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Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Fall Checklist

Trees watered/planted
         • water trees up to the time the ground freezes will prevent them from drying out in the winter. 
• trees and grass can be planted as long as the soil can be worked. Fall seed grass often catches best because it is already in the ground when the spring moisture is available. One caveat would be in light soils where the seed may blow away.

Grass cut short 
         • this can prevent mice from living in your lawn over the winter.
• another way to control mice is to put a two to three-foot gravel/stone bed around your house. Mice like to have cover when they travel so they will avoid open areas like stone mulched beds. This may also reduce the risk of the house catching fire if you are faced with grass fires.
• putting up bait stations or live traps on this border provides a second line of defense.

Water works
         • blow out all irrigation lines.
         • drain and put away hoses.
• make sure all pumps are drained so they will not be damaged by freezing water.        
• for gas pumps, run them dry or put fuel stabilizer in the gas tank.
         • check to make sure stock waters are powered up.
         • put a block under the end of downspouts so that the water/ice does not freeze and block the pipe.
• if you have a sump pump, is it discharging high enough above the ground to make sure the end drains and doesn’t freeze?

• check the amount of sludge build up in the tanks. If necessary, have it pumped. It is usually better to have the tank pumped in the spring, when the warmer weather allows the good bacteria to recover quicker. 
• if you are very careful to make sure nothing but the by-products of digestion go into the tank, chances are that you will never have to pump the tank. Over pumping does more harm than good. If you need to pump more often than once every three years, give us a call and we will help you find out what is going wrong.

Snow Control
• remember where that snow drift formed last year? Is it possible to put up a snow fence to stop the drift?
• maybe consider planting a few spruce trees to control snow drifting or moving a few trees that are in the wrong spot.

Monday, 5 November 2018

A Little Swiss Chard for Lunch

Well, folks, unfortunately it is November and the forecast is for colder weather so maybe it is time to shut down the green house. Now the greenhouse has no auxiliary heat so unless the daytime temperatures exceed the night time temps, things are going to turn out badly for the remaining produce.

Not that much left, some Swiss chard, a handful of small green peppers, some tomatoes pretending they are still growing and some parsley and of course some chives. A late planting of cilantro, arugula  and spinach might last a while longer.

Apart from the tomatoes, the other produces still looks great, so off to the kitchen it goes. But what to do with it?

Here's my recipe for lunch.

Couple strips of bacon.
Handful of chopped onions, stored a bunch from the garden a couple of weeks ago when I dug up the rest of the potatoes.
The chard. Mine was getting a little older so I cut out the spline.
A small green pepper.
A bit of chives.
A handful of parsley.

Now the bacon was in the freezer so I nuc'd it for two minutes. This thaws it and precook it a bit.
Cut the bacon into about 1" pieces and drop it in the cast frying pan that is well heated.
Add the chopped onions and sauté until the bacon is done to your taste.
Slice or tear up the chard into bite sized pieces, slice up the green pepper and lay it on top of the bacon and onions and with a lid on, steam for about 10 minutes or so. Until the chard is wilted.

Now sometime I get a little carried away but I like flavour, so I added one clementine orange, segmented, a large dash of lemon juice and a handful of chopped walnuts. Just before everything was done, I laid on four or  five pieces on cheddar and Swiss cheese, the small ones you get in a variety pack. The cheese and walnuts give the meal a touch of protein if you eat this as a whole meal deal. You can of course, use this as just a side dish and barbecue some chicken nuggets or a few pork chops.

Turn out super tasty, enough to make you hate the thought of waiting all those months before we have fresh produce again.

By the way, don't forget to water the trees before the ground freezes solid.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Installing systems on Soils with high ground water

Working on an interesting system this week.

