Archive for the ‘What’s new?’ category

Scotiabank’s Ecoliving Awards Now Open!

November 23rd, 2012

The Scotiabank Ecoliving award rewards Canadian businesses, innovators and students in the field of home energy efficiency products and services. The purpose is to showcase the great work that is happening in energy efficiency around Canada. There are three categories:

1. $50,000 Business Leadership Award: This award is for the business that provides eco-friendly products or services to the residential sector.

2. $15,000 Innovator’s Award: This is for a company or individual who has developed a prototype or is in the early stages of development of a residential energy efficiency product or service.

3. $10,000 Student Leadership Award: This is for a full-time enrolled post secondary student involved in developing a prototype or innovative concept in the realm of home energy efficiency.

The first Scotiabank Ecoliving Awards were given away in 2011 to three very worthy businesses and individuals. In fact reading about them made my eyes water-up, but I’m a sucker for brilliant ideas and the brilliant people behind them.

To give you an idea of what creative Canadians are up to, Scotiabank followed up with the three recipients of the 2011 awards to see how they were using their awards. They’ve all put them to good use.

BUILD, based in Winnipeg, MB was the Business Leadership Award winner. Shaun Loney, the  executive director of this not-for-profit organization, is like the Mother Theresa of contractors.  His organization is killing three birds with one stone:

  • BUILD trains people to retro homes to make them more energy and water efficient, giving them employment. The group also retrofitted an old building into a Social Enterprise Centre where they share the space with a co-op hardware store and a bedbug remediation centre — in total the 3 groups employ 150 people who would otherwise not have jobs.
  • BUILD used their award to successfully lobby the Manitoba government to pass Bill 24, The Energy Savings Act. Winnipeg will be the first jurisdiction in North America where utility companies will pay for energy and water efficiency infrastructure improvements in low income areas. The idea is that Hydro Manitoba will install them, and the charges will go on the resident’s now reduced Hydro bill so residents will benefit from the better efficiency and not see a change in their monthly bill.
  • BUILD retrofits low-income homes so it is increasing residential energy efficiency in Manitoba while training and employing people from low-income neighbourhoods who might not have other opportunities. It’s a win-win-win.

Alex Lerche of EcoPlus Home won the Innovator’s Award. Based in Bathurst, NB, EcoHomes Plus makes low-footprint, energy-efficient homes. The company’s homes have since been added to houses available to build in six sustainable communities across North America. EcoPlus homes have been used in Serenbe, GA, an award winning green community. In fact, Alex had the idea of opening up a 2200 sq. foot “life lab” in Serenbe to demonstrate to Georgians the energy efficient technologies available today (such as induction cooktops), that don’t affect quality of life. In an area where air conditioning costs eat up a huge portion of residents’ electricity bill, (as well as putting pressure on the grid), convincing people to invest in more energy efficient technologies is critical.

Eden Full, the Student Leadership Award Winner, has used her money to further tweak her invention of the SunSaluter. It rotates with the sun to collect up to 40% more sun, meaning 40% fewer solar panels are needed to maximize energy output. Eden’s further goals are to help electrify areas in developing countries from a monastery and orphanage in India to a school in Uganda.

To read about the winners in more detail, visit the Scotiabank Ecoliving awards web page.

For all the details on how to enter the Scotiabank Ecoliving Awards competition, visit this page.

Entries are being accepted until February 15, 2013.


Aspera Recycling and Greentree Provide Carpet Recycling for the Maritimes

October 24th, 2012

I’ve written about Aspera Recycling before. They already work with a few municipalities and retailers in Ontario to keep old carpet out of landfill. For those who live in the Maritimes, here is some good news about how to get rid of your old carpet!

HALIFAX – During the Carpet Recycling Summit in Halifax last week, Aspera Recycling Inc., the leader in postconsumer
and post-industrial carpet recycling in Canada, announced the opening of Aspera Atlantic a division that
will service the Maritime region. The Ontario based company has partnered with Greentree Resources of Halifax
NS to open a collection and sorting facility, the first of its kind in the Maritime Provinces.
It is estimated that Nova Scotians discard between 6800-7900 tons of waste carpet each year. Currently, there is no
other facility in Atlantic Canada that accepts used carpet for recycling. By working closely with leading carpet
manufactures and retailers, Aspera Atlantic will be able to reach its goals of diverting carpet from landfills and
maximizing the utilization of the recycled components.
“Carpet is made of plastic and putting it into landfills where it will sit for centuries to come is just not a sustainable
solution” says Richard White, President of Aspera Recycling. “The RRFB and the Nova Scotia government
recognize not only the environmental impact of this practice but the loss of non-renewable resources. We are
delighted about our partnership with Greentree to launch the diversion and recycling business in the region to help
solve this problem.”
Aspera Atlantic will collect, sort and prepare the carpet for processing. Paul Behner, President of Greentree
Resources said “We are very pleased to partner with Aspera and provide a solution to the Atlantic Region.” In 2008,
Behner was recognized by the Eco-Efficiency Centre for Environmental Excellence in Business for his work in civil
construction. “I am passionate about recycling; I see a world where all materials can be recycled with a goal to create
net positive impact on the environment.”
About Aspera Recycling

