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Breathing Room


Breathing Room: Solutions for Attawapiskat is an examination of the common problem of mould growth in conventionally framed residential buildings in Attawapiskat, Ontario, and proposes solutions in the form of resistant alternate wall assemblies. I am compiling background research from primary and secondary sources to form an hypothesis for suitable test walls. Over a period of four months, I will be conducting a practical experiment with one conventionally framed wall, and three proposed solution walls to test my hypothesis. This experiment will be overseen by the science department of Thompson Rivers University to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the results. I expect that at the end of the experimental period, the conventionally framed wall will show significant mould growth, while the test walls show less or none. My conclusions, which should have supporting results for the alternate wall assemblies, will be forwarded as recommendations to the Aboriginal Housing department of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, as well as to the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.

Breathing Room


Statement of Purpose:

In my research paper, I will first identify the culturally and geographically determined specific humidity, commonly seen in an average residence in Attawapiskat, and relate it to accelerated mould growth in the building frame. Secondly, I will propose an alternate wall assembly solution that will resist mould growth significantly better than a conventionally framed wall. The proposed solutions will be based on background research I am currently doing and will be tested between June and October 2012. During this time, I will be conducting an experiment approximating the indoor conditions in an average residence in Attawapiskat to study the effects on a conventionally framed wall and 3 proposed solution walls. I am expecting the conventionally framed wall to develop mould because of its current prevalence in the local housing. In addition, I expect that the proposed solutions would be mould-free or have less growth. The three proposed solution walls will be chosen for their mould resistant hygrothermal qualities , low embodied energy level representative of sustainable technology, and ease of construction and maintenance.


There are several reasons why this is an important topic to me. I grew up in Northwestern Ontario, have Ojibwe ancestors, have had First Nations friends, and have seen some of the conditions described in current news articles. As concerned as I am about social conditions of our first people, I am convinced that many problems could be solved by practical means, if we are able to address them by responding to the needs of cultural realities. I felt that a problem with mould growth in the current housing, simply suggested that the houses needed to be built differently, and with mould-resistant materials. My solution is to use materials and building practices to create

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homes that serve the people who live in them, rather than expect the occupants to adapt to serving the needs of the building.

Significance: The housing problems at Attawapiskat are equivalent to poor conditions in third world countries and are unacceptable by standards enjoyed by the rest of Canada. While there are many social and political factors contributing to the general situation, the specifics of mould growth in a house can be addressed in a practical manner. As a technologist, I feel it will always be worthwhile to find the simplest, least expensive, and most sustainable method of solving a problem; once the socio-political aspects are removed, we are left with just a building challenge. Approaching this challenge from the strictly technical side, I feel that I will learn more about the issues of building in a northern climate, building for the needs of a specific culture, and materials properties. As well, my research will add to the general field of building knowledge in significant ways. Although there have been studies done on materials properties, there is little available which ties these disparate elements together into complete building choices.. I intend to take the available materials information to make entire wall assemblies based on mould-resistance, low maintenance, ease of construction, and sustainability. I feel there is a real need to have the current primary research distilled into a coherent package. My experiment will test the validity of my choices. If my choices of solution walls are supported by test evidence at the end of the experiment, I will be able to share my findings with the Aboriginal Housing department of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, and other government and private builders working in similar conditions. Ultimately, the value of this research lies in its application to all future building in Canada, regardless of cultural setting. The philosophy behind this research is that fundamentally, buildings exist to serve the people who use them, and not vice-versa. Following this, our building practices should allow ease of construction and maintenance, and practise principles of sustainability. I also believe that we can solve everyday building problems in Attawapiskat by simple and practical methods if we are willing to examine, in a strictly technical way, why the current model fails.