We did a site evaluation for subdivision on this property several years ago. This summer, the client asked us to design a system for a three bedroom modular unit they were going to move onto the property. Our notes indicated that there was redoximorphic features between five and eight feet in the area where we had previously done the test pits so we know we would have a choice of a raise sand mound or advanced treatment to media based laterals.
The client chose to install the modular about 1500 feet south of our original pits so we knew we would have to confirm the new site as being similair to the area of our original pits.
When we dropped by to check on the progress of the modular install we noticed that there was large depressions in some areas around the home from the transport dollies. This lead us to believe there was near surface ground water, which left the ground too soft to support the move.
A call to our friends, the well drillers, confirmed that they had encounter water flow at about six feet when they installed the water line to the house. No way this can be good.
We dug new test pits near the house in three different locations, encountering flowing water in all three. We needed to find a better location for the field or completely redesign the system. 
A careful visual inspection of the area within 500 feet of the house revealed a bit of a plateau to the north of the house that was followed by a bit of a slope in the direction of the water flow. The area to the West was upslope for about a mile. Not a steep slope but gradual, gaining about 100 feet in elevation. Our previous test pits had revealed that the ground water was flowing in sand lenses sandwiched between clay loam horizons. Knowing this, the hope was that this plateau might be high enough to allow the down slope water flows to be deep enough under this area to give us our required separation between the vadose zone and the redoximorphic layers.
We dug a test pit at each end of the plateau to confirm this. Happily, we had about 66 inches of good soils at one end and about 72 inches at the other. This gave us the required separations and we were good to go with our laterals.
However, we still had a problem with siting our advanced treatment unit and dose tank. As many of you know, our Norweco Singulair Green advanced treatment units are heavy rotomoulded plastic tanks which give us little resistance to buoyancy, prior to filling them. Our dose tanks are also similarly constructed. For us, having light weight tanks is usually a big bonus, as we often have to move them long distances or on terrain that is not always suited for big picker trucks. In this case, heavier tanks might have helped.
The only location for the tanks near the house was in the vicinity of the water line which we knew had a problem with high water. Sure enough, we found flowing water at about six feet below the surface. Not enough dry soils to install the tanks with any degree of confidence. What to do. Either we needed to change our ATU to a concrete based unit or we needed to drain the swamp. We went for the latter.
Remember that the ground fell away to the East. About 100 feet to the East, the land is lower than the bottom of our advance treatment unit. Here is the solution that we came up with. Quite simple, which is almost always the best solution.
We over-excavated the hole by about a foot and installed drainage rock in the over excavation. We than embedded drainage tile in the drainage rock and covered the stone with filter fabric. The drainage tile was than extended 150 feet to the East until it daylighted.
This gave us a permanent drain under the Norweco Singulair Advance Treatment Unit so no matter how wet the future is, out ATU should aways sit on a firm foundation.
One thing to remember, don't actually daylight drainage tile. Put a pile of drainage rock around the end so that the water can flow freely but that the end of the pipe is properly protected. Not only does this protect the end of the pipe from getting crushed or blocked, it prevents rodents like muskrats from setting up house keeping in the pipe.
Two things to note.
• just because one area of the property has good soils for septic, don't assume it will be the same over the whole area. In this case, we had several different situations within 100 feet of each other. If we had not done our due diligence when the client relocated the home, we would have had a compromised system.
• when faced with a soil-based dilemma, carefully observe surface features to see if there is any hint of a solution or of more problems based on the lie of the land. In this case the high ground water areas did not show water favouring vegetation but did show grasses that were somewhat greener than the surrounding areas. The ruts from the modular move also gave hints as what to expect under the sod.
When you look at the topography, together with the information revealed by the soils inventory of the test pits, you can sometimes understand how the near surface waters might be flowing. Knowing how the subsurface waters are flowing will allow you to consider which areas may have the solution to your problem.
In this case, we could have simply have given up and said the client would have to install a holding tank and been done with it but that would not have been fair to the client.
The clients rely on our expertise and they deserve our best effort. I understand that not everyone will have the experience that we have obtained by working the industry for over forty years so if you are just getting started in the industry and you run into difficult situations, don't be afraid to reach out to some of your colleagues that have been around for a while. In southern Alberta, we are blessed with a number of professionals that are happy to lend an ear and give some advice.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Do Self-Standing Townsite Make a County More Sustainable?

