2014 Workshop Schedule

Our 2014 workshop schedule is now posted!

June and July are busy workshop months! Straw bale building, plastering, brick & stone repair and tadelakt plastering are all on the schedule over the next couple months. August features adobe oven building, the art of sharpening and carpentry for women.

Off-grid job site power system

Renewable energy system for Endeavour Centre

Many sustainable building projects are built in places where it is difficult or impossible to access electrical grid power, and this necessitates running a gasoline or diesel powered generator to provide power for tools. Over the course of an entire building project this can add up to a lot of fossil fuel… I have records from one job that show we used 2,250 liters of gas over a five month period! Hard to be making claims about sustainable building when that much fossil fuel is being burned in the process.

Despite our project for the teachers’ union being in a very urban location, there was no accessible grid power and we did not want to run a generator again. The cost of running a temporary electrical service (including utility fees and electrician’s time) was around $2500, and then there would be charges for the power used on top of that.

We spoke with Sean Flanagan of Flanagan and Sun about a PV (photovoltaic) based system that could run our job site, and the price tag was about $3800. More than the temporary power, but once built the system could be used again and again in the future. Our clients at the Trillium Lakelands Elementary Teachers’ Union generously agreed to put the budgeted cost of temporary power toward the system, clearing the way for the Sustainable New Construction class of 2014 to be powered by renewable energy!

The system features 480 watts of photovoltaic output, and is coupled with two large deep cycle batteries and a 3,000 watt sine wave inverter to provide power to the tools. A MPPT (maximum power point tracking) charge controller is the “brains” of the system, matching the amount of charge from the panels to the needs of the batteries.

After trouble shooting through some issues with the first charge controller (wrong unit for the PV voltage), our site now runs on 100% renewable energy, without the noise and pollution and cost of running a generator. We do face some limitations… if multiple tools try to start up at exactly the same moment the breaker on the inverter will trip. On a cloudy day with the air compressor running almost constantly, we can have difficulty running other tools. But living within limited means is all part of sustainable building and living, and it’s a good lesson to be reminded of during construction.

The silence and the clean air are well worth the small sacrifices. We’d encourage other builders to consider similar systems. The system is small enough to fit in a typical tool trailer, and we’ve also known builders to carry the batteries and inverter in their trucks, using the truck’s alternator to also charge the batteries as they drive to and from the job site. If each project can eliminate the need for hundreds of liters of fossil fuel, that would be a worthwhile impact!

Finding LED lightbulbs that work

LED lighting that works

Since my first days of living off grid with a tiny PV system in the late 1990s, I have been somewhat obsessed with finding lighting that combines low electrical draw with a nice quality of light. In the off grid home, we moved from dim, incandescent 12-volt car lights to brighter 12-volt halogens to the first generation of 12-volt compact fluorescents (CFLs). None of these combined low electrical consumption with a good light quality. The addition of an inverter in that home opened up the potential for newer generation CFL bulbs, which over time developed a better quality of light, but never really satisfied me. The inclusion of mercury in the CFLs always made me uncomfortable, as did the flickering quality of the light.

LED lighting that works

The LED bulbs that really work!

When the first LED bulbs started to become available a decade ago, I was all over them. I bought bulbs at outrageous prices that gave ridiculously poor light, and have continued to buy examples of each new generation of LED bulb for the past ten years.

Having decided to outfit Canada’s Greenest Home with LED lighting in every fixture, I have taken the opportunity to buy just about every brand and type of LED bulb that are available through major retailers. It is exciting to find that there are, finally, LED bulbs that combine low wattage with excellent light quality!

The sampling we’ve done has been for general purpose overhead fixtures and lamps, and also spots for over the cooktop.

Here are the ones we really like:

Philips 11 watt, 830 lumen, 2700K, dimmable

This bulb has a nice warm light. The shape of the bulb seems like it would cast a fairly narrow spot of light, but it actually does a good job of spreading light in 360 degrees. We use this one as overhead lights in the kitchen and in a couple of the hallways. A really good general bulb.

