Archive for the ‘What’s new?’ category

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:
  • T-shirt transfers (dark or light)
  • photos printed from computer
  • wood blocks
  • iron
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.

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