Green Building is Dead….Long Live Green Building!!

July 24th, 2015 by Cathy Rust 1 comment »

I’ve noticed that there has been a significant transition in the green building industry, especially with respect to residential building. A few of my favourite green building haunts have reinvented themselves over the past few years. Most of them started out selling green building supplies, but those that have survived are either still the loner in their geographic area with enough demand to support their business or they’ve transitioned into building services. Why? Because many of the green building products have become so mainstream that they are no longer niche. By now, the terminology “zero and low VOC” have become so common that most people will ask for these types of products — and the vast majority of salespeople know exactly what people mean when they ask for them (believe me, this wasn’t the case in 2009). Energy efficient products are everywhere and consumers have gained enough knowledge that they feel comfortable to ask the right questions. We want to know about recycled material content in our products, where they were made, and what will happen to them at end of life.

The progress that has been made in terms of general knowledge is remarkable. I attribute a lot of that knowledge with the rise in popularity of LEED. Whether the term has made it into the vernacular at the consumer level is almost irrelevant. Most builders — whether they love it or hate it — are very familiar with the certification and all of its pros and cons. But that is the point: now that the building industry is aware of it, it can work with clients who want to build better, healthier, durable and long lasting homes with better knowledge.

So, where does that leave me? In transition mode. I feel that my job is done with respect to writing about specific building materials, energy efficiency products, etc. While these issues are still important, there is enough knowledge and information out there that my news is no longer needed. I’ve covered VOCs, recycled material, energy efficiency, LEDs, water efficiency to death! On to bigger and better things! While I will leave all the previous articles up on the blog, the scope and content of the blog will transition into the bigger picture: the circular economy, extended producer responsibility, waste management, and sustainable cities. My work-life is currently focussed on these areas so it makes sense to write about them. And, as you will see, green building materials, energy and water efficiency are key pieces of these larger issues.

In the mean time, for the best information on green materials, building science, energy efficiency and green building, here are my go-to resources:

Materia: a totally awesome website dedicated to materials of the future, many of which are bio-based, all of which are interesting and different.

Inhabitat: quite possibly the best design blog out there with lots of green and inspirational ideas.

Treehugger: love this website and all the discussions that happen under articles. It is at the heart of most eco developments so if you only want to visit one site, this is the one.

Green Building Advisor: Aside from all the fantastic green building information available, the discussion forums are excellent.

Building Green: Green building guru Alex Wilson has been building green since before it was hip and trendy. He and his team are well-known for expert advice on all things green building, including materials.

Building Science Corporation: for highly detailed, thorough explanations of the latest developments in building science, this resource provides essential information.

Enjoy your reading!


Eco Friendly Home Decor

July 23rd, 2015 by Contributor 2 comments »

By Jane Blanchard

When choosing the decor for your home, you’re probably thinking of many factors. Cost, durability and style are likely weighing heavily on your decisions, but it’s important not to forget to make eco friendly choices whenever possible. Choosing eco friendly decor will save you money in energy costs and reduce your footprint on our precious environment.


Finding ways to reuse what is already in your home eliminates waste and makes a more eco friendly place. A detailed list of repurposing tutorials can be found on Remodeling Therapy, but a few suggestions are especially eye catching. Use an old sweater to cover an ugly lampshade to create a cozy cottage-like decor.





Plugging your TV or stereo into a power strip instead of directly into the wall can save energy as well. Even when you’ve turned your electronics off, they continue to leak energy when they are plugged into an outlet. The amount leaked when they are plugged into a power strip is significantly lower plus you can turn the power off to save energy when you’re not using it. Reusing old bread ties to label your cords saves plastic and eliminates waste.



Most people are aware that some light bulbs are more eco-friendly than others. You may note that the bulbs labeled as eco-friendly or energy saving cost more initially, but these bulbs last significantly longer than traditional bulbs. If you are not able to get energy saving bulbs, you could add a dimmer to your lighting. This will make your bulbs last longer. Traditional incandescent bulbs are highly inefficient. Through the lighting process, the bulb produces 70% more heat than light and use up to ten times more energy than either CFL or LED counterparts. LED lights are relatively new to the scene but are an excellent energy efficient alternative that use hardly any energy, have a long life expectancy and don’t give off heat and have dropped in price in the last few years.



It may not seem important but deciding between a bath or a shower can impact the amount of water your home uses. A bath uses about as much water as a 10 minute shower. If you can keep your shower under 7 minutes, you could save about 3 gallons of water each time. Add a low-flow showerhead and you can save even more water and energy (the energy saved because less hot water is used, therefore less needs to be replaced). Look for the WaterSense symbol on showerheads.