Aspera Recycling was founded in March of 2011 as a pro-active response to meet growing demand for waste
diversion and the recycling of post consumer used carpet. Having established a Canada wide collection network,
Aspera is the first national waste carpet diversion and recycling company with collection and sorting facilities in
Vancouver and processing facilities in Toronto.

About Greentree Resources
Greentree Resources, located at 933 Cobequid Road, Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia is an eco-station development
with a long standing history of recycling.

::via Aspera Recycling

US Solar Decathlon 2013 Team Ontario

September 6th, 2012


Team Ontario consisting of students from Queen's, Carlton universities, and Algonquin College

While I’d heard of the US Solar Decathlon, I confess I didn’t know a lot about it other than teams had to design and build small houses that ran on 100% renewable electricity. Then I met Dayna Malich, a team member of Team Ontario, one of two Canadian teams which entered and have been accepted to compete in the 2013 Solar Decathlon. (Team Alberta is the other Canadian team). This event was first held in Washington, DC, in 2002 and has since been held in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011.  This is the first time is it being held in Irvine, California. Teams from all over the world can put submit a proposal. The top 20 designs selected by the United States’ Department of the Environment are selected to build their homes in Irvine.

The decathlon contest rules require that the homes must be between 600-1000 ft2, affordable and appealing to the consumer, run entirely on solar electricity (have a net zero energy balance or better), and compete in ten different categories, some of which are juried, others are measured. The team with the most points at the end of the competition is the winner. There is a height restriction so that competitors won’t shade their opponents’ solar panels at any time during the day. From the Solar Decathlon website:

Each contest is worth a maximum of 100 points, for a competition total of 1,000 points.

Teams can earn points three ways:

  1. Task completion
    Teams complete household tasks such as cooking, washing dishes, and doing laundry.
  2. Monitored performance
    Team houses perform to specified criteria, such as maintaining a comfortable (71°–76°F) indoor temperature range.
  3. Jury evaluation
    Jurors who are experts in their field (such as architecture, engineering, and communications) award points for features that cannot be measured (such as aesthetics and design inspiration).

Contests based on task completion or monitored performance are called measured contests; contests based on jury evaluation are call juried contests.

Learn more about the 10 Solar Decathlon 2013 contests:

In addition to the juried and measured contests, the entrants have to use the house as it would be used in a normal family setting.  Contestants have to host a dinner party and a movie night, do laundry, wash dishes and keep the house within the 71-76F range  with humidity at a comfortable level throughout the contest.
All teams are selected from post secondary institutions from around the world. Team Ontario is a group of students from Queen’s University, Carlton University and Algonquin College.

Team Ontario Artist's Rendering for US Solar Decathlon 2013 Entry

I spoke with Karl Kadwell, the project manager of Team Ontario, about their project, the Decathlon itself and what they hope to achieve with their entry.

Students from Queen’s and Carleton universities first got involved with the solar decathlon in 2009 when they entered the competition for 2011. Although they were short-listed for the 25 they were not selected for the final twenty teams so they regrouped.  They took the next two years to build the team while improving their modelling and technical skills, and then partnered with Algonquin College for 2013 competition. They went to the 2011 competition to see what had worked for the 2011 contestants and stayed in contact with several of the competing teams during before the 2011 competition. Algonquin was brought in because of their advanced housing program at their Perth campus, and the house will initially be constructed in Perth. They have great technical programs and have been doing the bulk of the drafting and CAD work.

According to contest rules, the houses are supposed to be designed and judged for each respective geographic location. But they also need to perform well in California. A lot has to be taken into account when designing the structure. Not only does the house have to have a low energy load that can be generated entirely by its own solar panels, it has to look good (market appeal) and be affordable (defined as costing US$250,000).

