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Don Fugler Q&A Part 2: Milestones and Memories

Posted by Macie Schreibman on August 08, 2011
Don Fugler Q&A Part 2: Milestones and Memories

The following is Part 2 of our conversation with Don Fugler who recently retired after 20+ years of working with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

HE: I know you are responsible for developing the Garbage Bag Airflow test—how did that come about?

DF: I was trying to develop consumer tools for house testing. Contractors have tools for measurement, but what about the consumer? If a householder is curious or doesn't have the money to hire a professional with his/her tools, what methods can they use to diagnose the situation themselves? The airflow test was exactly that. How do you make simple airflow measurements?

After we had published the garbage bag airflow test, someone called me and said, "This room is too cold in the winter and I want to put a bigger duct in there." I asked "What’s the air flow like?" They said, “I don’t know, it comes out of the register". So right there on the phone I told them how to build their own garbage bag airflow tester, and we found out within five minutes that the duct airflow was pretty good. This meant that, instead of insufficient heat being delivered, the consumer's problems were probably with their envelope or their windows. We developed a test that the consumer could actually do. 

What are your career milestones?

I had a good time doing research. I really liked having someone say, "Here’s some money, find the problem, and fix it." In this field you meet a lot of interesting people, and you are learning all the time. At CMHC, I had access to reports, I had a library to help me out, and I could phone experts and talk to them. It was like being at a university course except you were setting the course. It was a wonderful experience. In terms of major successes, there are several areas where I think people do better work because of the things that CMHC published, although I can't pinpoint any real changing points.

Who are your favorite, or most memorable, people in the building science field?

There are many. The ones that I recall specifically are Terry Brennan, Bill Rose, Jim Fitzgerald, Linda Wigington, Joe Lstiburek, John Straube, and the people I worked with at CMHC such as Jim White and Ken Ruest. There are many others. My favorite people impressed me with their dedication or their insight or their off-the-wall sense of humor, or all of the above. These people have a keen interest in building science and in the truth, or at least as close as they can approximate it. When I’d run into them at Affordable Comfort, I’d always stop and sit down and talk to them about what they are doing. And it was always an education.

Are there facts that you've found out about Canadian homes through your research that have really surprised or shocked you?

CMHC did some good research in challenging claims made by manufacturers and services. We researched duct cleaning and found out that duct cleaning doesn’t clean indoor air. It does clean ducts. Our research showed that bubble wrap insulation, which was being claimed as R10 was actually R1. We looked at hydronic heating claims that these systems save energy. It turns out that their assumptions were incorrect. One of the interesting things we did find was during the freezing rain in 1998 when large numbers of houses in eastern North America were without power. We established how long normal houses would stay above freezing: in this case, it was a couple of weeks. We published on that. The results were specific to those houses in that climate but they did show that houses are protected from freezing far longer than anyone predicted.

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