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I will be doing both background research in order to make some preliminary choices as to my solution walls, and I will also be conducting primary research through an experiment conducted over four months. I will be using the data collected through this experiment to test the hypothesis formed from my background research. My background research will consist of: 1. Reading primary data material from researchers involved in building and materials technology. This material is available through online sources. Some material may be available through the TRU library. 2. Reading source materials and publications produced by Canadian federal and provincial government agencies based on applicable studies regarding First Nations housing, and issues with mould growth in buildings; most material is available online. 3. Personal interviews with people a/ b/ c/ d/ experienced in building in Northern Ontario experienced with the social culture of the residents of Attawapiskat with similar experience in British Columbia in building First Nations housing involved in biology studies at Northern Ontario universities to provide advice on mould in the area My experiment will be conducted from June 2012 through September 2012 in the Science Building of Thompson Rivers University. I will be assisted by my Architectural and Engineering Technology mentor, Mindy Marshall, and my Science Lab mentor, Dan Bissonette in setting up the apparatus for testing. I will also be assisted by the Carpentry program in the Trades Department for the construction of the test walls, and the Biology program in the Science Department for consultation on mould growth.

Methodology: In my research, I will be using different methodology for both stages of the research. I will be doing the background research as a solo effort. this will involve reading primary and secondary sources of materials testing,

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studying mould and its relationship to the building construction, and learning more about specifics pertaining to Indian Reserve residences. For the background research, I will be using online and library sources for reading, and I hope to speak to people in the local Ontario universities, government offices, and building trades. My mentor in the Architectural and Engineering Technology program will be advising me throughout this process. At the end of this research, I will select both the correct assembly for the control wall, as well as three test walls for possible solutions. I will then draft construction plans for each wall at one quarter life size in order to build them. The experiment will be conducted in the science building at Thompson Rivers University and will be overseen chiefly by my mentor in the Science Department. The four built walls will be joined together to form a small sealed room with a visible area for viewing the monitoring apparatus. It will be a practical, hands-on experiment, testing the mould resistance of the walls in high humidity conditions. I will be monitoring and maintaining the humidity by filling the experiment room with water vapour periodically. I may also need to artificially introduce mould spores, but this has not yet been determined; the biology department at Thompson Rivers University will be advising me about the mould. At the end of September 2012, with the help of the biology advisor, and my mentors, I will be testing the walls for mould growth.

Expected Results: I expect that, at the end of four months, the conventionally framed wall will show substantial mould growth. Of the three proposed solution walls, I expect that one or two will show significantly less mould growth, while I hope that at least one wall will show no mould growth at all.

Limitations: I foresee several limitations to my research; I expect that some will be eliminated by narrowing the scope of my inquiry; some will be accommodated by creative method, and others I have already faced and surmounted.

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The first limitation I faced was a matter of time. As my topic came together, it was apparent that I would have to compress my research time into a space of weeks rather than months in order to successfully stage an experiment lasting several months. I was able to overcome this by careful scheduling of my time and enlisting assistance from two research mentors, who in turn, were able to draw upon additional personnel resources. My second challenge was the actual building of the four walls. Although I am familiar with designing and drawing wall assemblies, I have not had the experience of actually building a wall, and I was not sure I would have time to learn how to do this properly, or whether my efforts would result in a product comparable to a professional job. Instead, I made arrangements to have the building done by carpentry students in the trades department of TRU in order to create a more professional, and realistic, product. I am anticipating limitations with how closely I will be able to replicate indoor living conditions in Attawapiskat in my experiment; I`m expecting that even the type of mould that would be available in Northern Ontario may not be present in Southern British Columbia. To overcome this, I will be working with my science mentor to focus my testing with fewer variables; I may have to restrict the experiment to the relationship between high humidity, mould growth, and wall materials. In addition to anticipating experiment limitations, I may find that there is little information on the specifics of mould, and type of wall construction in Attawapiskat. If this occurs, I will be using general information about the area from local sources. That is, I can easily find information about mould from Lakehead University, and I can contact local builders regarding typical construction techniques. I may find that, in spite of my first research, that there is little hygrothermal study done on many alternate construction methods. In this case, I will have to use general information available on wall assembly components, and anecdotal knowledge from builders familiar with similar situations, to make reasonable choices for test walls. At the end of testing, I could find little or no difference between the control and test walls. Although this would be disappointing, a good report could still be made highlighting the differences between the theoretical expectations

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and the practical results. In this case, I would focus on the variables in the experiment that could cause the deviation from expected results.

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