Size and Design: Homes are restricted to being between 600-1000 ft2 — a starter home for a young and small family of a couple and one child. The homes must be places that people want to live in and can afford to buy. That means they must be aesthetically pleasing — which is always a big deal to me, because if it isn’t attractive and functional, and no one wants to live in it, then it’s not a very good design.

Passive house features have also been included in this house. Maximizing southern exposure in winter, and minimizing it in summer is a key design feature of the house. The design team has incorporated a special exo-structure that will help shade the windows in summer, but allow light in in winter. Thermal mass will be incorporated into flooring and counter tops.

The HVAC system will also be an advanced system. So far it is based on a system of heat exchangers and involves two water tanks, one cold and one hot. The hot water tank will provide heating and hot water. The cold water tank will provide a sink for excess heat in the system. It’s a fairly complex system and it will only be with time and testing that the final model will emerge.  In all homes with exceptionally tight building envelopes a heat or energy recovery ventilator is used to extract stale air from the home in bring in fresh outside air, preheated or cooled by the exchanger before it is sent into the house. The general debate or rule of thumb is that in warm climates an energy recovery ventilator is best and in cool climates a heat recovery ventilator is best. Karl said that this was in fact an issue that they’d been wrestling with and in the end have found and are testing a unit that can be either an ERV or HRV. If it works to their satisfaction, the unit will be an ERV in California and an HRV in eastern Ontario.

Energy Balance: throughout the contest, the homes will be judged on how energy is used. All homes must operate as they would if they were in use by a normal family. This is the reason behind the hosting of a dinner party — where all food must be prepared and stored in-house — a movie night, to see how the home adjusts to different occupancy and energy loads. Laundry must be done in the house as well, as the home needs to be used as it would in a regular setting. The designers, therefore have to think about energy loads all the way along — how much energy can the solar panels generate? Is there a storage system (battery system) to store excess energy to draw from later, etc. They are striving for a net positive energy balance — where more energy is produced by the home than consumed.

Materials choice: Karl told me that in the past and in current models, all teams do their best to take into consideration the impact of materials used. They look at materials’ embodied energy, where it’s sourced from, its impact on the earth, how recycleable it is at end of life and durability of the material itself. This information has to be incorporated into the overall affordability of the home itself. Many green materials can have an overall price premium on them, so there is a fine balancing act that teams need to play.

One of the interesting materials that they’re looking at using  is Panasonic’s vacuum insulated panels (VIPs) for the building envelope. VIPs have an R value of 60/inch. If Team Ontario’s system is successful, imagine what it could mean for urban infills where space is at a premium? The panels themselves are 1/2″ thick with an associated R value of 30. As Karl explained to me, the entire house will not have an R value of 60 because there will be thermal bridging, and of course there are doors and windows. To prevent a certain amount of thermal bridging, they will stagger two layers of panels so that seams are interspersed. The house itself will also have a traditional stick wood frame, a flat roof with more VIPs used and some additional insulation.

Water balance: teams need to account for how much water their homes use during the contest. They will do a water budget at the beginning of the project and incorporate a water storage tank onsite. Each home’s water tank will be filled once during the contest, according to its predicted budget. It’s up to the team to manage the water use throughout the contest. Karl said that low flow fixtures and rainwater harvesting are being incorporated into the design. Waste water will be measured at the end of the contest to see how much water was used during the contest.

One of the key design points that needed to be considered from the beginning of the project is transportation of the home. This house has to  travel from Perth, Ontario (where it will be built initially), to Irvine, CA and reconstructed. While the team looked at both train and truck, in the end they decided on a truck shipping system because of the ability to design a slightly larger home. If train transportation was used, all components need to be designed to fit into the train shipping containers.

Budget: While the US DOE gives each team $100,000 over two years upon meeting certain benchmarks, the entire project is projected to cost around $900,000. In addition to engineering, architecture and building departments, students from the commerce faculty are also actively involved in this project helping to raise money and develop and implement marketing plans.

There are several benefits to running this contest:

The students and faculty of the involved schools are pushed to come up with creative new ways to look at housing design. These are designs that can be used by the next generation of architects, engineers and related field technicians.

The students working on the projects get to apply their knowledge and creativity within a real work environment, possible years ahead of where they would be doing similar work in their post-university career.

The public, who are lucky enough to be able to view these homes, learn about building materials and techniques that are feasible with today’s technology but are also affordable.

The event gets wide media coverage from media outlets worldwide and aims to shift general thinking about better and more energy efficient housing.

The US government sees value in the contest because it trains the leaders of tomorrow and helps evolve the housing industry.

It also gets a first hand look at some of the latest thinking and modelling in energy efficient housing.

