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Registration Open for Sustainable New Construction 2015: Tiny Home Build

Endeavour’s popular Sustainable New Construction program is accepting applications for the 2015: Tiny Home Build offering. The program is full time from June 29 – August 28.

2014 4 endorsementsYou can be part of creating a tiny home from design ideas to final finishes, learning how to choose and work with sustainable building materials and off-grid mechanical systems along the way. This is an ideal program for those looking to move into sustainable building as a career, or for those wanting to build their own sustainable home, tiny or large!

To apply, contact us and send a resume and a cover letter telling us why you’re an ideal candidate for this program. Applications must be received by January 31, 2015.

You can find all the details of the program on the program page.


Canada’s Greenest Home Lowers Embodied Energy by 50%

In an Endeavour post about a year ago, I examined the concept of embodied energy in buildings. You can see that post here. To quote the summary of that article:

“Choosing high EE materials is willfully neglectful, and in my experience the choice is often due to sheer laziness or an unwillingness to alter choices simply because that’s what has always been done. A builder doesn’t need to dabble on the fringes of the natural building world to drastically reduce EE. Many mainstream choices offer vastly lower EE than others. It’s just a matter of putting the effort into knowing what the EE impacts will be.”

While building our Canada’s Greenest Home project, we made conscious decisions to choose low embodied energy materials, but only recently have we taken the time to do a full embodied energy analysis on the shell of the house. While doing this, we also did the same analysis for a conventional home built to the same dimensions and specifications.

The results of this study (using the Inventory of Carbon and Energy (ICE) 2.0 and the book Making Better Buildings) showed that our home used 138,052 megajoules (MJ) of energy embodied in its construction materials, while a similar conventional build would have used 277,544 MJ. That means that our home used just less than 50% of the embodied energy of a conventional home!

Embodied energy of building materialsWhat does this mean? Let’s look at the difference in terms of energy use in the house. In a recent post, we discovered that after one year in the home, our annual energy consumption was 31.92 gigajoules (GJ). The embodied energy difference of 139,492 MJ (converted to gigajoules is 139.5 GJ) is enough to completely heat and power our home for 4.37 years. This means that even if the conventional home had the same level of energy performance, it would always carry a 4+ year deficit compared to our home.

In reality, the comparison is even more dramatic. The majority (68%) of the energy being used in Canada’s Greenest Home is renewably generated on site. The remainder is renewably generated via a Bullfrog Power contract. Whereas the energy embodied in the materials is almost certainly not renewably generated, and comes with carbon emissions and environmental impacts far higher than our home energy use.

The point I made in my embodied energy article is: Why not pay attention to this? The choices we made are easy ones to make, and there are equally easy choices within conventional options that also dramatically lower embodied energy. If it’s possible to cut overall energy use by the construction materials sector by 50%, why aren’t we making that choice? Seen as a choice made by one builder, it’s a small impact, but extended over the entire sector, it is a vast and radical change.


Best New Books of 2014

As a sustainable building school, Endeavour tries to keep a well-stocked library of books for our students and workshop participants. Looking back at 2014, here are three books that I feel greatly improved our library:

Making Better Buildings bookMaking Better Buildings: A Comparative Guide to Sustainable Building, by Chris Magwood

  • Okay, perhaps it’s a bit of nepotism to include my own book on this list. But all of our work at Endeavour is aimed at helping people make good sustainable building choices. In the past, we’ve had to round up information from a wide range of sources to make comparisons between different material and system choices. This book puts all the information in one place, in as unbiased a manner as possible. Anybody thinking of undertaking a sustainable building or renovation project should spend some time with this book.

Earthen Floors bookEarthen Floors: A Modern Approach to an Ancient Practice, by Sukita Reay Crimmel and James Thomson

  • Interest in earthen floors has always been high among sustainable builders, so it’s surprising that it’s taken this long for a good resource on the subject to become available. It couldn’t have come from a better source. The authors are leading practitioners and have been setting the standard for earthen floors in modern building for many years. The lack of solid, reliable information has held a lot of people back from trying an earthen floor… that no longer needs to be the case. Everything one needs to know about sourcing materials, mixing, applying and finishing can be found here.

hempcrete bookThe Hempcrete Book: Designing and Building with Hemp-Lime, by William Stanwix and Alex Sparrow

  • The buzz that surrounds hempcrete has been amplifying in the past decade, but it’s been difficult to find trustworthy, reliable information on the technique, free from “hemp-hype” that tends to make exaggerated claims. This book is an excellent and thorough introduction to the materials, mixes and application of hemp-lime in new construction and renovations. It’s as thorough a how-to guide as is possible to write, and the reader should be ready to tackle a project having digested the information contained here.

Yes, it’s still relevant to buy books

Even though the internet has brought access to a great deal of free information about sustainable building (including here on Endeavour’s site), there is still no comparison to the depth of reliable information available in a good book. Books cover their subjects thoroughly, the authors tend to be well-regarded experts and publishers have spent time ensuring the information is accurate and reliable. The combination of a good book and a hands-on workshop can ready anybody to undertake their own project in a way that months of online surfing simply cannot.