Self-Standing Town-sites

This article is a continuation of previous articles on maintaining sustainable growth in rural counties. The premise is that if we can increase the number of kids in the county, the county will sustain itself. In this article we will discuss the pros and cons of building self-standing town-sites. It is assumed that a town-site will contain a relatively large amount of kids.

The costs of developing multi-unit subdivisions are very high, so developers tend to want to do villages or towns, preferably with golf courses. This way the cost of the development can be spread over many units and sometimes the golf course is able to subsidize these costs or at least provide financing for the town-site through membership sales.

Apart from the costs of obtaining the land and subdividing it, the primary costs are road infrastructure, power, water and sewer services and stormwater management. If there is no existing nearby infrastructure to tie into, these costs can be too high to be sustained by lot sales.

Most self-standing town-sites will require roadways that are well built, complete with curbs and gutters. In any development with more than a couple dozen lots, the day trips that the roadways will encounter will be in excess of 200 trips per day. It would not make sense to use gravel roadways in these developments.

Due to the density of the housing, a municipal water system must be developed, either from a local, high producing aquifer or more often from surface water. There must be sufficient water for both potable use and firefighting. As this is a municipal water supply,

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Septic Permits and Building Permits

The Advantage of Simultaneous Building Permit and Septic Permit Applications

Over the years, country residential lots have gotten smaller. This has not restricted the size of the homes being built on them. Some of these homes have very extensive floor plans.
When we get the call to do a septic design for one of these larger homes, too often we find that the house has already been started and our hands are tied.
Once we layout all the required setbacks, we find ourselves a little short of the area needed for a treatment system that will meet the requirements of the Private Sewage System Standard of Practice (SoP).

To make matters worse, the desire to save farmland results in land that is not farmable being selected for subdivision into residential lots. Unfortunately, often land that is not suitable for agriculture is not suited for septic treatment either.
How often have we, as designers, been told - “Oh, I thought we would put the septic field down in that lower area? It should drain naturally. We won’t even need a pump?”
And of course, the house sits in the one high spot that could have properly treated effluent without too many limiting factors.

Or how often have you struggled to shoehorn a field into a very tight side-yard, knowing that if the house had been placed 30 feet to the left, a field would have fit in easily?
The problem is not necessarily the small lot or the big house. If we have good soils

Investigation of a Failed Septic System

A Trilogy of Failure for this Septic System

As a full service septic treatment company, working many of the municipal districts in southern Alberta, we run into a number of failed systems every year and are contracted to determine why the system failed. We have the expertise and equipment to get to the bottom of most failures.

One of the most interesting ones, in the last few years, was one that had failure at three levels. The design team, the installation team and the regulatory team. To some extent, it demonstrates the weaknesses in the Alberta protocol for designing, installing and inspecting septic treatment systems.
I would suggest that the main weakness is lack of training and verification of training by proper testing of the applicants for both the Certificate of Competency and the testing for a SCO designation. This shows up in the installers and inspectors not taking the design and installation of septic treatment facilities in Alberta seriously enough. 
The thought still seems to be “disposal” when it should be "treatment”. Just because we don’t see effluent on the surface does not mean the septic system is properly treating the effluent before it reenters the ground water.

But one of the most concerning issues in this case is something we are seeing over and over again. Engineers that do not have the proper qualifications, are being contracted

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Alberta Onsite Wastewater Management Association (AOWMA)

For those of us involved in the septic industry, AOWMA is our go to source for information. The Alberta Onsite Wastewater Management Association (AOWMA) is the provincial not-for profit organization established to educate, train and certify industry professionals. The association engages its member - installers, septage haulers, suppliers and municipalities and provincial government departments to arrive at sound practices that strengthen the industry, and ensure safe and effective septage management for all rural Alberta.

Every year AOWMA has trainers delivering multiple training sessions to prepare those that are new to the industry so they can write the required exam to apply for their Certificate of Competency. Every installer in Alberta requires this certificate in order to apply for a private sewage treatment permit.