For more information on the Solar Decathlon, 2013, visit the website. To see Team Ontario’s progress, visit

The house will be open for viewing in Perth, ON sometime in mid 2013, before it gets deconstructed and shipped to Irvine, CA for the contest. After the competition, it will be reconstructed back here, although where (Kingston, Ottawa or Perth, ON), is not yet known.
The Solar Decathlon will take place Oct. 3–13, 2013, at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. The competition houses will be open to visitors on eight days over two weekends. Public hours will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily:

  • Thursday, Oct. 3–Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013
  • Thursday, Oct. 10–Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.

Good luck Team Ontario!




Recycling Electronics in Quebec: Environmental Handling Fee as of October 1st, 2012

August 15th, 2012

broken keyboard, defunct speakers

Starting October 1, 2012 there will be an Environmental Handling Fee (EHF) charged to a variety of new electronics purchased in Quebec. Quebec will join 7 other provinces which currently charge an environmental handling fee for safe disposal of electronic items.

What is an environmental handling fee?: An environmental handling fee is indicated on receipts for electronic purchases as an “EHF” with an associated cost. The fee covers the cost of recovering and recycling or processing that electronic once it reaches its end of life. The money goes to the Association pour le recyclage des produits electronique du Quebec (ARPE) which manages the program, identifies and certifies recyclers and processors of electronic waste, as well as funding drop-off centres where consumers and businesses can take their old electronics. The environmental handling fee will vary by product. The fee is meant to reflect the true cost of disposing the product.

Best Buy has a document on its website which outlines what the environmental handling fees are by product and province. Visit its website to learn more.

Where electronic items can be dropped off: There are several municipalities within Quebec that already operate drop-off centres for old electronics. These will continue to exist, but will now be funded by the ARPE. There is no charge for dropping off old electronics. Keeping them out of landfill is very important, however, given that there are many valuable metals within electronics that can be extracted and reused, as well as toxic materials that should not leach into the ground. Recycling is the most reponsible method of disposing of electronic devices.

In addition to municipalities already participating in e-waste recycling, Bureau en Gros (Staples outside of Quebec) also has drop-off depots for old electronics.

All e-waste is then collected and sent to certified recyclers and processors for recovery.

For a list of depots and municipalities that participate in e-waste collection in Quebec, see this page on the ARPE site.

To find a list of depots and municipalities in other provinces, visit the EPRA homepage (Electronic Products Recycling Association) to find your province, items accepted for recycling and depots where you can drop them off.

What kinds of electronic and electrical devices can be recycled?: Below is a list of products that can currently accepted for safe disposal and recycling in Quebec. Hopefully the list will grow as the program becomes more established. (source)


What Can I Recycle (in Quebec)?


Portable Computers

  • Laptop computer
  • Notebook computer
  • Tablet computer
  • Netbook computer
  • E-book readers

Desktop Computer

  • Computer terminal
  • Desktop computer used as a server
  • Thin client or Net top Computers

Display Devices

  • Television
  • Computer monitor
  • Professional display
  • Closed circuit monitor screen
  • TV with built-in DVD and/or VCR player/recorder
  • All in one computer

Printers, Scanners and Fax Machines

  • Desktop printers
  • Desktop scanners
  • Desktop MFDs
  • Camera dock printers
  • Desktop business card scanners
  • Desktop cheque scanners
  • Desktop computer scanners
  • Desktop fax machines
  • Desktop label, barcode, card printers
  • Desktop photo negative scanner

Floor standing Print, Copy, Fax and Multi-Functions Product

  • Floor standing printers
  • Floor standing scanners
  • Floor standing MFDs
  • Floor standing fax machine drum scanners
  • Floor standing fax machine photocopiers
  • Floor standing fax machines

Computer Peripherals

  • Mouse
  • Trackball
  • Keyboard
  • Keypad
  • Cables
  • Connectors
  • Chargers
  • Remotes

NON-Cellular Phones and Answering Machines

  • Telephones (corded and cordless, VoIP, satellite phones)
  • Telephone line answering machines (cassette and digital)
  • Speaker/Conference phone

Cellular devices and Pagers

  • Cellular phones, including those offering camera, video recording and/or audio functions
  • Smart phones (cell-enabled)
  • Palmtop computers (cell-enabled)
  • Cell-enabled PDAs utilizing touch-screen technology
  • Cell-enabled handheld devices
  • Pagers
The e-waste collection programs vary significantly from province to province. British Columbia’s is the most advanced, charging handling fees on almost any computer, small appliance or electronic, but it also accepts almost all electrical devices for recycling.