If you are considering buying these (or any other) books this year, we’d recommend you go directly to the publishers and buy there. Online sources like Amazon provide low prices, but at a great cost to authors and publishers. Support your sustainable building authors and buy direct!

Hempcrete Workshop

February 15, 2015hempcrete building workshop at Endeavour

November 29, 2015

Note: This workshop is being offered twice in 2015. Be sure to register for the correct date.

Workshop Instructor: Chris Magwood

Workshop Description

Come and discover how a simple mix of natural materials can create a remarkable thermal insulation!

Hempcrete (or hemp-lime) construction uses chopped hemp hurd (the woody core of the hemp plant) mixed with hydraulic lime to create an insulation material with excellent thermal, moisture-handling and structural properties.

In this workshop, participants will learn about the components of hempcrete, see a slideshow of various Canadian and international hempcrete building projects, and gain an understanding of how, why and where hempcrete is an appropriate material choice. In the classroom, we will look at the costs, sourcing and building science of using hempcrete on new building projects and renovations.

hempcrete building workshop at Endeavour

Test cylinders of mixes using hydraulic lime, hydrated lime, and hydrated lime plus metakaolin

In the hands-on component of the workshop, participants will learn how to assess the necessary materials and create a mix that is appropriate for a desired end use. We will use mixing machinery to create batches of hempcrete, and learn how to place them in a wall, floor and/or roof. Different types of framing and shuttering (or forming) systems will be shown, and every participant will leave with a hempcrete block they cast themselves.

After this workshop, you will be able to undertake a hempcrete project of your own!

Entry Requirements
Open to all

Early Bird- $150 – Register by February 10th -Includes healthy lunch

Regular -200$- Includes healthy lunch

Maximum class size: 12 Hempcrete walls Hempcrete walls


Renewable Energy Workshop

February 8, 2015Installing solar panels renewable energy workshop

November 28, 2015

Note: This workshop is being offered twice in 2015. Be sure to register for the correct date.

Workshop Instructor: Sean Flanagan

Workshop Description

It is a widely held dream of many people to live a life powered by renewable energy. But it can be difficult to know how best to proceed with making this dream a reality.

This workshop is the perfect introduction to the world of renewable energy, designed to help you figure out the best path to finding yourself living a renewable energy lifestyle. Instructor Sean Flanagan has been designing and installing renewable energy systems for over a decade, and unlike many renewable energy teachers he lives off-grid himself, giving him an intimate knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.

The workshop covers all aspects of renewable energy:

  • Off grid and grid tied systems – Which is right for you?
  • Photovoltaics (PV, or “solar electricity”) – How it works and what components go into a system?
  • Wind energy – How it works and what components go into a system?
  • Micro hydro – How it works and what components go into s system?
  • Micro-FIT and Net Metering – How do utility companies deal with renewable systems?
  • Doing an energy audit – How much power do you need and what size system is required?
  • Living with renewable energy - Lifestyle, maintenance and monitoring
  • and much more!

Installing solar panels renewable energy workshopAs part of the workshop, participants will be involved in the hands-on assembly of a small off-grid system to help become familiar with all the components and how they work.

If you’ve ever imagined yourself generating your own power from renewable sources, then this workshop is the perfect first step toward this goal.

Entry Requirements
Open to all

Early Bird $150 – Register before Jan 30th (includes healthy lunch)

Regular $200 – Includes healthy lunch

Maximum class size: 12

Installing solar panels renewable energy workshop

Building bottle wall features

Many natural buildings feature bottles incorporated into walls. Bottle walls add colourful light and whimsy to a wall and open up all kinds of great design possibilities.

Here’s a little “how-to” guide to building your own bottle wall. It’s quite an easy process, and is applicable to interior walls and renovations as new buildings. Your own creativity is the only limit when it comes to using bottles in your building!

Workshop survey for 2015

Endeavour tries hard to program workshops that are of value to those interested in sustainable building. This year, we’re looking for your help with our 2015 programming!

We’ve created a very short survey to give our readers input on the types, locations and costs of our workshops. We hope you’ll participate!

By filling out the survey, you’ll be entered into a draw to win an Endeavour workshop gift certificate.

You can find the survey here.

Canada’s Greenest Home uses 71% less energy!

We set out with some pretty lofty goals for our Canada’s Greenest Home project. The idea was to use only the healthiest, most ecologically friendly building materials and use them to create a home with outstanding energy performance. And we wanted to do it in a way that would be cost-comparative and easily achievable for other contractors. We finally have the data to show our results on the energy performance side.

From modelling to the real world

Much is made during the design process of “green” homes of energy modelling figures and estimates of consumption and/or savings based on the design. However, in few cases do we ever get to see an accurate portrayal of the actual consumption figures as compared to the models.

Obtaining real-world performance data was one of the key reasons we wanted to spend at least a year living in Canada’s Greenest Home. And now that we have been living here for a year, the results are in!