AOWMA also rolls out the Septic Sense Program. This is a program geared to landowners that require septic system. It does not go into how to design and install a system but rather gives the landowners and county staff and councillors a broad overview of what is required and how systems work.
But it should be noted that AOWMA is not just for the industry. The association has help lines for the general public as well. If you have a question or concern, the ladies at our office in Edmonton will help you with an answer or point you in the right direction to find an answer. If you are not sure if the people you are thinking of dealing with for your septic treatment system are properly certified by Municipal Affairs or if they are members of AOWMA, give the office a call. While it is not mandatory that that certified installers are members of the AOWMA, selecting a member for your design and install means you are probably picking an individual who wants to stay up to date with legislation and technologies pertaining to the industry. If the individual is not interested in staying involve through the association, what are the chances they are going to provide the best service possible to you their client?

As a Director of the Alberta Onsite Waste Management Association, I would be happy to assist the public or other installers in any way possible. If you have concerns about AOWMA or your have suggestions, please drop me a note. Anything that we can do to move the septic industry toward full treatment of effluents, the better it will be for everyone.

Acreages produce Kids

Acreage Development and their contribution to sustainable rural life.

This article is a continuation of previous articles on maintaining sustainable growth in rural counties. The premise is that if we can increase the number of kids in the county, the county will sustain itself. In this article we will discuss the pros and cons of allowing the subdivision of small parcels of land to develop country residential acreages.

Some counties are becoming less receptive of acreage subdivision applications. The feeling is that acreage development should not be allowed as this fragments farmland. I think most people agree that farmland is a precious commodity that should not be readily carved up.

On the other hand we also have to consider if the counties can survive with just an agricultural component. Without additional human resources in close proximity, will schools and other social infrastructure remain available to the farm community?

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Insulated Concrete form (ICF) Homes

Well folks, we just finished another Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) exterior for a client in The Lakes of Muirfield. This build was three stories of foam block, from the footings right to the trusses.

Nice design but lots of corners and windows! Think it will look great when it is completed. After a winter like this one, I'm sure the owner will appreciate the savings in heating cost over the long life of this building.
A lot of people don't understand just how great ICF buildings are at conserving heat and protecting the home's indoor air quality. They look at the raw R-value and say that the two layers of foam only come to between R20 to R-28 but this only tells a part of the story.

There are a number of facets in this construction methodology that make it one of the most cost effective building models for our Alberta climate.

The first is that the outside foam panel stops the cold before it can even enter the wall assembly. 

     With a normal stud wall, the cold will penetrate at least part way into the exterior wall. As it moves toward that point in the wall assembly where the R-value of the wall becomes sufficient to limit the heat loss from the building interior, it is stopped.  This is the point where the warm moist air from the home meets the colder environment, sometimes referred to as the dew point. What happens is the temperature at this location is cool enough for the moisture in the the wall to condense, that is, change to liquid. When this happens, the environment inside the wall becomes a perfect mould growing location. This is one of the reasons we often find mould in stud walls.
In the past, we have tried to prevent this by adding a vapour barrier to the inside face of the wall to prevent the moist air from entering the wall cavity.

In theory, this works very well. No moisture, no mould. Unfortunately, human error almost always circumvents this design. Electrical outlets and window openings are not perfectly seal. The home owner knocks some holes through the vapour barrier to hang some artwork or shelving units. More importantly, wood always moves, contracts and expands, as the temperature and relative humidity changes. This tends to rupture the vapour barrier over time.
Anything that degradates the vapour barrier will allow the moist air from inside the house to enter the cavity. Once inside, the vapour barrier prevents the wall assembly from drying to the inside so all moisture must move to the outside or remain trapped.
And of course, moisture can move into the wall cavity from the outside as well. Poorly flashed windows or the transition point between  exterior claddings are the primary causes of this.

