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Woman of the Week: Kelsey Saunders

Kelsey Saunders is a building scientist with SUSTAINABLE.TO, a collaborative architecture firm that specializes in sustainability. Her role is to help model designs to make sure they perform well in areas of health and energy efficiency, including energy modelling, hygrothermal analysis, and sustainable design consulting. She also provides technical support and helps in research and development into new and existing technologies for residential construction.

Saunders has a Bachelor of Architectural Science from Ryerson University and is concurrently working towards her Master’s of Applied Science in Building Science. In the interview below, Women’s Post learns more about building science, what it means to truly build sustainably, and what needs to change in the industry.

Q: What drew you to architecture as a career?

A: I was always fascinated by architecture and the ability of space to evoke emotion and change perception, even before understanding how or why these spaces could be so moving. I wasn’t one of those people who always knew what they wanted to do and so I didn’t necessarily think that I would become an architect, but I had this special connection with architecture. My initial understanding was that architecture was mostly about aesthetics, because this is often how its portrayed, but when I came to understand that it is mostly about function I was hooked with the concept of shaping how people flow through and use the built environment and the impact it has on everyday life.

Why specialize in building science?

I’ve always done well in math and science, and in fact started out my academic career at the University of Guelph majoring in chemistry and taking calculus and physics courses. I enjoyed the work, but I didn’t see a career path, so I changed lanes and decided to pursue my passion for architecture. I did my undergrad at Ryerson University in the Bachelor of Architectural Science program. In fourth year, students specialize in either Architecture (design), Project Management, or Building Science. In the first three years I did really well in building science courses and found them to be the most meaningful and practical. At this time I still thought I would pursue a career in architecture, but wanted to get a deeper understanding of building science principles to improve my ability to design good buildings.

What exactly is a building scientist?

Building Science is a relatively new discipline that is filling a much needed gap between architecture and engineering (although many building scientists traditionally were engineers, until more recently). Building science is the analysis and control of the physical elements that affect buildings, such as climate, air movement, heat transfer, water, and moisture. Basically, it’s the science behind how we keep buildings dry and warm. The role of building science is to optimize the performance of buildings for improved energy efficiency, durability, indoor air quality, and comfort. There are many roles a building scientist can play. At SUSTAINABLE.TO Architecture + Building we do things differently. “Sustainability” is ingrained in the service we offer. It is not an additional service. Building science is integrated directly into the architectural design process to create durable, healthy, energy-efficient buildings for our clients. I’ve been with SUSTAINABLE.TO for nearly four years now. For me, it’s the dream job because my love of architecture and my science-based brain get to play together on a daily basis. We provide energy-modelling during concept design to guide our design decisions, air-tightness testing during construction as quality-assurance. It’s important to us that our buildings perform as well in practice as we intend them to.

Your focus at the moment is on sustainable building – what new developments are out there that our readers should be aware of?

Something that we are trying to focus on more at our office these days is embodied energy, which is the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with the production of a product, from the time it is mined to when it is installed on the job site. Previously, much of the focus has been placed on how much energy we can save by building an efficient building. So, for example, foam insulation products with high embodied energy have been used extensively to insulate new and existing building to reduce their energy consumption. What we are not realizing is that often, the energy saved over the life of the building doesn’t even cover the energy embodied in that foam insulation. So, if thats the case, what was the point? This is something that needs to be considered when designing truly sustainable buildings. There are some incredible natural building materials (even new innovative ones) with very low embodied energy – straw, clay plaster, cellulose, etc. – that we would love to see become mainstream. They are also safer and healthier choices.

Sometimes people can be overwhelmed when it comes to introducing sustainable options into their home – is there one thing you would suggest everyone doing in order to make a real difference?

The most important “sustainable strategy” is a good building envelope – which is the outside shell of your home, including all exterior walls, roof(s), and basement walls/floor. Investing in a good building envelope will reduce operating costs by improving energy efficiency, comfort, and the overall durability of your home. The best way to achieve this is to insulate, air-seal, and address water in the form of vapour and liquid. If you’re looking to renovate in the near future, insulation and air-tightness can be successfully address in a few different ways depending on how your home is built and the scope of your renovation. As a start, having a blower-door test performed on your home to detect potential air leaks and sealing them up with caulking and/or tape would help. You’d be shocked at the difference this will make to your energy bills. In terms of addressing water, make sure all of your downspouts and roof eaves are clean and directing water away from your home.