::via Blueway

Sustainable Building Courses Coming to Toronto

July 10th, 2012

Two very green home courses will be held in Toronto in the next little while.

The first one is a certified Passive House Training course, being held at Ryerson University in two phases: Phase one, July 31-Aug 4th, 2012 and Phase two, August 20th-23rd, 2012. Passive House certification seems to be gaining ground in Canada. Ross Elliot, the course leaders, is a Passive House Certified Trainer/Consultant. To give you some idea of how quickly Passive House building is growing, Ross is currently working on 8 Passive House projects, but anticipates to be working on another 30 this year. In a nutshell, Passive House building consists of building an envelope so tight while using passive solar heating techniques, that a traditional furnace is no longer needed to heat a home.

A study done in the spring of 2011 for the Canadian Home Builders Association found that energy- efficiency is now a “must have” feature for buyers and has become “significantly more important”  to Canadian consumers. A series of U.S. studies in recent years reveal green features are a key factor for consumers:

  • 70% of buyers are willing to pay more for a green home
  • 80% of buyers would choose the most energy-efficient home
  • 55% list “green” features as an important part of the decision to purchase
  • 70% of homebuyers are more likely to buy green in a tough economy
  • 79% are willing to pay more for a home with predictable energy costs
“Buildings in Canada plus their associated electricity use currently exceed all transportation emissions combined. Why are people still content to build leaky, uncomfortable, energy guzzling homes when we know a better way?” asks Elliott.

This course will teach you to implement Passive House principles in residential, commercial, and retrofit scenarios. Topics will include;

  • Principles of Passive House design – heat transfer, air-tightness, super-insulation, ventilation and moisture control
  • Instruction in the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), a powerful and precise energy modelling software
  • Minimizing mechanical systems (Energy Recovery Ventilation)
  • Passive House construction examples plus materials selection and trainees will perform cost optimization and economic feasibility studies
  • Quality Assurance techniques

The nine-day PHIUS Passive House Consultants Training is approved for GBCI CE Hours (32 hours)

In addition to himself, Elliot has assembled a team of experienced Passive House instructors to teach the course.

Elliott’s team includes:

  • Russell Richman, CEO of Russell Richman Consulting Ltd. an engineering firm in Toronto specializing in sustainable buildings. He is also an Assistant Professor of Building Science at Ryerson University
  • Ryan Abendroth, the Certification Manager at the Passive House Institute US and a Certified Passive House Consultant and Trainer. He is also Principal of Passive Energy Designs LLC in Missouri
  • Graham Irwin of California has worked in construction for more than twenty years and was one of the first Passive House Consultants in the US. He has a degree in physics with additional studies in engineering and architecture and he is Principal of Essential Habitat Consulting.

The cost of the course is $2250, plus $250 to take the Certified Passive House Consultant exam. The course also counts 32 hours towards GBCI (LEED continuing education) and AIA continuing education credits.

For more information on the Passive House course, visit the website.


The second course that’s coming to Toronto is an Earthship course, being held at the ROM theatre September 21-23rd, 2012. Cost is $400. The philosophy behind Earthship buildings is that buildings should use local, lowest impact materials possible to build a superior energy efficient dwelling. Usually, that means building with local refuse such as old tires, plastic, discarded water bottles, used glass bottles, etc. Energy consumed is from 100% renewable sources, rainwater is harvested, and waste is treated on site. In addition, you can usually grow some of your food inside and outside of an earthship. Houses tend to be of a whimsical nature that remind me of a cross between something out of Whoville and Luke Skywalker’s childhood home. To see some examples of Earthship dwellings, visit Kirsten Jacobsen’s Earthship page on Flickr.

Here is the itinerary for the course. Note that everyone who attends all three days will receive a certificate of completion.


Friday September 21
10:00am – 12:00pm
History of Earthships discussion/presentation of how and why they evolved.

2:00pm – 5:00pm
Solar/Thermal dynamics: discussion/presentation of how the Earthships heat and cool themselves and how this is integrated with the structure and climate.

Saturday September 22
10:00am – 12:00pm
Custom Earthships: discussion/presentation on custom Earthships and how to design them.

2:00pm – 5:00pm
Earthship Systems: discussion/presentation of specific details of the Earthship Systems independent power, water, sewage and food production.

Sunday September 23
10:00am – 12:30pm
Earthship Disaster Relief projects around the world discussion/presentation of how Earthships are evolved by
these projects.