Cree 9.5 watt, 800 lumen, 2700K

This round bulb has the best general light distribution of those we tried, with a shape most resembling the traditional incandescent bulb. The light is definitely at the warm end of the spectrum, but slightly less warm than the Philips. This is also a really good general use bulb. The glass is coated in a rubbery material that makes it easy to handle and twist the bulb, and should protect it well against breakage.

Sylvania 8 watt, 470 lumen, no spectrum data on bulb or package, dimmable

This bulb is less bright than most of the others, with a lumen output of only 470. We found it to be a very warm and pleasant light. We currently have some exposed bulbs in the house, awaiting actual fixtures, and this bulb casts a good, wide light without being too bright and glaring. The light from this bulb feels “calmer” than any other, good for background lighting.

Philips 10.5 watt, 800 lumen, 3000K

If you’re under the impression that LED bulbs can’t cast a good, bright light, this bulb will alter that perception. It is surprisingly bright, with a light that is close to daylight spectrum without feeling “cold”. In any fixture where you desire an intense, 360-degree light, this one is perfect. It also the least expensive bulb, with prices under $10 at several retailers.

Feit 2 watt, 160 lumen, no spectrum data on bulb or package

We put these bulbs in a few sconce fixtures in stairways and hallways where we wanted a low but useful amount of light in a neutral spectrum range. These little bulbs work very well in this scenario, drawing only a small amount of current while producing a surprising amount of light.

Philips 7 watt, 280 lumen, 2700K spot

We haven’t sampled as many spots as regular bulbs, but of those we’ve tried this one combines a good quantity and quality of light and does not have as narrow a focus as many of the other brands. A pair of them shine down on the stove from the hood vent.

This is far from a scientific and complete sampling of LED bulbs, and I’ll continue to be a bulb addict and buy new models as they come out. However, this range and selection of models would allow anybody to outfit a home with LEDs and feel confident that their money is being spent on quality bulbs with good light output. Prices for these bulbs range from $9-15 dollars. In Ontario right now, there are government rebates of $5 on a wide range of LED bulbs, including most of those listed here. It’s a great time to invest in energy saving bulbs that are long-lasting and do not contain mercury!

Timber frame for teachers’ union

Timber framing workshop at Endeavour

Timber framing is an important building system for any sustainable builders’ palette of options, and we always try to include a timber framing element in our projects so our students can gain some exposure and experience in this time-honoured way of building.

Our current project features five “bents” or timber frame sections. Four of them hold up the roof over the curved ends of the building, allowing the roof to be straight, square and simple while the walls follow a rounded path. One bent holds up an entry roof section.

The timber frame section from the building plans was reviewed by both our structural engineer (Tim Krahn of Building Alternatives) and our timber framing instructor (Mark Davidson of Whippletree Timber Framing). From Tim’s recommendations on timber sizing and Mark’s expertise at layout and joinery, the initial design was turned into working drawings for the frame.

From Mark’s layout sketches, we went to work on measuring, marking and cutting the joinery on the actual timbers. Mark showed the class the basics of square rule timber framing, introducing us to principles and techniques of using a framing square to achieve the layout.

Each bent consists of three posts supporting two beam sections (joined with a scarf cut) with four knee braces to provide shear support, and we made four identical bents for each corner of the building. Unlike classic timber frame structures, this frame does not support the roof for the whole building but shares the duties with the straight sections of structural wall.

After completing the marking, the joinery was cut using a combination of classic hand tools (saws and chisels) and power tools (circular saw, mortise cutter and drill). In general, the power tools made the big rough cuts and hand tools were used to clean up and refine the cuts to ensure tight, smooth joints. We then drilled the holes into the mortises for the pegs that will hold all the joints on the finished bents.

As the joints in each bent were completed, we arranged sawhorses so that the entire section could be test fit in a horizontal position. Some of the joints needed to be cleaned up a bit in order to assemble the bents, but once the test fit was successful the pieces were numbered and the frames disassembled until the foundation is ready to receive them.

Earth floor workshop

earth floor mix

The 2014 Sustainable New Construction class had their first day of hands-on learning this week when we helped Mike Henry and Deirdre McGahern install an earthen floor at Headwaters Farm.

earth floor mix

All the ingredients for an earth floor are ready to mix

The floor was installed in the basement of the new Headwaters Farm straw bale house, which is the epicentre of a permaculture/organic farm. The earthen floor will be in the root cellar area of the basement.

