Comparing Systems At The Ottawa Test House

November 14, 2003
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Mike Swinton
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia - Mike Swinton had some interesting facts and figures to share with his HRAI seminar attendees from a fascinating project. The research manager of the Canadian Centre for Housing Technology (CCHT), Ottawa, discussed the CCHT's advanced housing research and demonstration facility, known as the Ottawa Test House.

Swinton's seminar focused on how CCHT gathered data from two gas combination systems, whose performances were compared to a condensing gas furnace and conventional water heater over a winter season. The study also tested the effectiveness of electronically commutated motors (ECMs) for furnace fans.

"We are used to looking at technologies in a lab setting, but by putting technologies in homes, we can see how equipment interacts with all of the elements in a home," said Swinton.

The Ottawa Test House actually consists of two identical homes, built side by side in Ottawa in 1998. The project is a collaborative effort between the CCHT, National Research Council Canada (NRC), Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). "Three weeks of testing gave us all conditions we needed, in either a heating or cooling season," said Swinton.

Home Vital Statistics

The reference home, or the control home, is permanently equipped with a conventional gas furnace and hot water heater. The test home can be fitted with different systems for comparison analysis.

Each home has the following characteristics:

  • Full-scale test facility.

  • Simulated occupancy for realistic use (up to 200 on/off events each day).

  • Test house reversible after each project.

  • Identical construction.

  • Typical houses which were built by a local builder.

  • Wall insulation RSI 3.5, attic insulation RSI 8.6.

  • Low-emissivity argon-filled windows.

  • Air tightness: 1 air change per hour at 50 Pa.

  • High-efficiency gas heating (91 percent).

  • 14 electric power meters (major appliances, furnace fan, lighting, etc.).

  • Four gas meters (furnace, hot water, two spares).

  • Five water meters.

  • Up to 250 sensors (temperature, humidity).

    "Heat from appliances like televisions and radios was simulated by lights that gave off the heat," stated Swinton. "A separate control room, isolated in each garage, monitored the equipment."

    Projects And Technologies

    From 2000 to 2002, there were several projects performed at the test facilities, including commissioning, benchmarking, and checking for air quality assessment; six technologies and variations assessed over three seasons; facilitated product development; means of assessing annual impact being developed; houses being modified for cogeneration systems; combined space heating and water heating systems; photocell-activated blind system; advanced integrated mechanical systems; grey water heat recovery system for showers; benchmarking interior/exterior shading; and micro-combined heat and power technology.

    Swinton said that an ECM was used for the air circulation fan for winter and summer operations. "The ECM was the single most effective energy-saving measure that we tested," he said. "Results were as high as a 70 percent reduction in energy consumption in the winter.

    "One of our first high-efficiency gas furnaces had a very poor blower fan, which increased the internal electrical consumption."

    He added that some general conclusions were reached during the study. Systems showed good performance relative to the benchmark (reference house). Increased air-handling circulation has a different effect on each system. Comfort conditions were maintained, even in cold weather. Installation practice is important to ensure top performance.

    Swinton said that one general statement can be made from the test results - system design is very important and must be consistent. "When a system is designed, it must be determined in the beginning if it needs to be heat driven or electrically driven," he said.

    For information on CCHT and test results, contact Swinton at

    Publication date: 11/17/2003

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