Join us for an open house at Canada’s Greenest Home on Sunday, May 26 from 1-4pm!
Explore all the features of the home, talk to the builders and ask “Why?” and “How?”
Explore all the features of the home, talk to the builders and ask “Why?” and “How?”
Canada’s Greenest Home is about to go on the market, and as we switch out of construction mode and into the process of selling the home on its merits we figured this is a good time to reflect on whether or not we’ve met our goals.
Not a Competition
We were initially quite hesitant to brand this project as “Canada’s Greenest.” The claim was not made to be boastful or to dismiss the work of other designers and builders who have made remarkably green homes. The sustainable building community is very “open source” and cooperative, and definitely not competitive. But we were very interested in pushing as many boundaries as possible with this project, to challenge ourselves as designers and builders to make the very best house possible, going beyond what has been done previously.
We had a very well defined set of goals going into this project, and the sum of these goals, we felt, would result in the greenest home in the country. Here is our self-graded report card:
Extremely high energy efficiency
Extremely high indoor air quality
All materials manufactured and sourced as locally as possible
Very low embodied energy materials
Very low water use, with the potential to be water self-sufficient
No sewage output
Zero fossil fuel usage
Very low construction waste
Make a Reproducible Home
Make a Home with “Street Appeal”
High educational value
Prove that the market will support green building
Guidelines and Criteria
We used two green building rating programs to help guide us. LEED for Homes offers mainstream builders an excellent tool for measuring their environmental performance and reaching for higher targets. We aimed to exceed the requirements to meet the LEED Platinum standard, and are well on our way to being certified with a points score well in excess of the Platinum requirements.
The Living Building Challenge is the most stringent construction standard we were able to find, and within its guidelines we found plenty of inspiration. In following the Living Building Challenge we definitely stretched our abilities and understanding and elevated our practice. Certification under the LBC can only happen after one year of occupation, so it will be up to the homeowners to continue to meet the challenge.
No Prescribed Solutions
Despite following two great standards, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to building green. We deviated from some recommendations and requirements of both programs in order to pursue solutions we felt were more appropriate for this project.
We Think We Did It!
There is no reward or prize at the end of a process like this beyond the satisfaction of achieving a professional pinnacle and meeting one’s own very high standards. We anxiously await the buyer who will recognize this achievement and work with us to commission the home in a way that ensures it meets its substantial promise.
As designers and builders, we have learned a tremendous amount from this project, and look forward to applying those lessons to future builds. We also look forward to the day when a home like this is the norm, rather than far exceeding the norms. This type of home building on a large scale would have significant and measurable positive impacts on our environment.
In the province of Ontario in 2002, “1.2 million tones of solid waste were generated from the construction and demolition sector” (Development of Construction and Demolition Waste Recycling in Ontario). A typical home construction project will generate about 8,000 pounds of solid waste per 2,000 square foot home according to the National Association of Home Builders.
The Canada’s Greenest Home project is attempting to seriously limit the amount of material sent to landfill from our construction site. Reuse, recycling and diversion are taken very seriously on this project. To date, we’ve only sent 852 pounds of waste to landfill, and have diverted 3537 pounds to reuse, recycling or other end uses. That is about 10% of the provincial average!
We’ve managed to reduce overall waste to the point where our largest quantity of material going to landfill is floor sweepings! Each time we sweep up inside the building, we pull out any fasteners or recyclable materials before bagging up what’s left. But that dust and debris can weigh a lot, especially after sanding the drywall taping. Our most recent trip to the landfill included 146 pounds of waste, most of which was accumulated floor sweepings. Sawdust, dirt and dust can really add up! We could conceivably bury this material on site, as it’s quite inert. But we wanted to keep an accurate measure of what we “produced” that couldn’t otherwise be reused or recycled.
With landfill tipping costs still artificially low (that is, taxpayers subsidize landfill costs for builders), there is little incentive to reduce job site waste. If municipal governments were to charge appropriately for access to landfill, builders would save money by diverting waste to other streams. In the meantime, it’s not difficult to achieve the significant reductions we’ve managed on this project. Placing appropriate bins on site and labelling them well is the biggest step, followed by designating someone on site to manage waste. Buy-in from subcontractors is important too.