The day began with laying a base for the floor. In this case, the floor had been insulated with recycled foam insulation (4 inches for ~R-20), and the class formed a bucket brigade to move loads of “road base,” a well-graded and moist mix of limestone screenings intended to be tightly compacted. Given the number of people we had on the job, a lot of the compacting was achieved via good old fashioned foot stomping, as well as some tamping with a metal plate tamper.

The floor mix was based on a clay soil from an aggregate pit near Huntsville, Ontario. They provided a clay/aggregate mix that was about 1 part clay to 3 parts sand (well graded from silt to 1/8″ stone). To this, we added another portion of sand, as well as chopped straw. In ratio form, the recipe was 1 clay to 4 sand to 1 chopped straw. This mix has a heavier proportion of sand than a plaster mix. Higher aggregate for floors is something we’ve learned from Sukita Crimmel (and her new book, Earthen Floors, which is highly recommended). The sandier mix reduces cracking and helps make a stronger floor. The mix received much less water than a plaster, just moist enough that there is cohesion when squeezed or troweled.

After running these ingredients through the mortar mixer, a bucket brigade moved the mix down to the basement. We applied the mix to a thickness of 3/4″ which seems to be a “sweet spot” for earthen floors. It’s thick enough to have body and strength, but thin enough that drying times are reasonable.

earth floor mix

The mix is checked for water content

The mix is spread out and compacted with the use of wooden floats. The wood floats help to achieve a flat surface and allow the mix to be worked repeatedly without drawing the moisture and clay to the surface.

The height of the floor is checked with a levelling stick and a laser level. When the stick is placed on the floor surface, the laser line will align with a pre-set mark on the stick if the proper level has been achieved.

Once an area of floor has been smoothed and levelled, a steel trowel is used sparingly to bring an additional level of smoothness to the floor. Too much steel troweling will bring the water and clay to the surface and increase the chance of cracking.

earth floor mix

A wood float is used to smooth and compact the floor

We started installing the earth floor at around 1.30 pm and we were finished by 4.30. Many hands made for light work, and the floor was looking great when we packed up to leave. Mike and Deirdre returned to burnish the surface the next day (misting the surface and applying additional steel troweling to really smooth out the surface).

earth floor mix

Many hands at work on the earth floor

The floor will now be left to dry for at least a week, and then several coats of linseed oil (Claylin makes finishing oils and waxes for earthen floors) will be applied. Once the oil has dried (3-7 days), the floor is ready for use, or it can be sanded for additional smoothness, and a wax can also be applied.

We love earthen floors! Once you’ve experienced the feeling of an earthen floor under your feet, you’ll definitely want one…

Welcoming the Class of 2014!

Sustainable New Construction class of 2014

Endeavour’s full-time Sustainable New Construction program is underway, marking the third year of this exciting immersion experience.

Trillium Lakelands Teachers' Union building

Rendering of the Trillium Lakelands ETFO building

This year’s class will be building a new office for the Trillium Lakelands local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), in downtown Lindsay, Ontario. The building will be featuring a rubble trench foundation with Durisol blocks and earthbag grade beams, a hybrid straw bale/frame wall system, all natural plasters and finishes, a Passive House-style heating system, 5kW of photovoltaics, composting toilets, solar hot water and much more!

Sustainable New Construction class of 2014

Sustainable New Construction class of 2014

The class brings a wide variety of backgrounds and come from as far afield as Ecuador and the United States, as well as Canadians from across the country. We’re thrilled to have (left to right) Lesley Fukumura (BC), Greyson Sherritt (Ontario), Kathleen Spencer (Quebec), Andy Fisher (Ontario), Ivonka Brehovska (Ontario), Ben Bowman (US), Dániaba Montesinos (Ecuador) and Neil Boyer (US) join us here in Peterborough.

We are excited to have this new group of students joining us at Endeavour. The program has been extended to 6 months this year, giving the class an extra month to ensure they get to see all the finishing materials and details.

