Making Learning Safer While Saving the Planet

Featuring TCI CEO Tim Cresswell, hosted and produced by Liz Beatty

Children Playing

The New Healthy Building podcast, with Liz Beatty.

We basically tell real stories about transforming communities and saving the planet, one building at a time. Sound like big talk, maybe for some, but not this group. Today you’ll find out why. As we talk with someone you’ll hear from often in this podcast, Tim Cresswell is the CEO of Thomas Cole Inc. Now TCI, as it’s known, is changing a lot of lives these days across Tim’s home of Ontario, Canada.

First, with powerful new and proven clean building technology, but also with a movement that empowers educational and other communities around the technology, and the learning to combat climate change. scoreboards have shown great leadership and using this technology to keep students, teachers and everyone in their communities safe. You’ll hear a lot more of those success stories in future episodes. But the benefits here to these learning communities extend far beyond the pandemic. And that’s what we’re looking at today.

The challenges of climate change the impressive numbers showing how some of these solutions can help big time, and how to cultivate the next generation of Climate Change Leaders listening.

Liz: So, we’re talking schools and a big technology mindset pivot already underway to tackle climate change. But for some context, of course, everyone is focused on making our schools safe right now, across the province across the country. While the pandemic may be consuming the attention of the world right now, it is not our only existential threat, we can’t lose sight of climate change. Big Picture, what are the challenges and goals of climate change that we’re reaching for as a nation?

Tim: If we go to the Paris accord, there are two gates, we must hit. The first one is 2030, which looks at a 37% reduction in carbon. The next gate is 2050, which is carbon neutrality. So if those are the goals, then one of the challenges ahead and identify it. And these ways, number one is culture, are we ready as a community to take on carbon transformation to where we’re going to get the money to do this, it’s going to take a lot of capital, to make the necessary changes to building infrastructure to reduce carbon. So that’s the second, the third and the fourth is our capacity and capability, our human capacity and capability to transform, we have a skills gap. And that’s one of the biggest challenges that we have right now is the people capacity to take technology off the shelf, and get it put into buildings successfully.

Liz: Schools seemed like a good place for this climate change battle to dig in. And boards are being challenged to reduce their carbon footprints. And without costing taxpayers a lot of money, particularly when our economy has been slammed by the pandemic.

Tim: I think you’re pressing on the button. The big piece here is capital. Right now. Schools are funded by the province for capital, which is repair and replacement. If we rely on the government to pay for repair and replacement and at the same time, invest money into clean technology. I can’t see that working. In fact, the weight of this will be tremendous on taxpayers, we need to start thinking differently, we’re not going to be able to transform and hit those Paris accord goals. That’s a 37% reduction and 100%. So what do we do? The one big lever that we have and need to take advantage of is using the energy saved from deep retrofits in the energy made through the installation of new renewable technology as a source of cash flow to pay for these investments.

Liz: A lot of energy reduction ways the past may not be enough, incremental improvements won’t get us there. Time is of the essence.

Tim: We need to understand what the energy chain looks like the energy chain that flows through a facility.

Liz: So, these are the places that will find ways to save.

Tim: The energy chain is defined by loads coal loads, gas loads, and other sources of fuel loads that are present in the building. What are the systems that feed that that would be lighting, cooling, heating, etc. And then there’s the plant. How is that building service, we have electrical lines, gaslight gas pipes that go into the building. So when we peel this apart, the first thing we have to get at is shrinking the loads and systems in that facility, we need to get into lighting optimization, reducing our cooling, load, heating, load, etc., to its smallest form. And then the next step is to build on-site microgrids. These would be things like solar, geothermal, battery storage, and there’s a list of these kinds of renewables. The goal, at the end of the day, we need to get rid of fossil fuels, we need to get rid of carbon, and go green.

Liz: Cost is always important. But now more than ever, for obvious reasons. Let’s drill down on that a bit.