Energy produced compared to energy used at Canada's Greenest Home

Energy produced compared to energy used at Canada’s Greenest Home

Canada’s Greenest Home components

To recap, the home has a 5kw PV array, that is grid-tied using Ontario’s MicroFIT program. This means that there are two electricity meters on the house, one recording power going out to the grid via MicroFIT, and one recording power coming into the home. These figures allow us to see a clear picture of our consumption versus our production. There is no other fuel source in the home, as our heating system is powered electrically, via a Mitsubishi Zuba air source heat pump.

The results!

Our total annual consumption (including heat, refrigeration, cooking and all other plug loads) was 8,867 kilowatt hours, and our total production was 6,075 kilowatt hours. So we were 2,792 kw/h short of being net zero energy. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that the winter of 2013/2014 was quite a bit colder than average, and ice covered our panels for much of January and February (the output numbers are typically higher than December, but are quite a bit lower). In a different year, we would be quite a bit closer to net zero.

Financially, the picture is quite rosy. At our MicroFIT rate of 54.9 cents per kilowatt hour, our earnings from the PV system were $2,028.07 higher than our utility costs. Not many homes earn money for the owners, rather than costing them! That surplus goes a long way to putting a dent in the mortgage costs.

Comparing to other homes in Ontario

Comparing our energy usage to averages for Ontario (using the most recent StatsCan figures) is also illuminating. The average home of this size (2,000-2,500 square feet) built since 1996 uses 107 gigajoules of total energy (GJ is used to be able to compare measurements between different fuel sources like natural gas, oil, and electricity). Converting our kilowatt hours to gigajoules shows that we used 31.92 GJ, or just under 30% of the comparable average home! By square meters, we used 0.15 GJ per meter squared of floor area.

Passive House modelling slightly off

Interestingly, the energy modelling done in the Passive House software (PHPP) showed that our heating demand should have been 11,529 kw/h for the year, but our total usage including all non-heating loads was 8,867 kw/h, a substantial difference. As a guess, I would say that it is low R-value figures given for straw bale walls that accounts for this difference. Tested R-values and real world performance are always different beasts, but seem to be even more so for straw bale wall systems.

Doing better isn’t hard

We are very proud of these results. Considering that the costs for the shell of the home were very comparable to “conventional” construction (the majority of our additional costs were for mechanical systems like rainwater harvesting, composting toilets and solar hot water, as well as the PV), it bodes well to show that with small, achievable, and affordable changes in construction, vast improvements in performance can be achieved.

In our case, these improvements were made using locally-sourced, low-impact and mostly renewable resources, showing that eco-friendliness has many facets, and that being good for the planet when choosing materials can also mean being good for the planet in long-term impacts.

Anybody can build a home like this, with very low environmental impacts and great performance. The question is, why don’t more people do it?

Rocket mass heaters with Andrew Brunning

I have lived almost my entire life in homes that have been heated with wood in one way or another. From a giant wood furnace in the basement of an old Ontario farmhouse to an elegant little pellet stove in a city home in Peterborough, I have enjoyed the process of burning wood to keep warm.

Rocket stove revolution

With this kind of background, it’s no wonder that I have followed closely the development of “rocket stoves” over the past decade. From their beginnings as a means to provide efficient cooking heat from minimal fuel in developing countries, the promise of rocket stoves has been intriguing for any wood burning enthusiast. However, the open “J-tube” style of most rocket stoves meant that the feed tube for the fire was open inside the home with all the attendant dangers. In addition, the wood used in J-tube stoves is small dimension, which is perfect for cooking where fuel is scarce but as a home heating device means constant attention and stoking is required. For these reasons, I have been hesitant to recommend rocket stoves as a home heating system, except for the strong-hearted devotees of the idea.

Rocket mass heaters – suitable for indoors!

However, the development of “rocket mass heaters” brings the rocket stove idea to the point where it is a feasible home heating device. This style of rocket stove blends the safety and efficiency of the masonry heater with the do-it-yourself approach of the rocket stove. I was privileged to be able to take a workshop on building rocket mass heaters with Andrew Brunning of Rocket Mass Heaters.

The design of the rocket mass heater, or batch box rocket stove, was developed by Peter van den Berg, and its genesis is explained in this article in Permies. The heater combines the simple construction and burn characteristics of a rocket stove with a full masonry burn box, as with a masonry heater or typical wood stove, which can have a closed door with or without glazing. One fill of the burn box equals several hours of burn time and many more hours of heat from the mass built around the stove.

How to build a rocket mass heater

The workshop with Andrew allowed the participants to help build the rocket mass heater, as well as the large mass bench that would be the recipient of the heat generated. The photo gallery below gives a good overview of the process:

Rocket mass heater workshop coming to Endeavour in 2015

I look forward to building one of these rocket mass heaters for myself. And Endeavour looks forward to bringing Andrew to the school in 2015 for a hands-on workshop!

How to build with earthbag

Earthbag building is one of Endeavour’s favourite building techniques. We’ve used it for foundations on many projects, and have built an entire buried root cellar with this material.

We’ve put together our experience with earth bag in a photo series. We hope it inspires you to consider this choice for your next building project!