Please be sure to follow our progress as we start to blog about the project!

Natural Finishes for Canada’s Greenest Home

Natural paint, milk paint, natural oil paint, lime paint, clay paint
Natural paint, milk paint, natural oil paint, lime paint, clay paint

A wide range of natural, non-toxic finishes were used in Canada’s Greenest Home

One of the goals of the Canada’s Greenest Home project is to show that a very green home can be built by any contractor with the desire to do so. As part of that goal, we made sure that we used no products that contained toxic chemicals or off gassing compounds, and sourced all of those products from accessible manufacturers. While we love and support the use of homemade paints and finishes, we did not want to make building a non-toxic home appear to rely on kitchen chemistry.

Fortunately, the past few years have seen a wide range of non-toxic paints and finishes introduced by reputable manufacturers. While most of these are not available through regular building supply outlets, they are easily available to anybody with an interest in finding and using them.

Kreidezeit Clay, Lime and Casein Paint

Kreidezeit clay paint in foyer

Kreidezeit natural clay paint gives a beautiful texture and lustre

Kreidezeit is a German company that has formulated some excellent natural finishing products, containing no VOCs and no petrochemicals. Their products are available in Canada through Tockay Distribution. We used three of Kreidezeit’s products: clay paint, lime paint and vegetable casein paint. We found each of them easy to use and very well formulated. Application was straightforward and coverage was complete with two coats. The lime paint was rolled onto the walls, while the clay and casein paint were brushed on. All three give rich, lively finishes, with just enough texture to distinguish themselves from more conventional paints.

The paints apply to most common interior materials, including drywall and plaster. The paints all require the use of Kreidezeit’s vegetable casein primer, which can be brushed or rolled onto raw surfaces, or over existing paints and finishes. The clay and casein paints come in powdered form and require mixing with water. The lime paint comes in liquid form. A range of standard colours are available, or the paints can be custom tinted with natural pigments available from Kreidezeit.

We were very impressed by these products, especially the clay paint (pictured). It gives a finish that closely resembles the warmth of clay plaster, but with the simplicity of a paint.

Auro Lime Paint

Auro natural lime paint

The white Auro lime paint has a lightly textured surface that works well with natural light

Auro lime paint is a completely natural, non-toxic finish that comes in several different texture options, from a fine and highly polished “tadelakt” version up to a fairly grainy and textured version. We chose a lightly grainy texture, and mixed the white base paint with a natural pigment supplied by Auro (in Canada from Tockay). While a primer is available for this paint, we brushed it directly to raw drywall in two coats with excellent results.

The paint is quite thick, and adding water changes the texture on the wall. Brush marks are quite visible in the final finish, and we used a patterned brush stroke to highlight the texture. Coverage is excellent and the final finish is beautiful in natural or artificial light.

AFM Safecoat Naturals

AFM Safecoat Naturals paint

AFM Safecoat Naturals can replace conventional latex paints in every way

AFM Safecoat has been manufacturing a range of non-toxic finishes for many years. Their recent “Naturals” line of organic, plant-based finishes are completely bio-degradable. These natural oil paints were a very exciting discovery, as they represent the most accessible and affordable replacement for conventional latex paints. They can be colour matched in non-toxic tints to any colour available in conventional paints, come in ready-to-use cans just like regular paints, and are virtually indistinguishable from regular paints in terms of use and application. They are only fractionally more expensive than conventional paints. We obtained our AFM paint from Living Rooms.

As a natural oil paint, there is a slight amount of odour with the Naturals, though not nearly as strong as we were expecting from an oil paint. Drying times match that of latex paints, with surfaces dry to the touch with an hour or two and able to be re-coated same day or next day. A flat or a pearl lustre are available.

Unlike conventional latex paints, there are absolutely no toxins in these paints, and while the finish is highly durable and washable, it also remains permeable to moisture migration, making it suitable for use on vapour-open wall systems like our straw bale walls.

The range of products from AFM is proof positive that it is possible to make products that meet all the expectations of conventional, petrochemical-based and toxic products in a healthy, planet-friendly version. There is no reason that anybody building or remodelling shouldn’t abandon the tins of chemical soup for AFM Naturals.