How well are Toronto builders doing in terms of sustainability? What more needs to be done?

Honestly, there are a handful of builders in Toronto that are leading the charge in terms of sustainable building. Sadly, it has been the same group of builders for the last 10 years and not much has changed. We attribute this to two things. First, the common “I’ve been building this way for years” mentality. Habits are hard to change, people are strong willed, and they don’t want to hear that they’ve been doing it wrong. Second, building codes are slow to change. As an example, we have been specifying continuous exterior insulation for years, and each year we push how much exterior insulation we use even further and as a result we push our contractors to develop methods of building better buildings. By contrast, the Ontario Building Code only now requires minimal exterior insulation as of 2017, and even then there are options to comply to the energy code without it – by installing more efficient mechanical equipment! It just seems crazy, but its a direct result of push-back from the building industry who thinks that exterior insulation is impossible.

What are you currently working on within Sustainable TO?

As the resident Building Scientist at an architecture firm, I typically get involved in every project in some way. The simplest way I find to describe my role is that I provide technical support to our design team. On some projects, this might be as simple as an intra-office consultation about the best way to insulate and air-seal a building, which windows to select, review mechanical drawings from an HVAC designer, etc. On other projects, I will take on a larger role including energy modelling for building performance optimization, specification of building materials, building envelope detailing (drawings details of how the building should be constructed for optimum efficiency/durability), field reviews during construction, and blower door testing. We also offer these services to projects from clients who have an architect but need a sustainability consultant to optimize energy performance, health, and durability. This can also include consulting and certification for programs like LEED and Passive House.

You are finishing (or are you finished) your Master’s of Applied Science at Ryerson – what are your goals for afterward?

I am completing my Master of Building Science at Ryerson, to graduate in Spring 2018. I’ve been doing it part-time while working at SUSTAINABLE.TO over the past 4 years. Honestly, I don’t see much changing for me one I receive it. I already have the job I want with a company and a team that I am proud to be a part of. As SUSTAINABLE.TO grows, I would like to simultaneously grow the building science department (currently just myself) and broaden the scope of our services.

What do you do when you aren’t working and what are you reading right now?

When I’m not working, I’m typically spending time with my black lab/boxer Odin. I’m very active and love to be outdoors. I’ve recently gained a love and respect for high-intensity training at the gym and supplementing with yoga. I’m a big foodie and have embraced vegetarianism by experimenting with new and interesting foods. I love to travel, but who doesn’t!

I’m currently reading a book called “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well” written by Meik Wiking, a researcher at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. Its about living a balanced life full of Hygge (translated loosely into “coziness” in a Canadian context). It’s an easy ready, but between work and school it’s a perfect read right now.

 

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle set to marry next May

As news broke early yesterday morning of Prince Harry’s royal engagement to American actress, Meghan Markle, hearts of girls around the world broke as they realized they had minuscule hope of becoming the next princess. Personally, I was rooting for Prince Harry and Meghan since the media started speculating about their relationship in 2015.

The two have been dating for a year and a half and it was announced Tuesday morning they are set to marry next May at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. The two are reportedly planning the ceremony themselves. Prince Harry has always been the more ‘bad-boy royal’ so to say, especially compared to his older brother, Prince William. Harry was known for his bachelor’s lifestyle, dating a string of beautiful women when he was younger and often getting in trouble with the press.

Eventually, Prince Harry matured and paid keen attention to his charitable work, including the support of 22 different charities and over 25 different causes worldwide. Before settling down with Meghan Markle, the prince’s long time on and off girlfriend of seven years was Chelsy Davy. Davy reportedly ended their relationship after she allegedly struggled with the pressure of dating a royal. Davy was last seen publically with Harry as she attended Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton back in 2011.