2:00pm – 5:00pm
Types of Earthships – discussion/presentation of the various types of Earthships and how to get started on your own.

***UPDATE***July 11, 2012

I was just contacted by Chris Magwood of the Endeavour Centre, based in Peterborough who asked me to pass along a few courses the centre is also offering:

On July 26 we’re presenting Architecture After Oil, a public talk by California designer and engineer Bruce King, who heads up the Ecological Building Network and has written several key books on earthen and straw bale building.

On July 27, Bruce King is teaming up with another influential engineer, John Straube (of for a professional seminar called Engineering Outside the Box.

Both of these events are being held at Ryerson University, The Pit, 325 Church Street. The web link for these events on our site is

We’re also putting on a Make Your Own Solar Shower workshop on July 29, an Earthen Floors workshop on August 19 and a How to Design Your Own Sustainable Home workshop on Oct 13-14. The link to workshop listings is



Highlights from the CaGBC National Conference — Expo

June 27th, 2012

When I was at the Canada Green Building Council national conference a few weeks ago, there was a small expo in addition to the green building seminars. Most of the exhibitors were businesses that work with other businesses — it was hard to find companies that dealt with residential building. That being said, there were a few interesting highlights that provide some solutions to a few of my non-residential environmental pet peeves.

Petpeeve #1Wasted rainwater: As cities become larger, and more land becomes paved or lost to development, storm water run-off becomes a big problem. In addition to overloading sewer systems, storm water carries all kinds of contaminates collected on roadways before going into the sewer. That storm water ends up in rivers and lakes, polluting them and damaging increasingly fragile ecosystems. On the other hand, using potable (drinkable) water to water decorative gardens, lawns, wash cars, and water down clay tennis courts is wasteful, energy intensive and unnecessary. Gray water and rainwater harvesting systems are becoming increasingly common, and now some municipalities are requiring them in new builds.

Solution: Reflo commercial-grade rainwater harvesting offers a turnkey system to capture, filter and treat rainwater and then to have it ready for watering gardens and lawns, washing vehicle fleets or watering clay tennis courts and lawn-bowling lawns. The system is designed for large rooftops of multi-unit housing, large commercial or institutional buildings. Rainwater from the roof is collected and led through a filter before ending up in a holding tank.


Petpeeve #2: retailers leaving doors to the street open in extreme weather including hot summer days or freezing winter days — talk about a waste of energy!

Solution: The Invisidor CA constant air velocity technology creates an air curtain that keeps the temperature inside the retail store constant regardless of the temperature outside while the door remains open. It is available in three different widths and can be attached to each other to form a wider unit. It can be fastened to a wall or recessed into the ceiling, and is available as a water unit (to attach to the main boiler), or with electric heating unit. Although the Invisidor CA uses energy to run, it is far more efficient than leaving doors open to the elements and letting heat escape.  It has been certified, UL, CSA, ISO 9001, and ISO 14001.

Biddle air curtain

Petpeeve #3: residential construction waste. Every time I see a dumpster outside a home I cringe thinking of all the material going straight to landfill because to separate and recycle material isn’t cost effective for most contractors.

Solution: Countrywide Recyclers. Countrywide opened its doors in April, 2011 in Hamilton, ON. It offers its clients full-service construction and demolition recycling, meaning, they will do the sorting and separating for you and give you back an itemized sheet of what has been recycled. This is important for LEED projects as minimizing waste is one of the key items of building a new or renovated building. Countrywide estimates that it is able to keep 65% of waste it receives out of landfill and they are always looking to increase that number. Located in Hamilton, ON, it accepts waste from clients in Toronto and other locations around Hamilton.

Petpeeve #4: carpeted basements. (This is a residential petpeeve.) While it’s completely understandable that people want to carpet the usual cold, and often humid, basement in order to try and alleviate some of the dampness, wall-to-wall carpeting in the basement is just asking for trouble. The basement is often the first place to get any water damage during heavy rains or sudden thaw-freeze cycles in the winter. Wall-to-wall carpet affected by floods usually has to be pulled up and thrown away — and most of us don’t have access to Aspera Recycling to avoid sending carpet to landfill. If you like carpet in the basement use an area rug. If it gets wet, it can usually be salvaged by a good carpet cleaning company.

Solution: DRIcore subfloor (residential). Okay, so this is only a partial solution since flooded basements can occur through open basement drains, toilets, and through below-grade walls. DRIcore subfloor is an all-in-one subfloor that lets any dampness coming up through the concrete foundation evaporate instead of staying on the bottom of the subfloor where it can cause mold to form. It is a two-layer subfloor that creates an air gap between the concrete and the subfloor allowing water to evaporate. Easy to install as it come in 23 1/2″x 23 1/2″ panels that press-fit together quickly and easily. Good for carpet, tile, engineered hardwood and vinyl.