Even minimal improvements on conventional building sites could seriously reduce landfill use. We hope this project sets a high bar for what is possible when it comes to construction waste management.
Natural clay finish plasters add an unparalleled beauty to any home, and it was exciting to apply these plasters to Canada’s Greenest Home this weekend.
These skim coat plasters can be applied over any wall surface. In this project, we used them over clay base coat plasters and over drywall.
The plasters are mixed on site using widely available and affordable materials. Clay, sand, calcium carbonate, pigment, flour paste and water are mixed together and applied to the wall by trowel in a single, thin coat (~1/8 inch).
Our typical formula is 10 parts clay, 4 parts sifted sand, 1 part calcium carbonate, 1 part flour paste (a natural glue/hardener) and ~3.5 parts water. Natural pigments are added to this mix by weight, based on trial samples made in advance. As with baking, the dry ingredients are mixed together and then added into the water, flour paster and pigment that have been blended.
The clay in this case is Tile 6 Kaolin, from a pottery supply store. We’ve used other kaolins and ball clays with similar results. Calcium carbonate is finely ground limestone, from Omya in Perth, Ontario. Flour paste is cooked by boiling 4 parts water and adding a mixture of 2 parts cold water and 1 part flour and boiling until thick. Our natural pigments come from Kama Pigments.
There is nothing like the depth, richness of colour, sound attenuation and warmth of a natural clay finish plaster!
One of the great difficulties of building a sustainable home is figuring out what products are really “green” and which are just greenwashed versions of less-than-sustainable products.
The hardwood flooring we’ve installed at Canada’s Greenest Home comes from The Nadurra Wood Corporation in Toronto, and Nadurra is one of those companies that we know we can trust to sell only products that meet the highest standards. The company was formed by people with long involvement with sustainable forestry initiatives, and they take an active interest in ensuring that all their products come from well-managed forests.
Their line of hardwood flooring is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the most widely respected third party certification in the world. Their hardwood collection is also harvested regionally, with forests in the northeastern US, Ontario and Quebec.
The finish on the floor is a factory-applied, UV-cured urethane that is VOC-free.
We chose a “rustic grade” of maple in natural colour (no stain). This grade makes use of wood that would not normally be chosen for flooring due to variation in colour and the presence of some knots. This ensures that more of the available wood from the tree is used, and brings a natural variation and beauty to the floor.
The installation of the flooring is the first step in the final finishing of the home’s interior.
The Clivus Multrum composting toilet is one of the most important systems in Canada’s Greenest Home, and company representative Don Mills came up to Peterborough recently to help us with the fine points of the installation.
As mentioned in a previous post, treating human “waste” as a valuable and important resource instead of allowing it to become a sewage problem is an important step in the move toward more sustainable housing.
Now that our composting toilets are ready to be commissioned, it’s a good time to look at how this particular system works, and why we chose this type of toilet system over others.
There are three basic categories of indoor composting toilets. The first – and by far most simple and affordable – is the bucket toilet. We at Endeavour love the bucket toilet, and recommend it highly for its low cost and effectiveness, but it was not a choice for a spec home! A step up from the bucket toilet (in price and acceptability, if not performance) is the self-contained composter. These toilets feature toilet and compost tray together in one unit. These can be effective in situations where usage is light, but do not have the capacity to handle the daily use of a whole household. In order to try to “speed up” the composting process in these systems, heat is often used to evaporate urine and accelerate the decomposition of the solids. But by getting rid of the urine and making the solids dry and warm, a great deal of the valuable nutrients are wasted.
The final type of composter is the remote chamber style. These toilets have a large storage bin able to accept input from multiple toilets. The Clivus Multrum system is designed to make sure that composting takes place in the best possible environment, resulting in the recycling of the maximum amount of nutrient value.
The main tank for the Clivus Multrum system features a sloped base, with fresh deposits entering at the rear end of the tank and pushing older material forward. Once the system is established, there is a large bed of material in the tank. It is a mixture of solids, toilet paper and wood shavings. In this way, the Clivus system is like many others.