It has been reported by Harry and Meghan that the pair met through a female friend that set them up on a blind date. In fact, Harry claims to have never seen Markle on her most known television role in the show, Suits, before meeting. The two sat down for an intimate interview with a BBC reporter shortly after announcing to the public their official engagement. They giggled behind the scenes and acted very much like a couple that’s down to earth and in love. As Prince Harry remarked in the interview, Meghan Markle was ‘the one” from the very first time they met.

It sounds like the story of fairy-tales. Markle remarked that she excitedly replied yes to Harry’s proposal before he could even put the ring on her finger, as they spent a cozy evening at home roasting chicken. I am beyond thrilled for this next royal couple and considering these two have a lot in common, including their love for charity, it is hopeful they can live a relatively normal life, at least as normal as it can get for for such a well-known member of the Royal Family.

The British family has changed quite a lot over the years, but Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ignored any negative feedback from the public. As Harry is fifth in line to the crown, it doesn’t seem there is any rush for him to conform to the pressure of being a ‘King’, while living in such a modern society. Markle, who is a divorced, American actress, will now allegedly become HRH Duchess of Sussex, or as she will be in our hearts: Princess Meghan, the one that stole Harry’s heart.

Congratulations to this happy and beautiful couple.

How to survive planning a child’s birthday party

Planning a child’s birthday party should be fun and easy, right? It is, after all the, time to celebrate another year of a kid’s life with 10 to 20 screaming mini friends while trying to balance allergies and make sure your child’s dreams come true. Alright, perhaps not so easy, but with a plan in place, and with the help of this survival birthday how-to guide, children’s birthday party planning will be a breeze.

Though birthday planning can be overwhelming, it will become easier once you simplify it and start at step one: location, location, location. Where are you having your ultimate kid’s party? There are many options ranging from the movie theatre to a gymnastics centre or a more classic home party at your house. It can be more difficult to plan a winter party because the outdoors obviously won’t work, but here are a few indoor birthday party ideas for winter babies:

  • Indoor Trampoline party
  • Beading studio for jewelry party
  • Art studio for pottery making
  • Indoor playground
  • Gymnastics centre
  • Rock Climbing
  • Baking yummy treats party
  • Homemade Pizza Party
  • Craft and Arts party

If you are on a budget and can’t afford the $250 plus fees at these expensive venues, opt for a party at home or a room in the local community centre to save on costs. Through the City of Toronto for example, there is an option to rent a room for an arts or baking party, or to rent out the gym for a more sports-themed extravaganza.  For my daughter, we decided to do an arts-themed party at the community centre because we are short on space for a group of children at the house.

After the location and time are booked, it is time to decide how many kids to invite. This is a difficult decision because it is hard to think about disappointing kids that aren’t invited. On the other hand though, if too many kids are invited the costs will go through the roof and planning it will become very time-consuming. Most parties would include about 10-15 kids, because not all the invitees will be able to attend due to other weekend recreational activities. Make sure to include a note in the invitations about letting the host parents know about allergies when people RSVP.

Budgeting for various party expenses is imperative to ensure that overspending doesn’t occur. Use an excel sheet or google doc to keep track of expenses and to organize what is left to be done prior to the party. Try to get friends and family to help out instead of paying venue staff. People love kids’ birthday parties because, frankly, children are hilarious and cute when they are excited. By getting family and friends to help on the big day, it will make things go smoothly and then the parents have some adult companions to enjoy the festivities with.

Last but not least, have fun! There will be points of stress and it is nerve-racking thinking about how your child’s birthday party adds up compared to their classmates’ parties, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that your child is smiling and happy.

What are your survival tips for planning a child’s birthday party? Let Women’s Post know in the comments below.

How to budget for the new year

Personal finances can get complicated. Should I invest, save, or spend? How come I only have a few bucks to spend at the end of the month? Where did all my money go?

These are all very real questions people ask on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. A monthly budget will help you answer at least some of these inquiries — and if all else, it will help you save up for that much-needed summer vacation.

To help you out, I’ll go through the basics.