Tim: Yeah, that’s a great question. We absolutely need to leverage existing capital that is coming from provincial grants to Repair and Replace systems in schools, we need to prepare ourselves for additional federal-provincial funds. This is the money we don’t know when it’s coming. But we have to be shovel-ready to integrate these cash flows into the investment model, we need to leave her utility company grants, ISO and gas companies have grants right now, we need to lever those into the integrated component of financing. And we need to leverage the energy saved from retrofits the energy made through renewable energy as cash flows to pay for the investment.

Liz: So, there is exciting clean air, energy-saving, duct sealing technology out of a company called Nerva. It’s laboratory proven with 1000s of installations across the US, but it’s new to Canada. The results even in single school installations are very impressive.

Tim: I’ve been in the infrastructure business for nearly 40 years. And over that 40-year period, I never knew that air duct vessels could leak between 20 and 40%. Never knew that never knew the cost of that leakage. And one thing that we’ve discovered is the promise here and the performance, that duct seal offers to this mission of reducing carbon, most ducts leak by on an average of 30%. So once we seal those ducts from the inside, through a product called arrow seal, we’re able to induce 30 to 40% more airflow into that space. That’s 30 to 40% more airflow into the space. Wow. Then the next step is how do we harvest the utility benefits from that? utility harvesting? We’re getting 30 to 40% more airflow. Now, what can we do? Well, if we apply variable frequency drives to these fan systems, we have an opportunity to harvest utility savings. What that looks like is controlling fan speeds, controlling the START-STOP modes of these fans, scheduling, etc. All of that goes into optimizing airflow, comfort, indoor air quality. And lastly, it gives us a harvest on utility savings, which by and large 30 to 40% of those savings are probably going to be gas, it’s going to be carbon that we’re chasing.

Liz: So, it’s basically the old penny saved is a penny earned.

Tim: Yep, exactly.

Liz: Now, how do these impressive energy savings translate into cost savings? Walk us through that Tim.

Tim: With the information that we have today, we see that we can reduce the overall utility cost of a bill an average school bill by 8% to 12%. That is huge. In the payback, the return on investment is in the area of five to seven years.

Liz: Impressive.

Tim: And as I mentioned before, 40%, roughly, of those savings will be in gas. So that when we take that reduction and compare it to the total gas cost the total amount of carbon emitted from gas, we’re harvesting a savings of somewhere between 10 and 15%. So think of that 10 and 15%. As a call relates to a 37% GHG reduction, I would say this is a really good head start trending towards 37% reduction of carbon by 2030.

Tim: And fuel prices with rising carbon taxes are going to increase and as that cost increases that takes dollars out of the cloud. Now we’re spending it on waste and utilities. And we’re not spending the money in classrooms. And when you take a look at where the carbon tax is going for where we are in Canada, we’re at $30 a tonne right now, by 2030, we’re going to be at $170 per tonne, let me translate that the cost of fuel today for gas will be three to four times more expensive in nine years. Just to put that in perspective, that’s where this is going.

Liz: So that’s a lot less money for hot lunch programs for iPads for special ed programs that are already suffering.

Tim: Absolutely. It just compounds more pressure on the goal of how do we find ways pathways to get money into the classroom to benefit the education of our kids? While those are striking numbers, the bottom line, duct sealing can take a big chunk out of school climate change goals without a massive taxpayer burden.

Tim: You know, if we looked at carbon and strategies as that old metaphor of rocks, pebbles and sand, I’m seeing duct seal is one of those big rocks that are in that container that we have to identify and get at sooner than later.

Liz: To me it begs this big question. What if we were able to take the results that you’re seeing in you know, one-off schools or school boards and take this across Ontario? Can you walk us through the kind of results we might be looking at?