This is the back view of the ICF House ready for the framers to put the roof on.
Back view of the ICF house, ready for the framers
With ICF construction, not only do we stop the cold on the outside but the whole assembly is air resistant. The moist air will not enter from the inside or the outside. Even bulk water that might enter from the outside can do little harm in an ICF building.
If it gets past the cladding, it will usually drain out the bottom when it contacts the foam. Should some of the bulk water make it through the foam layer, it will drain between the foam and the concrete core. In some cases, the concrete will absorb the excessive moisture and than let it dry to the outside after the rain event is over. So an ICF envelope will offer at lest three levels of moisture protection!
Because concrete has the ability to hold and store moisture and then releasing it back to the outside atmosphere, it protects the inside of the house from this sudden increase of moisture.
As far as mould is concerned, unlike wood or some fibre type insulations, there is no mould food in these walls, so even if some moisture enters the assembly, you will never have mould growing in your walls.

The second item that makes such a difference with ICF walls is   the high mass concrete core. 

   The concrete core limits  air movement into or out of the house. This is known as infiltration or exfiltration. If we can limit the air movement into the house, we don't have to waste energy heating the incoming cold air.
It really does not matter how much insulation you put in a wall, if the air can move through or around that insulation, the insulation becomes useless.

It is surprising, the amount of air that will move through fiber insulation, both horizontally and vertically. Most 2x6 stud bays lose heat due to the  convectional current that sets up when the slightly warmer air moves up along the interior face of the wall and the cooler air drops along the outside face. As it drops, it scrubs off heat to the outside wall. Still air is an excellent insulator. Moving air, not so much.

Most conventional building methodologies are not very good at stopping air infiltration. Even if they were good when initially built, over time these assemblies break down and air starts to flow into the building.
While there is quite a few net zero units being built in Alberta these days that have very good initial numbers, we need to look closely at what will happen over time. Will these net zero homes still be net zero five, ten or twenty years from now? We know that the reinforced concrete core of an insulated concrete form will be the same 50 years from now as it is today.

   High mass walls also have the ability to dampen temperature loss from the home when we have high temperature swings outside, as in a chinook or just the diurnal daytime swings. This means that the size of the heating apparatus can be substantially reduced and still meet the needs of the house.
The house I live in has about 5200 square feet of conditioned space. Plus the 1000 square foot garage is maintained at about 15 degrees C. Two of the floors have nine foot ceiling. For a conventional house of this size, you would normally have two furnaces of about 120,000 btu capacity. Our house is heated with only a 54,000 Btu boiler, which also supplies domestic hot water. When we did our heat loss calculations, we used R-50 for the ICF walls. As we have never had a lack of heat in this home, we assume the actual R-value used to calculate the required heating apparatus could of been higher.

Many people who have tried to build passive homes have used high mass walls and floors to store daytime heat from large properly oriented windows. If your calculation are properly done, this can be quite effective. One issue that comes up however, is that if you need to change the temperature in the house quickly, it is almost impossible. All that mass soaks up a lot of Btu's prior to the air in the room getting much warmer. With an ICF wall, the inner layer of the foam, dampens the flow of the heat into the walls. You still get the storage but somewhat slower, so you can get the air in the room warmed without the mass stealing a large percentage of it.

   Another nice thing about the ICF high mass walls are their ability to dampen sound. This makes them ideal for high noise areas, like next to a railroad line or airport. When the wind howls, you barely hear it. This of course means you have to be a bit more diligent about you might be in the yard as you often do not hear vehicles pull in.

The third item that puts ICF above much above conventional foundations is 

the improve air quality.

How many times have you gone down into your basement and noticed that typically "base
ment" smell? That damp odor? What you are smelling is mould growth! Some people assume that their basement must be leaking somewhere and therefore it smells. Or they just assume that it is a "normal" basement smell. Not usually.

What you are smelling is the moist environment cause by condensate. Think about it. What is the coolest location in your home? What causes condensation? Of course the basement is usually the coolest part of the house and the coolest surface in the house is the concrete walls and floor because they are in contact with the earth. So naturally, as the warm air contacts these cooler surfaces, it releases it's moisture as condensate. With ICF, your basement walls will be just as warm as your upstairs walls. And if you put foam insulation under your basement slab, the slab will be the same temperature as the air in the room. Now you don't have condensate even if you increase the humidity in your house for a small period of time. This is why ICF houses don't have that basement smell. This is why there is. substantially less chance of mould in and ICF home.