When you’re choosing decor, there are lots of opportunities to make an eco friendly choice. From the type of tile you choose to the landscaping options, considering your choices will make a big impact. When you’re choosing a countertop, explore these environmentally friendly options from Apartment Therapy. With names like BottleStone and Squak Mountain Stone, they will make your home truly unique and beautiful.



You can also save water by choosing native plants for your landscape. A new trend called Xeriscaping uses 50% less water by including grass that is naturally resistant to drought as well as indigenous plants which grow naturally without extra watering. Xeriscapers plant their lawn for efficiency by grouping like plants together and advocating using mulch which retains moisture and keeps plants from drying out too quickly as well as preventing run-off.


By integrating these few ideas, you can make your home more eco-friendly and attractive. You don’t have to make any sacrifices to have an efficient home. Once you’ve begun the process of making your home more environmentally friendly, it will be exciting to see all of the ways you can cut back and watch your energy bills shrink more and more each month.


For more design ideas and inspiration, head to

The pros and cons of rain screens

July 21st, 2015 by Cathy Rust No comments »

I haven’t spent any time writing about rain screens — a building technique that has tended to be associated with wetter climates. The point of rain screens is to let the water that gets behind the facade drain out so that the building stays dry. As our buildings are designed to be tighter and tighter, any penetration can lead to water getting into a wall assembly but having nowhere to get out causing all kinds of havoc from wood rot to mould build-up. Eventually, these two things can lead to structural failure and health issues for building occupants.

I contacted Dave Petersen from Outside In Design Build to discuss rain screens, a technique for constructing a wall assembly that has gained traction over the years due to its ability to keep water away from infiltrating walls. According to Dave, it is a requirement of most local building codes. While it is used on the (usually) rainy West Coast (note they’ve instituted drought restrictions in Vancouver),  it is also a good method for building here in the east, even in colder climates, and, in fact, many cladding materials require its use with their products.

How it works (from correspondence with Dave Petersen):

The rain screen assembly allows for water getting past the outer (face) barrier to weep down and outward (gravity assisted and pressure equalized) once the wind abates through a series of engineered flashings and weep-assemblies. These often include bug screens, through wall flashings in metal and ice and water shield materials. The key with this system is to allow for pressure equalization behind the face materials which will allow the water to drain away instead of continuing its way through the wall assembly. Most wall systems (brick and stone veneer, siding, EIFS*, cement board, etc.) are designed to work as part of a rain screen wall system – there are few barrier walls left, other than precast concrete panels, which have a rain screen caulking system that helps drain these assemblies. Hot/dry climates can even benefit from a rain screen cladding as it may act as a radiant barrier and slows heat transfer through the façade into the building.


face sealed EIFS

Traditional Face-sealed facades (Diagram from:


Rain screen assemblies

Rain screen assembly (Diagram from:


The pros and cons of rain screens are listed below (again, thanks to Dave Petersen).


  • Enhanced water management in all climate zones (USA and Canada)
  • Improved material durability
  • Better IEQ
  • Effective at blocking radiant heat gains


  • Possibly higher costs
  • More detailing at the site level
  • May be prone to detailing errors that limit its effectiveness (mortar dams, etc)

The cons can be minimized by using an integrated system approach and most cladding products are readily detailed for these types of walls. Education of trades and proper site management will minimize most of the other issues.

(*EIFS – “Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems”).

For a detailed explanation of how rain screens work to keep water from infiltrating building envelopes, visit Building Science Corporation‘s thorough explanation of how they work:

and this one:

Thanks again to Dave Petersen for his time and knowledge on rain screens!

Visit: Outside In Design Build for more information on sustainable building.




What are your Green Options in Fighting off a Pest Invasion?

July 20th, 2015 by Contributor 2 comments »

While pests have developed over the millions of years, it took only about 50 for science to keep up the pace. Today, with increasing environmental concerns, non-toxic pest control options that are harmless to humans, non-pest species, and the soil and water resources are becoming a popular alternative to traditional aggressive chemical products.

Carpenter Ants


By Richard Bartz, Munich Makro Freak (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

They are considered a pest because of their habit of tunneling inside wood and rigid foam insulation. Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not feed on wood, but use it solely for building the nest. They can be especially dangerous if they infest your house foundation.

  • Control measures – treat exposed parts of wooden structure with Bora Care against moisture accumulation. If you notice ant damage, repair it and prevent them from reaching that spot again. Deny them nesting areas by excavating stumps and taking care of injured trees. Inspect firewood before taking it inside. As these ants love trees, they will likely use branches to reach your roof. Prune all branches that touch the house. Discovered nests should be treated with boric acid.