Available at Nadurra Wood Flooring Corporation and other flooring retailers.

Home Sweet Home Competition and Student Challenge 2013

June 22nd, 2012

 Last week the National Conference for the Canada Green Building Council was held in Toronto. It was the perfect time for the Home Sweet Home Competition to launch, and what better place to do it than at the winner of last year’s home renovation award, The Rosedale House?

There are two divisions of the Home Sweet Home Competition — one is for professionals and residential projects that have already been built, the other is for students from universities and colleges across Ontario, to design a well-built, low energy-using dwelling. The competition was developed by Mindscape  Innovations Group as they were developing the Ontario GreenSpec directory — a listing of services and businesses that sell green building materials across Ontario. They saw a gap in the category of green building awards; there were awards that were national, and others that were regional, but there were no awards at the provincial level, so they developed one.

The purpose of the competition is to highlight new and innovative house building projects and in particular, designs which focus on lowering a home’s carbon and water footprint, as well as the materials used. Finally, the competition recognizes that homes are built by teams of people, and that the end-result of their work is demonstrated in the finished product. Winning projects demonstrate that constructing a home that uses less, well, everything, is not only achievable, but also beautiful, easy to maintain, with low running costs. Emphasis is put on using as many local products as possible, and materials which are produced in an ethical and fair way, and preferably close to the building site.

You can see the winner of the 2011 Home Sweet Home Competition here as well as the winner of the Student Challenge, here.

So that homes can be judged against similar entries, the professional competition is divided into four categories:

  1. Production Home
  2. Custom Home
  3. Affordable Home
  4. Renovated Home

As this is a provincial competition, the home must also be built in Ontario.

The Student Challenge offers the opportunity for students enrolled in building and design programs at colleges and universities across Ontario to enter their best designs which should demonstrate the following characteristics:

An entry should be

  1. Healthy and Comfortable,
  2. Efficient, Affordable and Economical,
  3. Ethical: Socially and Ecologically Responsible.

All entries will be screened for energy efficiency and technical design aspects before the judges look at the entries. Because they structure the challenge around a story problem, to make it more realistic, this year they were able to get Rick Mercer involved. The story goes like this: Rick, “the unofficial lead of the opposition,” is having a “granny flat” built for him on the property of 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa. The address should be known to Canadians, as it is the residence of the Prime Minister. The students’ task is to design a home that is situated on a pre-determined piece of land at 24 Sussex, and the final product should be no larger than 8000 cubic feet or 262 cubic meters.

I was thrilled and honoured that the nice people at Mindscape invited me to be one of the jury members, and a distinguished jury it is! I am looking forward to seeing what the students design.

Some of the Jury Members from the HSH Competition and Student Challenge. Left to right: Ted Kesik (Competition), me (Challenge), Derek Satnik (Mindscape), Dave LeBlanc (Competition), Lloyd Alter (Challenge). Photo courtesy of Deena Huertazuela

To find out more about either the Student Challenge or the Professional Competition, visit the main website for Home Sweet Home.

To see the winning entries from 2011, visit this page:


ToolGirl Mag Ruffman Teaching Kids and Parents How to Work with Tools

December 13th, 2011

Mag's go-kart!

As ToolGirl, Mag Ruffman has successfully shown women how to work with a variety of power tools. She believes it’s time to move to her next project: helping children learn how to use tools. When she first came up with the idea, she pitched three different ideas for TV shows to three different TV stations, and was turned down flat each time. Mag figures the big issue is liability, with TV people believing that children + tools = disaster waiting to happen = Lawsuit.

Undaunted, she approached Lowe’s with the same idea and since Lowe’s already has a parent and child workshop program, they thought it was a great idea. Now Mag’s producing online videos working with kids, teaching them and parents how to do simple projects together. The videos will be accessible through Lowe’s Canada website, complete with a set of downloadable instructions to make the object that Mag and her colleagues and kids will be making in the video. Mag also told me that within the PDF of instructions there will be links to short videos with information on how to use certain tools. Even some parents who might not be familiar with using some tools will benefit from the instructions. “If you don’t know how to use a circular saw, there will be a link in the instructions to a short video on how to operate it,” she says. Kids’ tasks are kept to assembly, finishing, sanding and some fastening. Parents tasks will include cutting, using heat, and any other more challenging tasks.