Tim: Yes, its mind-blowing. If I take the aperture of the lens, and let’s put it right across Canada, let’s take it East or West. Statistically, we have a boat in the vicinity of 5 million students in our public school system. We have 12,500 schools, roughly. The utility costs bend utility costs Ben is in and around a billion and a half dollars a year. translate that that’s $300 per student. Just to give that some perspective, if we mind that utility bill of 1.5 billion. Now, this is where we get into using energy saved and energy made. If we mind that into deep retrofits, we could create five to $7 billion of new capital investment paid from utility waste, five to $7 billion.

Liz: That’s amazing.

Tim: If we used energy made, we could create between 12 and 18 billion of new investment dollars to reinvest back into schools to pay for renewable technology. And the transformation and the reduction in greenhouse gas would be significant. I hazard a guess would be somewhere in the vicinity of about 50% of the goal. And here’s a big one. Jobs, it would create somewhere between 250,000 to 300,000. Jobs, apprenticeships, professional designations, right across Canada, what a great future for our youth to walk down that path.

Liz: So, tell us with duct seal, like how do we know this is the real deal? Where’s the testing and the scientific credibility?

Tim: Yeah, great question. I want to bring in Mohawk College, one of our exceptional partners in all of us, Mohawk, they are first hub to launch Climate Change Leaders. So they’ve been on this journey with us on increased airflow. And they’re at the center of the measurement and validation process. So let me explain that. When we go into seal an air duct, there is a pre-process of getting that duct ready for sealing it gets pressurized, there’s a computer program, that tells us the rate of leakage that’s present in that duct system. So we have a pre-measurement that’s validated by the researchers from Mohawk. Then when the process is completed, the duct is sealed, we re-measure that. So pretty, pretty instantaneously, it takes about an hour, an hour and a half to seal the duct within 90 minutes. We know the pre and post and it’s absolute. There’s your percentage of seal. And then from there, we can calculate just how much energy we’re going to save. For example, if we reduce the leakage by 30%, we can calculate that of the impact on our utility bill immediately. So it’s pretty, pretty impressive.

Liz: So, tell us about your organization, climate change leaders. Basically, it’s an educational partnership between schools, colleges and the private sector. It’s really starting a movement with a mission to transform school buildings to low carbon and link that to experiential learning. So, duct seal here is all part of that mission. And with that, it sounds like this technology is kind of turning schools into living labs.

Tim: So true. Think about it. This transformation of technology links to experiential learning becomes living labs for students. What if we can get the walls to talk? What would those walls say? And that’s the possibility that’s where we’re standing right now in the doorway of this possibility. Think of 12,500 living labs, talking to our kids. Pretty awesome.

Liz: Wow, this potential impact in our schools is massive. So it makes one wonder about extending these solutions beyond schools. It seems like a massive big din boost or economy provincially nationally. Give us a sense of that.

Tim: Yeah. Can you imagine the school infrastructure This is the vertical infrastructure of buildings that represents somewhere in the neighborhood of about 20 to 25% of the public infrastructure-built space. So the numbers I quoted in terms of the offtake of the investment to transformed to carbon neutrality, 300,000 jobs? What if we multiply that by four? What if that was 1.2 million people? And in this post-pandemic recovery, how would $1.2 million jobs look like right now? So that when kids graduate, they’re graduating and producing? Right? They find a home? It’s our responsibility? In my opinion.

Liz: We do need the best minds on this.

Tim: This is what communities do when they work together.

Liz: Such exciting stuff, Tim, where can people learn more about duct seal, active air purification and Climate Change Leaders? Excellent.

Tim: So, for Climate Change Leaders, we would ask people to go to the site that’s Thomas Cole  and for those interested in active air purification, more airflow can visit the

Liz: Thanks so much. This has been fascinating.

A Green House

Host & Executive Producer

Liz Beatty is an award-winning feature writer, broadcaster and podcaster. She’s won the 2020 Gold Lowell Thomas Award for Radio Broadcasting from the Society of American Travel Writers. And North Americana took both 2020 Gold and Silver Lowell Thomas Awards for Best Podcast.

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