Find a mode of keeping track of your spending and income: If you don’t want to invest in a personal accountant, purchase Quickbooks or some sort of accounting software. You can also get started using an excel sheet. Whatever you use, make sure you are able to alter numbers as the month progresses. Keeping a firm track of your finances, no matter how depressing, is the only way to create a successful budget.

Fixed costs: Fixed costs exist and there is nothing you can do about it. The mortgage payment, rent, insurance — all of these things need to be paid promptly and on-time, so ensure they are a priority in your budget. If using quickbooks or an excel sheet, these payments would go at the top of your list.

Varied costs: This section includes cell phone bills, groceries, Internet, and cable. You have a little more control over when you pay these items and how much they are, but know there are always consequences for late payments. This should be the second section of your budget. When doing these calculations, make sure to note interest rates for late fees so you are aware of what happens if you don’t pay on time.

These varied and fixed necessary costs should, ideally, make up half of your monthly income. This may mean you have to adjust your Internet packages or change cell phone providers for a cheaper deal.

Calculate the small things: Toiletries, groceries, your morning coffee — anything that you purchase on a monthly basis needs to be in your budget. Don’t omit anything, even if you do drink an embarrassing amount of Starbucks. The point of this exercise is to see if you can decrease your spending while still ensuring you have the necessities of life.

A key tip for these calculations is to always over-estimate: If you think you spend $50 a week on groceries, say you are going to spend $70. If you think you spend $2 a day on coffee, double it! One day, you may get a pastry with your coffee and it will screw your entire budget up. If you overestimate and you have money left over, all the better! You can either spend it or put it into your savings account. Either way, it ensures your budget is more accurate. It’s always better to have money leftover at the end of the month than realize you spent more than your allowance.

Savings/Paying off Debt: It is imperative that you include a section for savings and debt in your budget. If you don’t, you will never save any money. Decide on a monthly amount you will put into a savings account of your choice, and count that money as already spent.  If you have loans or a credit card, use some of these funds to pay it parts of it off. Try to use 20 per cent of your monthly income to pay things off and save up.

Always put some money aside for “fun”: Let’s be realistic. At some point in the span of a month, you will go out to dinner with friends, see a movie, or  take a day trip somewhere. If you don’t set aside some cash for entertainment, a) you may go a little insane and b) you’ll end up spending more than you’d like on a spontaneous splurge. The remaining 30 per cent of your budget can be spent on these activities, although if your priority is paying off debt, swap the numbers with your savings. The idea is to give yourself a weekly or monthly allowance to spend on fun things — that way, you don’t feel deprived, but at the same time, you don’t overspend.

Keep your receipts and actually look at them: This is the hardest habit to break. Most people try to avoid those pesky small pieces of paper in their wallet, but it really is necessary. If you use quickbooks, this will allow you to keep track of all your payments by manually inputting your spending. If you use excel, it will help you reflect on what you spent money on, and where you can cut back. Not to mention you may find a lot more deductibles come tax-filing time.

I hope this helps you create a basic budget. Remember, keep track of everything — no matter how depressing it will be. Who knows? Maybe after a few years you won’t need such an intensive system, but for now, embrace it! Think of what you will do with those savings. Will you buy a house? Go on a vacation? The possibilities are endless — but only if you budget.

Summer’s almost over? Start planning the next one!

With summer coming to an end, you may feel the need to put on some sad background music and imagine yourself walking down the street shivering in the coming winter. But before you do — stop! It isn’t necessary to succumb to the winter blues quite yet. Sure, you may have missed your chance at going south and drinking pina coladas, but there is no need to mope. Instead, begin planning for the vacation of your dreams, to come NEXT summer!

Budgeting for a summer vacation involves planning and consistency. The sooner you begin, the better! Think of what your dream vacation will look like next summer, and start that planning. To help, here are some tips:

  1. Begin a vacation savings account

A vacation savings account is a great way to begin storing extra cash away immediately. If you set up automatic monthly payments, then money will add up in the account in no time. By keeping a separate account for your dream vacation next summer, it keeps you from spending it now. Remember not to dip into it, not even in times of emergencies! If you receive any extra cash at any point in the year (promotion, tips, bonus), it can also go into the vacation savings account. When you eventually embark on your journey, the money is also in one place so you don’t overspend. Worried about extra fees? Another option is to load all of the vacation savings onto a prepaid debit card before you embark on your journey. That way, you don’t have to deal with those pesky (and sometimes expensive) banking fees.