Two aspects really set the Clivus Multrum apart. First, the system captures all of the liquid and makes it accessible as a fertilizer. The urine that is collected has percolated through the composting bed, providing benefits to the solid compost as it passes through and changing in chemistry (to nitrites and nitrates) to become an excellent fertilizer with none of the potentially damaging effects of straight urine. This liquid is collected at the front of the tank and pumped into a separate holding tank. From here, it can be applied directly to gardens and lawns.
The vast majority of valuable nutrients that can be retrieved from human waste are found here, according to Don Mills. Simply diverting and/or evaporating urine is to waste a valuable resource.
The second unique feature of the Clivus toilet is the moistening system. The tank includes a sprayer and controls that mist the compost pile regularly with a small amount of water. This provides the ideal conditions for effective composting: not wet, not dry, but consistently moist. Having provided sufficient nutrients, aeration and moisture, the rich colonies of bacteria, protozoa, rotifers, actinomycetes, fungi, mold, yeast and earthworms can best go to work converting solid waste to useful compost. Dry compost material needs to be removed from the tank about once a year.
When fully functional, the toilet will require monthly attention, to mix in wood shavings. The liquid fertilizer can be pumped directly to gardens or transferred to containers to take it elsewhere.
In an upcoming post, we’ll look at the unique foam flush toilets that are the other unique feature of this system.
Mike Henry — Natural Plasterer
Tadelakt is a natural plaster method that originates in Morocco and is the only type of natural plaster that is inherently waterproof, making it ideal for bathrooms, kitchens, showers, tubs and sinks. It is a beautiful plaster with an unequalled shiny finish and variegated colouring that is pleasing to the eye and to the touch.
This one-day introduction to tadelakt plastering will help beginners understand the materials and the techniques for making and applying tadelakt plaster. The workshop will show you how to source the materials required to make your own tadelakt mix, and how to make the mix and tint it.
The secret to tadelakt plastering is in the application. Applying tadelakt is a multi-stage process that requires patience and understanding of the material. Working on a small scale, this workshop will introduce you to the tadelakt process and give you the chance to take a small tadelakt project from start to shining finish.
Open to all
Maximum class size: 12
Workshop Instructor(s): Jacob Deva Racusin
New Frameworks Natural Building
Building Science is relatively new field of study, but the issues it addresses are age-old: How do buildings work and how can we design them to work better?
Jacob Deva Racusin is a leader among the new breed of building scientists who blend theory with natural building practice to revolutionize how we approach making the best buildings possible. He draws equally from the worlds of lab-based science and that of healthy, sustainable and natural building materials to create designs that combine the best of the past with the best of the future.
This course is an introduction to the fundamentals of building science, and will involve participants in the understanding of thermal and moisture dynamics through lecture, case study, hands-on testing, demonstration, design exercises, and design review. The course is focused on applying building science principles to inform best design and construction practices, and is suitable for both designers and builders.
The lessons learned in this workshop will help participants to design and build better buildings, providing a toolbox for understanding how to achieve high performance in a wide range of building scenarios.
CHECK OUT THE COURSE OUTLINE HERE
Open to all
Maximum class size: 12
Workshop Instructor(s): George Nez
Hypar is a shortened version of hyperparabolic, and hypar roofs are one of the most exciting and fascinating architectural developments of the past half-century. This workshop is being taught by George Nez, who developed this system of lightweight roofing, and a rare opportunity to learn from the originator!
Whether used in developing countries as emergency shelter or village homes or used in North American locations with high snow loads, these roof systems use a minimum of structural members and rely on hyperparabolic geometry and fabric with a latex-modified concrete to provide strong, durable and very lightweight roofs for buildings small and large.
George will lead the participants in the design requirements for hypar roofs and the construction of an entire hypar roof. Among the classroom topics covered will be an overview of forms, purposes, calculations, blackboard geometry, and roof characteristics for various climates and loads. Participants will then frame, stretch fabric and pour the latex cement on a full-sized roof in the workshop.
This is a unique opportunity to learn about a form of construction that defies most conventional thinking about roof structures and could revolutionize your outlook on building design!
Open to those with some construction experience
Maximum class size: 12