Mythic Paint

Mythic non-toxic paint

Mythic Paint is just like conventional acrylic/latex paints, minus the toxic ingredients.

For those who wish to take a step in a greener direction but don’t want to “go too far” (though with all the options available, I’m not sure why), Mythic Paint offers non-toxic acrylic (latex) paints that are just like all the conventional paint options but minus the toxic contents. We obtained our Mythic Paints from The Healthiest Home.

Nobody using Mythic paints would realize that they weren’t using a normal, widely-available, no-VOC paint. Coverage, application, drying time and coloration are all indistinguishable from conventional paints. While these paints still use a petrochemical base, the company claims that there are absolutely no toxins and no off gassing. They can be used in any situation where conventional acrylic/latex paints are suitable.

The cost is only fractionally higher than standard paints, and less than high-end acrylics. The paints come in all lustres.

Allback Linseed Oil Paint

Allback linseed oil paint is from Sweden, and the company has a special process by which they purify linseed oil to make a highly stable and durable paint. This type of paint has been used for hundreds of years, with Allback’s purification process updating the traditional recipe into something that is predictable and long-lasting.

We used the Allback paint as an exterior wood finish. As a straight linseed oil paint, it has a very strong odour. While this odour is not considered a dangerous VOC, it is unpleasant enough and long-lasting enough to discourage us from using it indoors. As an outdoor finish, however, it works well on raw wood (and the company claims it can also be used on metal, plastics, plasters and masonry).

Our Allback products come from Living Rooms. There is a limited colour palette available, though the existing colours are very attractive.

The paint was easy to apply, but takes a relatively long time to dry (up to 2-3 days). We have been happy with the results, but this is definitely a product that takes some patience and understanding. If you want to have an extremely natural and durable exterior finish, this comes highly recommended, but be aware that it is not as easy to work with as its petrochemical counterparts.

Switching to Natural Finishes

All of the natural finishes we used meet remarkably high standards for non-toxicity, which alone should be recommendation enough for everybody to start using them. The fact that they are also relatively easy to apply and create attractive, durable finishes make them well worth sourcing for any builder looking to make an environmental difference in a project.

So far, all of these finishes have been holding up to the rigours of daily use, and the bumps and thumps of moving day left few traces behind. We will continue to report on the durability of these finishes, but to date we have nothing but positive feedback to report.

Plastering for Straw Bale Construction

TBA – July 2014, 2-day workshop

Chris Magwood & Jen Feigin

Clay plastering on straw bale wallsStraw bale walls are unlike any other wall type when it comes to plastering. The unique substrate of undulating straw combined with the many important roles the plaster plays in a straw bale wall system (it is structure, weather-proofing, air sealing and aesthetic finish all in one!) means that plastering straw bale walls is a skill all unto itself.

This workshop will focus on Endeavour’s unique two-part, one-coat system of plastering. Over many years of development, we’ve refined this technique to allow the full depth of plaster to be applied to bale wall at one time. Using a high clay content and a high chopped straw content, this style of plastering combines strength, simplicity and user-friendliness. This system can be used to create the final finish on a wall, or have a final skim coat finish applied over top.

Participants will get to experience materials selection, mixing ratios and equipment, the mixing process and spend lots of guided time applying the plaster to a permanent building.

The workshop will cover clay plasters (using local soils and bagged clay) and clay/lime hybrid plasters.

With this workshop under your belt, you’ll be ready to tackle your own straw bale plastering project!

Registration will open for this workshop when the dates and location have been confirmed. Please contact us if you are interested, and we’ll let you know when the details are available.

Entry Requirements:
Open to all

Includes healthy lunch (vegetarian and vegan options available)

Maximum class size: 12

Using an Induction Range

Induction cooktop at Canada's Greenest Home

The induction stove simmers a pot of turkey soup, still sporting its EnerGuide sticker!

When it came to choosing a cooking appliance for Canada’s Greenest Home, we were faced with a conflict in approach. Most homes that aim for net zero energy consumption will choose to use natural gas ranges and ovens, and take the cooking loads away from the electrical load calculations. However, the Living Building Challenge dictates that no combustion-style devices may be used to get the Energy Petal in their certification, requiring us to use an electric device of some kind.