The videos will launch on the Lowe’s Canada website in early 2012, will be 3-5 minutes long. Mag’s planning on producing 20 different videos and projects to start.

Mag sent along two projects she’s already tried out with kids.

Homemade chalkboard paint on child's play table

Homemade Chalkboard Paint


  • 250 ml flat zero VOC Paint, any colour. Remember to ask if paint is still zero VOC after tinting. Better yet, buy a small test pot for this project. Mag’s favourite paint is Olympic Premium Latex which is still zero VOC after tinting).
  • 1tbsp unsanded grout (any brand and colour)
  • foam roller brush
Mix the unsanded grout with paint until blended. Apply to prepared surface with foam roller and let dry. Apply a second coat if necessary and let dry.

Mag's Homemade photo blocks

Wood Blocks with Photos

Tools and supplies:
Choose photos and print from your computer onto T-shirt transfer. Try to match photo size to block size. Iron T-shirt transfer directly onto wooden block.
Keep up with Mag’s work at

Untitled from Mag Ruffman on Vimeo.

Do You Buy 1% For the Planet Products?

November 21st, 2011

Okay, I have a confession to make: I’d never heard of 1% for the Planet before this week. Then, through Facebook, I saw that they were in Montreal holding a presentation, so I signed up to go and hear what they have to say.

While this particular presentation was strictly about water (and so I thought the entire organization was about water), it turns out that 1% for the Planet is all about encouraging companies large and small to dedicated 1% of their sales to environmental causes around the world. Now, 1% of sales may sound like a small number but when you consider that a) it is sales and not profit, the number suddenly gets bigger, and b) some of the companies involved are Naya water and Patagonia, the amount of money being committed to environmental groups are in the $100,000s to millions of dollars.

I spoke with Grace from 1% for the Planet about their mission. The organization was founded by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and Craig Matthews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies. They are both passionate environmentalists who knew that in order for business to be successful in the long-run, protecting the environment is essential.

Member companies now donate 1% of their sales to one or many of any of the listed environmental organizations that are approved by 1% for the Planet. If you’re worried that that just means big global environmental organizations, fear not, there are as many small, local groups as there are larger ones. For example, we heard presentations about conservation projects protecting Quebec’s freshwater ecosystem from both The David Suzuki Foundation Quebec Chapter and Fondation de la faune du Quebec. Perusing through the organization’s list of member environmental organizations you will see small local groups as well as large, global groups.

How it works: A company commits 1% of its annual sales to give to environmental causes. It becomes a member of 1% for the Planet. The organization audits the company’s books to make sure the company is donating its committed percentage and the company receives the 1% logo to use on all its printed and other media material. 1% for the planet survives off of membership fees and fundraising, as it too is an environmental not for profit organization.

As a consumer you can support these companies and their efforts by buying their products. If your company already contributes to environmental causes, consider joining this group and wearing your badge proudly. Even if you’re an independent or small business you can join this group. Jack Johnson is a member and we were treated to a performance by Chris Velan, also a member, before and after the presentation.



Zerofootprint: Energy Efficiency through Software, Architectural Design and Human Behaviour

November 14th, 2011

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Ron Dembo, CEO of Zerofootprint. We talked about the three different areas his company is working on right now and all are about achieving the same goal: reducing energy consumption, whether it’s through plug load, adding insulation or by altering human behaviour. Furthermore, Ron and Zerofootprint believe in benchmarking as a starting point. If this sounds at all familiar, then, hooray! you’ve been reading my blog, because I too in a firm believer of knowing where you’re starting from in order to develop a reduction strategy. There was so much to discuss, and Zerofootprint is involved in so many different projects that I separated the information into three different articles.


Finally, Zerofootprint works with organizations such as Earth Hour and provides one minute carbon and water personal calculators to help you find out how you stack up to the average Canadian. The calculators give you a very rough idea of how much CO2 emissions you are responsible for due to your transportation, diet, travel and home. I input my data and am sorry to learn that I am responsible for the emission of 10 tons/year of CO2 — half of which are due to the number of kilometers I put on our minivan. In fact when I switched my answer from my minivan to hybrid, my emissions dropped to 5.3 tons/year. Fortunately I fared much better in water consumption and came in at 85,000 litres per year, about 25% less than the Canadian average, but still not something I’d brag about. If you’re serious about benchmarking your carbon footprint, Zerofootprint offers a more in-depth carbon calculator, but you need access to your utility bills and should block out at least half an hour to fill out the forms. It’s worth it if you really want to know where you stand.


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