By Mfield, Matthew Field, (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

 Colonies of these hard-working pest insects are so feared by homeowners that you can often hear that only a full scale extermination procedure gives results. However, homeowners forget that these operations are costly, and that not only these pesticides are harmful for the environments, but can also present a risk to the inhabitants.

  • Control measures – Termites feed on wood, but cannot live in it for long. Actually they live in a nest that is often underground and commute to your structure only to feed. By attacking the nest or shelter tubes that they use to enter your structure with vinegar, you can effectively stop them in tracks. If needed, apply the vinegar few more times. Another green way of dealing with them steps into the field of biological warfare. Nematodes are microscopic worms that can be bought in containers and poured as a water solution into the nest or shelter tubes. They effectively kill termites by infecting them.


wasp-564609_640 Although there are certain benefits from wasps, like pollination and killing other pests, there are much more reasons not to leave them be. For example, if you have a small backyard, or their nest is built low along your path, it would be really hard not to disturb them. The pesticides that are used in spray cans are strong enough to kill your pet if it eats a dead wasp.

  • Control Measures – the easiest way to keep them off is to hang a fake paper nest. Although it doesn’t work every time, wasps are territorial and won’t get into another gang’s area. There are all kinds of wasp traps and you can make some yourself. The trick is to use savory bait, like tuna or a piece of sausage as sweet bait will attract honeybees, too. You can find eco pest control products against wasps such as EcoPCO JET-X – Wasp & Hornet Jet Aerosol which are as effective as heavy duty chemical products but they are made of 100% natural ingredients.

Green ways of dealing with pests vary from prevention, keeping them at bay, to natural bait traps and non-toxic spray products. They are best used combined, respective to the infestation level.

Keeping Indoor Air Quality Healthy

July 18th, 2015 by Contributor No comments »

Keeping the Indoor Air Quality HealthyKeeping the Indoor Air Quality Healthy

One of the things people rarely think about is the air quality in their homes. Air is usually something we never notice, after all. But keeping it clean is a very important task as it does have a great effect on our health, especially the indoor air quality – after all, you spend most of your life in your home. But how do you go about maintaining the air’s healthy quality?

There are many ways of doing that. One of them, of course, is preventing the bad air to penetrate your home. Avoid smoking indoors. You have seen the signs on all cigarette packages, so you should be aware that smoking is harmful. Double that when you smoke inside as the smoke seeps into all the furniture and curtains, and not only leaves a questionable air quality, but a very nasty and hard to remove odour, as well. If you are a smoker and cannot give it up, simply use the balcony or smoke when outside.

Two, you should avoid using certain types of paints, stains, coatings, and carpeting that contain volatile organic compounds such as benzene, toluene, arsenic, formaldehyde and xylene.. Similar to the smoking they leave a bad odour behind, and will off-gas  , potentially causing negative health effects such as respiratory problems, headaches and general illness, dizziness, etc. These products have been known to emit their VOCs for days, weeks and even years after use or application.. Be careful about what type of paint, varnish or carpeting you bring to your home and look for low or zero VOC options which are now more commonly available. Three, have a look at your cleaning products. You will notice that most cleaning products have a very volatile effect on the air quality, as they are filled with different chemicals that evaporate right into the indoor air, and if you do not ventilate properly, you breathe in all the toxins from that product. Try avoiding all this with green cleaning products. If you are all too attached to your own cleaning products and have no intention of changing them, here are some tips on how to keep your indoor air quality healthy :

Use only the amount necessary for cleaning.
Do not mix cleaning products.
Always read the label.
Ventilate often (keep your kitchen and bathroom fans on while cleaning).
Rinse after application.
Throw away old containers.

But, ultimately, you should just use green products. There are many new eco-friendly products today on the market that specialise in air quality control. They are more costly, but health has no price. Otherwise, you can go completely green and use home-made products while home cleaning. There is a variety of everyday items in your very kitchen which you can use. Use baking soda and vinegar for just about everything – carpet cleaning, oven cleaning, kitchen cleaning, etc. They can fight any stain just as good as a labeled cleaning product, but without the negative effects. Use salt for the dishes to avoid rashes on your hands, and all the dish washing fluid’s chemicals affecting the air. Add lemon juice to the picture and it will not only remove all previous nasty odours, but it will freshen up the air with a nice smell as well.

You do not have to resort to cleaning companies to keep the air clean in your home. Simply think green and the air quality will rise when you remove all the chemicals and toxins from your home. Read more at: Oneoff Cleaning.

Get Adobe Flash player