We’d heard about induction ranges for a while, but had never had a chance to use one or even meet anybody who had used one. But it was clear that from an energy consumption point of view, induction ranges (especially in combination with convection ovens) have significantly lower electrical draws than conventional ranges.

how-induction-cooking-worksThe lower electrical consumption comes from the way heat is generated. Rather than using electrical resistance heating, in which a metal element is heated and that element transfers heat to the cookware, induction ranges generate a magnetic field under the cookware, and if the cookware is ferrous (ie, a magnet will stick to it) the strong magnetic field causes the atoms in the cookware to get excited and generate heat. Therefore, an even amount of heat is distributed across the bottom of the cookware, and no heat is generated anywhere other than the cookware.

Energy saving induction cooktop

The EnerGuide sticker shows the appliance uses substantially less energy than resistance cooktops.

Canada’s EnerGuide rating system shows that most freestanding, 30-inch ranges use between 470-515 kilowatt hours per year of average use. In comparison, the Frigidaire induction range we chose has an EnerGuide rating of 293 kilowatt hours per year, representing a savings of 177-222 kilowatt hours per year. This is a substantial decrease, probably the single biggest savings that an appliance choice can make. With our 5 kilowatt photovoltaic array, that represents between 35-44 hours of peak production from the panels that can be used of offset other uses in the home!

So from an energy use point of view, the induction range is great. But how about in daily use?

We’ve been extremely impressed with the induction cooktop, enough so that I would definitely install one in another home. Cookware heats up very quickly. A kettle of water boils in a remarkably short amount of time (no more getting a little chore done while the kettle comes to boil!), and in general temperature is imparted to the cookware in a surprisingly short amount of time. Heat in the cookware is completely even, with no hot spots in the middle of the pan and cooler spots around the edges. Changing the temperature setting causes an immediate change in the pan (which is usually touted as the advantage of cooking with gas). Simmers are easily achieved and work well. No heat is lost around the edges of pots or pans, and the cooking surface is not directly heated, so the surface is quite safe to work on. When a pot or pan is lifted from the surface or the dial turned off, there is no more heat.

We haven’t experienced any major drawbacks. There is a slight buzzing noise that accompanies turning on an element, and it’s loudest at the “Power Boil” or high setting. Under all but the very quietest conditions, this is barely noticeable, about on par with a “buzzing” lightbulb. If our tankless hot water heater is on at the same time, the noise is louder (not sure why). I wouldn’t consider this a drawback, just something we’ve noticed.

Dr. Magda Havas from Trent University (and who does a session with Endeavour’s full time students) warns of some potential issues from exposure to the magnetic fields generated by the cooktop. This is not an issue that has received much attention or testing, but the small amount of testing available seems to indicate that keeping a reasonable distance between the body and the element (the Swiss government suggests 5-10 cm) minimizes exposures. While this exposure does not concern me greatly (wireless internet is a much more pervasive and problematic threat, and we wired this home with ethernet cable to every room to avoid the need for wireless), I would not install an induction stove in a home for someone with electrical sensitivity.

Some of our cookware is not usable on the induction range (anything with an aluminum base), but all of our favourite pots and pans work just fine. The heavier/thicker the bottom of the pot or pan, the better it seems to work.

Changing the appliance we cook with was not something I expected to notice much or appreciate, but it turns out to be a rare case of an energy saving device also being a better functioning device.

Pizza/Bread Oven Building

August 9 & 10 – 2 day workshop

Ashley Lubyk of Dirt Craft Natural Buildingapplying earthen plaster to cob oven

Adobe ovens make incomparable food! Easy to build from natural and local materials, these ovens are a great addition to any back yard, campground or park… anywhere that people gather to share food and company.

During this workshop, participants will learn the theory of how the ovens are designed and how to use them for cooking. The class will then build an oven from start to finish, using nothing but local materials including stone, clay, sand and straw.

Entry Requirements:

Open to all

Includes healthy lunch (vegetarian and vegan options available)

Maximum class size: 12