If you are thinking of building and energy efficient home, give ICF a careful consideration. Even if you just need the foundation, ICF walls are very cost competitive with cast in place concrete walls and provide a much better basement. One of the comments we often get from our clients is "it doesn't seem like a basement down here at all!"

Don't you desire a little luxury?

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Of Bluebirds and Gardens

Of bluebirds and gardens!

Springs here! Had 6 mountain bluebirds in the yard today! That's a first for us and I believe it is fairly early for them to be around this area.

And speaking of spring, gardening season is not that far away. With our short season, it's time to start thinking of planting tomatoes and maybe a bunch of flowers. Check your seed packages. Most of them will tell you how many weeks before the last frost to start seeds. Usually we can count on the May 2-4 weekend as the last frost date in this area.

The last couple of years I've gotten a little lazy and started my seeds in jiffy pellets. Always have good results with them but they are a little bit more money than starting in a bulk planting mix. Speaking of planting mix, Costco appears to have the cheapest at just over 10 bucks for Miracle grow. Check bags sizes as there is a lot of different sizes on the market now.
My tomatoes have been in pellets for about two weeks and last week I potted them up in 6" pots. They should be able to go into the green house by the end of April so maybe one more transplant.

Planted some onions and garlic in the greenhouse along with some salad greens last week. Nothing up yet but the nights are still a bit cold even in the greenhouse. No auxiliary heat so they have to do the best they can.
I have some old bathtubs in the greenhouse that I converted to self watering beds that I am quite happy with. I only have to water about once a week even with mature plants and summer heat. This goes a long way to reduce stress on the plants if I need to be away for a few days.

Wishing you all a good gardening season and an early spring.

Need to have an early spring because there is a few septic systems to finish from last year and a bunch of test pits to dig for site evaluations for new systems for this year😀

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Village and Hamlet Growth
This article is a continuation of a previous article on maintaining sustainable growth in rural counties. The premise is that if we can increase the number of kids in the county, the county will sustain itself. In this article we will discuss the pros and cons of expanding existing villages and hamlets in an attempt to entice families to move to these small urban centers. We will also look at some of the issues we would face when trying to expand these small urban centers.

If we want to increase the size of existing hamlets or villages in order to increase the number of families in the county, we need to examine what the obstacles to doing this may be. We should also consider why hamlets may not be attractive to young families or why they may not succeed regardless of the effort put into promoting them. The idea that existing hamlets are natural growth nodes may not be correct.

In order to attract families to hamlets, we must meet several conditions.

            The lots and houses must be more affordable than those in towns and cities that have more amenities or they must offer something that the bigger urban centers cannot. Sometimes, this is just a larger lot or the pleasure of small town living.

            There must be a method of earning a living either locally or within commuting distance.

And there will be a number of items that help persuade the family to move to this particular village.

            Proximity to schools that meet the requirement of the kids.
            Proximity to family or friends.
            Proximity to churches or other social infrastructure.
            Proximity to sports facilities that meet the goals of the kids. (Or the goals parents have for their kids)
            Proximity to amenities such as groceries, drug stores and eateries.

We need to ask ourselves, why would anyone want to live here rather than in a bigger town or actually out in the country. One or more of the above will be required to make the move attractive to the family. People do not just up and move to a hamlet or village.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

How can we make Counties and rural areas more sustainable?

Toward a more sustainable County

As the years move along, almost every rural municipality is faced with the problem of how to sustain their social infrastructures. These include schools, churches and sports facilities.
They also include social support people, like medical professionals, and social interactions, like 4H clubs and recreational sports teams.

Every year more schools are shutting down or consolidating into regional schools. Kids need to be bussed for greater distances.
Villages lose their grocery stores and gas stations. Everyone has to go to the “Big
City” to get supplies.

Can we stop and reverse this trend?
What can we do about to prevent the depopulation of our rural counties?

First, we need to look at what is causing this attrition to happen. Simply put, the cause is a lack of kids living in the country. We no long have a critical mass of kids in many of our rural communities. If you increase the number of kids in any geographical region,