  1. Look for good deals

Looking ahead for great deals can help save on costs for the vacation. By researching on Groupon and other discount savings websites, you may be surprised at the great deals you can find for your dream summer destination.  This is useful for accommodation costs or events that can be otherwise pricey. If you are going with a group of friends, groupons also help everyone save money.

  1. Buy tickets ahead of time

If your vacation is overseas, buying plane tickets ahead of time is essential to cutting costs. By watching the cost of plane tickets and looking for deals, it allows you to catch the best price in plenty of time before your vacation. There are websites that supply the cost of several airlines in one consolidated spot, which makes the search for the best price much easier.

  1. Cut back on draining expenses

A part of budgeting is finding out which costs are wasteful and draining to your bank account. Cutting back on expendable purchases can help make your vacation more affordable. By printing out your bank statement and highlighting every non-essential purchase, you can see which of your expenses are wasting a lot of money and can be cut out. By monitoring these draining expenses, it helps to save money and budget for more important expenses like beautiful vacations. Another way to monitor expenses is to download a an app that allows you to see what you are spending your money on and how it contributes to your overall budget.

  1. Research cheap local favourites at your destination

Since you are planning way ahead of time, there is time to plan and research fun activities and restaurants at your destination. Explore local blogs of affordable restaurants instead of eating at expensive tourist destinations. This is a good way to cut costs when you are on the vacation. By finding free or cheap activities that are commonly done in your destination, it will help to save money. It is also a more authentic way to enjoy a place rather than by taking part in the the touristy, and often very pricey, outings.

Budgeting far ahead of your vacation is the best way to ensure you can afford it. The more time you have to save, the better off you will be. Keep these tips in mind, and don’t forgot the most important thing; have fun!

Transit: It’s all about politics

“Let them do their work,” pleaded Toronto Mayor John Tory early Tuesday morning when City Council first sat down to discuss budgets and transit.

And thankfully, most of those councillors listened.

At Wednesday’s meeting, city council voted to approve the transit network plan as proposed by staff — including the controversial single-stop express subway in Scarborough.

A few amendments were tacked on to the motion, including a promise to study alignments and associated costs of the corridor. Staff will also be looking at a Sheppard subway extension and the extension of the Bloor-Danforth line from Kipling Station to Sherway Gardens.

But even with these unexpected add-ons, the approval of the transit network plan is a win for both the mayor and the golden horseshoe area.

“Following this vote we must now put an end to years of inaction and delay and move ahead with a comprehensive plan to serve our city’s needs.” Mayor Tory said in a statement

And there’s the rub. Despite the positive results of the city council meeting, progress was nearly delayed because a handful of councillors were pretending to be transit experts in their attempt to garner media attention.

In every municipal government, there are elected officials — who often have a variety of skills, including some experience in management, customer service, and politics— and then there are city staff, who are hired based on their particular expertise.

This week’s city council transit kerfuffle is indicative of a lifelong politicians working the issue for media attention to gain recognition for the next election. A handful of councillors ignored recommendations provided by Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat (who has a Master’s in Environment and Planning), City Manager Peter Wallace (who served as the provincial Deputy Minister of Finance and Secretary to the Treasury Board), and Toronto Transit Commission CEO Andy Byford (with over 15 years of Transit operations), among others.

There are certain city councilors who have been pushing their own transit agendas, ignoring the sound advice from staff. Councilor’s like Josh Matlow have gone as far as recommending council revert to the original transit plan proposed before former Mayor Rob Ford was elected  — citing high costs and new polls that indicate residents want an LRT instead.

Matlow (whose extremely thin resume has school board trustee, and co-director of an environmental non-profit) put forward a motion to return to the 24-stop LRT plan, saying that someone needs to think about the taxpayers and how best to invest funds.

