonly called Survey Camp.

remembrance day - photo of one of the murals in the bunkhouse at survey camp

Throughout the war years, murals at Survey Camp depicted headlines and battlefields, but also the valued engineering skills that they would contribute to the war effort. Engineers were needed to undertake all aspects of the allied effort; building barracks and reinforcing defense positions; making the calculations necessary for artillery accuracy; the extraction of coal, metals and minerals, which were needed for munitions production; repairing damaged machinery; and reconstructing demolished bridges. The 4T1 mural echoes U of T Engineering’s original mandate to serve the public interest, outlined in the ‘Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer.’

Countless pieces of artwork decorate the rafters and ceiling at Survey Camp, providing a window into the events and lives of engineering students from bygone eras. Today’s students still gaze up from their bunks to discover a different piece of Faculty history each time.  And every November 11, engineering students pay tribute to the duty and sacrifice of their war-era peers by designing and building an original monument on campus to commemorate their efforts.

Churchill concluded his speech, “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” Every November 11, engineering students take up those tools in remembrance.

CivE alumnus wins international Rocha Medal in rock mechanics

Bryan Tatone addresses the 2016 Lassonde Research Day

Prestigious award is the ultimate prize in rock mechanics for young researchers, putting two graduates and one faculty member on the map

Bryan Tatone (CivE PhD 1T4) has been named the 2017 recipient of the international Rocha Medal, the most prestigious award a student can receive for rock mechanics research.

Bryan Tatone addresses the 2016 Lassonde Research Day

Bryan Tatone addresses the 2016 Lassonde Research Day

Tatone is the second student of Professor Giovanni Grasselli (CivE) to win the Rocha Medal in as many years. Grasselli, who holds the Foundation CMG Industrial Research Chair in Fundamental Petroleum Rock Physics and Rock Mechanics, won the prestigious honour just 12 years ago.

The prize is awarded each year by the International Society for Rock Mechanics (ISRM) to one doctoral student with an outstanding thesis.

“Rock mechanics is the study of how rocks respond when we engineer them, and it has a lot to do with how rock deforms and fractures” explains Grasselli. “This is especially important for building tunnels, assessing the stability of rock slopes, laying foundations on rock, and assessing reservoir behaviour for the petroleum industry.”

For Grasselli, the awards are recognition of the quality of his group’s work over the past 10 years, and global research excellence in the field of rock mechanics at U of T Engineering.

Tatone’s thesis on the behaviour of shearing rock fractures — lateral movements of rocks against each other underground — is important to projects with geological components. Tatone’s work represents a breakthrough in geological imaging — it is the first instance of micro X-Ray Computed Tomography (µCT) being used to study shearing evolution. It also features the use of a novel numerical modelling approach called the Finite-Discrete Element method (FDEM), which allows the process of rock fracturing to be explicitly simulated.

“Having my work recognized by the international selection committee is a welcome validation of my research efforts, and an immense honour,” said Tatone.

Andrea Lisjak Bradley (CivE PhD 1T3), another of Grasselli’s PhD students, won the award in 2015 for his research on the underground disposal of radioactive waste. It is the first time in Rocha Medal history that two students of a previous recipient also won the award.

Lisjak’s research has helped the current site-selection and design process for an underground radioactive waste repository in Switzerland. His numerical model of shale behaviour can be applied to several issues including stability of surface and underground excavations.

For Lisjak, his experiences during his PhD have been crucial in succeeding in his role with Geomechanica, a start-up company spun out of the research performed by Lisjak, Tatone and their peers. The company develops geomechanical simulation software and provides consulting and laboratory testing services for rock engineering operations, using algorithms and numerical procedures to better simulate the mechanics happening underground before project begin.

“The technical expertise and extensive knowledge I gained during the course of my PhD, as well as developing a professional network in part due to the Rocha Medal, has resulted in greater business development and several consulting opportunities for Geomechanica,” he said.

“When we first started this research, we did not have any guarantee that it would work,” said Grasselli. “The start-up company and the number of published papers that have come out on this topic since we started the research prove how innovative it is.”

U of T Engineering student team competes at Green Energy Challenge finals

The University of Toronto student chapter of the Canadian/National Electrical Contractors Association (CECA/NECA) is one of three finalists to compete at the 2016 Green Energy Challenge in Boston this weekend.

The students from U of T Engineering are the only Canadian team, and will compete against teams from Iowa State and the University of Washington. The final three were selected from 14 proposals.

“We selected UTS because it is an aging building that uses older lighting systems and could benefit greatly from an upgrade,” said Dmitri Naoumov (CivE 1T5+PEY), the team’s project manager. “The school is also planning a major renovation, so our proposal could help to inform the energy needs and improvements.”The U of T team partnered with University of Toronto Schools (UTS), a Grade 7 to 12 university preparatory school in downtown Toronto, to design an energy efficiency upgrade, including a small-scale photovoltaic system that would serve as a teaching and learning tool for students.

Competing alongside Naoumov are Matheos Tsiaras (CivE 1T5+PEY), Ernesto Diaz Lozano Patiño (CivE 1T5+PEY, MASc Candidate), Greg Peniuk (CivE Year 4 + PEY), Arthur Leung(ChemE Year 4), Claire Gao (ChemE Year 4 + PEY), Mackenzie De Carle (CivE Year 4) and Nataliya Pekar (CivE Year 4).

“The lighting in the rooms was below the recommended levels for classroom learning,” said Naoumov. “By increasing the light in classrooms, we are helping to create an environment more conducive for students and teachers.”Their design includes detailed technical solutions for classroom lighting retrofit, integrated window treatments and the design of a rooftop 4kW photovoltaic solar array, which all meet the unique needs of the building and the climate in Toronto. By upgrading the lighting system to use lower wattage bulbs, using occupancy sensors and installing light shelves that regulate daylight, the team determined that UTS could reduce its annual energy consumption by up to 125 MWh, or enough to light 10 typical homes.

UTS is eager to incorporate the students’ energy efficient and technologically savvy infrastructure into its daily operations. Because many Toronto public school buildings are showing their age, this could serve as a model for future upgrades across the city.

“UTS is an Eco School and we aim to reduce our environmental footprint and energy costs,” said Philip Marsh, vice-principal of UTS. “The team’s analysis and understanding of how to improve the efficiency of our building was impressive. We see the proposed roof solar array as a viable design option for the future.”

Competing for the first time at the Green Energy Challenge in 2015, the U of T team placed fourth with its lighting and back-up power retrofit proposal for the Good Sheppard Ministries shelter in downtown Toronto. Although the project did not win them a spot at the convention, Good Sheppard Ministries is currently implementing their design throughout its facility.

CECA/NECA brings together electrical contractors across the country to share experience and advice. Established in 2014, the U of T chapter extension is the first of its kind in Canada. Its goal is to bridge the gap between contracting and engineering and engage students with first-hand, applied experience. In addition to pitting their design savvy against groups at other North American universities, the group hosts networking and social events and connects students with scholarship and job opportunities.