Becoming ... a RenovatorJuly 26, 2022
Fellipe Falluh is the owner of Retrofit Construction, a business that he began in early 2021. He graduated from McGill University in 2019 with a degree in civil engineering and a minor in environmental engineering. Throughout his schooling, Fellipe worked on several projects that focused on energy efficiency and green buildings. But his interest was formally peaked after a professor at the school introduced him to the idea of a passive house. Since then, he’s been a diehard energy efficiency fan. He sees himself as part of a new generation of builders — millennials armed with skills and passion for the green economy. Hear his story and lessons learned in a field that’s still very new.
- Fellipe Falluh, Owner, Retrofit Construction
Thank you so much for introducing me and thank you for having me so I’ll gladly share my story of how I became a retrofitter.
I don’t know if retrofitter really is a term. If it’s a real term I would say that a retrofitter is like a conscious renovator. It’s part of a renovation and really retrofitting the definition of retrofitting usually refers to the addition of new features and technology to older houses or buildings. Of course it can be applied to other sectors, but the one that that I practice is to houses and buildings.
And why retrofitting is so important to me is building to a high standard is something that is somewhat more and more well easier to do. New construction, as you could see in the charts below, only accounts for 2% of the housing stock annually.
There’s a really old building stock here in Canada that is in dire need of a retrofit. And the most sustainable building is the one that’s already there.
So, in Canada, not only for greenhouse gas reductions, but also for general comfort, health and longevity of buildings, there needs to be a huge retrofit mission to the aging buildings of the nation.
So as I was presented, my name is Fellipe. I started a company called Retrofit Construction, which basically consults and executes construction and retrofit projects.
So a little bit about myself. I was born in a family of builders. I’m from Brazil originally. My grandfather had a construction company. My dad’s a builder too. So really I came from a family of builders, but they never really pushed to me construction.
So it was really something that I fell into. In 2011, that’s where I had my aha moment to, to, green buildings. There was a project that my family was doing in Brazil with the government. I think it was the minister of agriculture and health and environment.
And it was a LEED project and I was getting into it. I think I was about 14, 15 years old. That’s really when I decided I really want to do green building. That’s what I used to call it green building. And that’s how I got interested.
When it was time to decide for university, I decided to go to McGill and do a bachelor in civil engineering. Back then I thought that was a normal route to go. If I wanted to be in construction and build, I had to go in civil engineering.
So that’s the route I went. During my time in McGill, I did two exchanges in the same year. I did one in Barbados and one in Iceland in sustainable development. In Barbados, I had some internship and I had a some classes there, but I did an internship in with aquaponics and in Iceland, I was really there to learn about renewable energies.
I had a lot of fun and was really introduced to the world of, I guess, sustainable development. So that really peaked my interest. When I finished university, I went on to work for a general contractor here in the Montreal area, and I built a 40 story high-rise which is LEED, too, and it was very fun.
It’s definitely a different environment. It was my first real construction experience. And I went on to work on other smaller projects after that, but really that was the main one that, that I’m really, proud about. And in 2021, I decided that I would go about my own way and found founded my company and started with the pilot project, which I’ll get into later.
But that’s really how it started. I quit work and decided that I’ll try to go and do it, do my own thing. Not that I didn’t like the construction I was doing. But these large scale, they call it heavy, it’s residential construction, but it’s almost commercial since it’s a tower. It’s a completely different area of construction.
And what I really liked about construction was going for something a bit more small or a residential level. So that’s what I decided to do.
So a bit more about being a retrofitter. What does being a retro fitter mean? So there’s various areas of retrofits. It could be a deep energy retrofit. It could be a shallow retrofit. I mean, there’s many retrofits possible. The ones that really got me interested into retrofit, in particular, was Energiesprong.
Now Energiesprong came to me when I was in my last year of McGill. I had a term paper to write, and I decided to write a paper while I decided to go see a professor of architecture. And I told him that I was interested in doing a project on green buildings. And right away he directed me to saying, exactly as I introduced the subject of, retrofits, is building new right, now is not where we should focus on really where we should focus on is on retrofitting the old buildings.
That’s where there is a huge potential. And he got me onto the Energiesprong model, which is a Dutch program of retrofitting, where they do an, exterior retrofit that is also prefabricated. And essentially in five days, you have a house that is net zero with solar panels and it’s, a very, interesting concept that works very, well there.
And so my term paper that I did at McGill was really trying to apply that and doing a case study in Eastern Canada to see if it would work. Along the way, I did a lot of research. And ever since then, really ever since my term paper, I’ve been in contact or tried to be in contact with people that are starting or pushing that movement here in Canada.