Other councillors used the opportunity to try and promote projects for their voters, like the Sheppard subway extension. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti even suggested diverting funds from the Finch LRT — which is already in its procurement stage — to fund the Scarborough subway.

The problem? Consistently changing plans costs tax payers a fortune and would have resulted in a two-year delay, leading up to another election in which a new council may have different ideas.  Essentially, Toronto would be forced to start from scratch. “It would be problematic to pull apart this optimized network,” Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat reminded council.

At the end of the day, the experts were able to argue their case and explain the high-costs and the severe consequences of changing the transit plan yet again.  If there is one thing that should be taken away from Wednesday’s exchange, it’s that there are a few councillors focused on only one thing: re-election. Councillors are pretending to be more knowledgeable than the experts because it makes them look good to their constituents.

City staff work year after year trying to hold together a broad transit plan they understand that Toronto needs to start building now or else it will take another 50 years before residents see any relief on the Yonge Line.

The experts did their job — now it’s time for council to just sit back and listen.

How to be the best maid of honour you can be

Most women dream about being a bride and getting married, but I’ve always hoped to be asked to be a maid of honour. It is flattering to know that one of your girlfriends adores you so much they would be willing to have you stand by their side during one of the most memorable moments of their lives.

My dream came true when a long-time friend asked me through a hilarious Ryan Gosling meme:

ryan gosling

I responded by calling her on the phone, crying tears of happiness.  Now that the initial buzz has worn off, I’m ready to do the best job possible for my bride.

Being a great maid of honour takes work. You have to be attentive and available for a variety of tasks and traditions that are important and memorable. The first and foremost job of a maid of honour is to be there for moral support. Frankly, many men are not interested in planning their weddings and even though I am classified as a tomboy oftentimes, I love looking through beautiful dresses. When the day approaches, being available for those stressful moments and last minute cancellations is essential and can make all the difference between a great maid of honour and a flop.

Attending appointments with the bride is important. Between trying on gowns and helping pick out flowers, if your bride wants you there, it is essential to prioritize your schedule. Each bride will have her own idea of which appointments she needs you to attend. Because this is the bride’s choice, it is important to set out expectations. Asking and communicating will help avoid disappointments or overdoing it. Helping with do-it-yourself projects for the wedding is a fun way to spend time with her and help out at the same time for the big day.

Certain brides will pick the maid of honour dress and others will let you decide. I’ve been asked to choose my own and I find it vital to make sure it is within the colour scope my friend loves and reflects her style. Compromising between a dress that fits your body well but still coordinates with the colour of the wedding is important.  But never forget, what the bride wants, the bride gets. It isn’t your wedding.

The bachelorette party and bridal shower are the main responsibilities for a maid of honour. Some family members will want to plan the bridal shower, so it is important to decide with the bride what events you will be planning. The bachelorette party is definitely a tradition for the maid of honour to organize. Some brides want an exciting and loud party in another city and others prefer a quieter event at a low-key bar. Getting pointers from the bride to plan an event that suits her will ensure a good time. Also, avoid the cheesy games. They are irritating and no one wants to hear the forced laughter these games incite.

On the big day, make sure to be fully available to the bride for any last minute errands that need to be done. Being well prepared in advance will help. The maid of honour is the go-to person on the wedding day so the bride can enjoy her wedding without being bothered with the little things. Be an impromptu wedding planner if needed.

Everyone talks about the best man’s speech, but the maid of honour’s speech is just as important. It is a must-have at the wedding reception. Prepare in advance, because you don’t want to get tongue-tied in the moment. Speak from the heart and speak about the positives of both the bride and groom in a personalized manner. I would avoid making fun of the married pair unless it is very endearing- but you know the couple best.

Being a maid of honour is an unforgettable experience and the ultimate test of your friendship bond. Doing a good job will ensure your bride has a memorable wedding day and she will be so grateful if you can be supportive and helpful. This is an important milestone in a great friendship and will make memories for years to come. Also, don’t forget the most important part: have fun!

Have you been a maid of honour? Share your tips in the comments below.