First of all there is a movement in Alberta called Retrofit Canada. There’s a 52-townhouse exterior retrofit that’s being done like the Energiesprong model. Natural Resources Canada also has a project called the Peer project, which is also very similar. We have also in Nova Scotia the ReCover Initiative, and also the Reframed Initiative. I forgot where that was from, but they’re all Canadian initiatives basically in exterior retrofit.
And that’s really what got me started on it because in an exterior retrofit, you don’t have to go and strip the inside. There’s no tenant. It’s not an invasive renovation. You’re doing everything from the exterior. So that’s what my main attraction was to retrofits was trying to push that prefabricated, exterior, retro.
So when I got onto it, I decided, okay, that’s what I wanted to do. I was, I started looking for a duplex here in the Montreal area and, we found one that was a very good candidate. It’s orientation. Its solar orientation was really good. It’s state. It was a bit beat up and it needed a bit of renovation, especially the exterior facade.
So I, I told myself, okay, let’s do. Let’s buy it. Let’s combine, let’s do many projects into one that was really the beginning of the pandemic. So we had a lot of time on our hands, so I decided, okay, why not? Let’s do it. And my project started, it started in the design phase and I wanted to really do or test out this approach that I did my research on. And quickly, I realized the first barriers to basically accomplishing my project.
I bought a heritage building and really changing the facades was not something that would be very easy to approach the city to do. And also, during the pandemic construction was really late and behind on, on, materials. And not only the price was high, but also was, getting materials in time and prefabricating panels in time would’ve been too complicated. So really my project changed into something that was a bit different. So this is the property as it was before, and this is what it is currently. I decided, like I said, not to go really about the way of, doing a prefabricated retrofit. I did it as a conventional retrofit and I added also an extension to it.
A bit more about the duplex. It’s an 1895 duplex. Very old, very leaky. It was really in horrible condition. I decided to combine various projects in this pilot project for my business myself moving out of my parents’ house and really having a revenue property too at the same time, so it was a three-in-one. And we stripped everything ourselves last year started in May 2021. And we’re about to move in. We’re moving in this Friday. So, I’m very excited, but after all of this was a very, challenging experience. And I learned so much and really that’s, why I’m trying to share as much as I can, my story.
So this project, the certification that I’m going for is one of the Canadian Housing Building Association called net zero ready. It means that I will not be putting solar panels, but if I have enough space to put solar panels my building would be net zero.
That’s why it says net zero ready. So it would consume as much energy as it could produce on a yearly basis. So in terms of scope of work for my project, I touched the main elements of a retrofit. Which would be, first of all the air tightness, that’s the most important aspect of it.
My building used to be the duplex. It used to be 14 changes per hour at at 50 Pascal. And now it’s closer to 1.7, which is really a drastic difference. And that’s really the most important aspect of a of an energy efficient house. I have all new windows, so triple glazed windows.
That’s the second aspect of a high-performance building. I have a new ventilation system, a central system, with a heat recovery ventilator. And finally, I have added insulation. A lot of people think that added insulation is the big of it. I didn’t go too crazy on the insulation as I really wanted to have a better air tightness compared to insulation.
And that’s what I did. So it was really an interesting project. And I really, I if, any of you have any questions at the end feel free to ask. I’ll be happy to share about how I did things.
I just did my final energy efficient test which, basically at the beginning of the project, they come, they do a blower door test, and they model your building and, they give you an EnerGuide score. I just did my end test and I’m really, happy with those results. And it looks like I could certify for the certification that I will be pursuing. So, I’m really happy about that, that after a year and a half of working hard, I finally got to where I wanted and, that’s it about my project.
Let me talk about what I plan on doing for the future.
So from here on now what are really my ambitions? This project really was a lot of fun. And I hope to do it again. Of course, this is my own project. It was a lot of work to do that again. I’d really have to do it under different circumstances. So I want to have my business in consulting or managing, or also developing projects.
So for now, I think I would start in just really consulting. So, helping projects from A to Z. If a client wants to retrofit their house, I would take them about the whole process to choosing the engineers all the way to applying for the grants and telling them what trades to, to do.
Of course the next step to that would be to also manage a project, manage the trades, and, do everything. Of course, it’s a bit more, I have to be a bit more involved when that happens. I guess my end goal would be to develop retrofit projects. So buying my own buildings and retrofitting them — the ones that I really think have potential, but really my main mission is really to contribute to Canada’s retrofit mission. And specifically, here in Quebec, where, things were a bit slower since our hydro is, relatively cheaper.
People have to understand that it’s not really about money savings. It’s more about health, comfort and a long-lasting building, and reducing your greenhouse gas emissions.
And that really is, what I, preach. And I really think that retrofitting Canada’s existing stock is one of the best ways for Canada to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. And that’s it. I really hope to push that here in Quebec.