Posts Tagged ‘American Clay’

A Visit to Living Rooms — A Healthy Home Store in Kingston, Ontario

February 21st, 2013

 

On yet another monotonous drive down the 401 (thank goodness for audiobooks!) from Montreal to Toronto, I broke up the trip with a stop in Kingston. Living Rooms, owned by two brothers, John and Michael Sinclair, is a mixture of healthy lifestyle products and green building materials.

The brothers  had started their professional lives as painters. But the more they interacted both with the paint and with clients who were becoming concerned about what they were putting on their wall and breathing in the air, the more research the brothers did, the more they sought out alternatives to traditional paints. They started searching for paints that were less toxic to human health with little to no off-gassing of toxic chemicals. Fast forward to the present and low and zero VOC paints are so yesterday. You won’t find any petroleum-based paints in their store, rather, they’ve sourced some really interesting alternatives.

When they began developing their store concept, they worked not on the philosophy of supplying green building products, but rather, they source products while living by standards developed by Bau-Biologie and Permaculture. Bau-Biologie was developed in Germany and is all about creating a healthy indoor environment. The movement focuses on using building materials and home products that don’t off-gas toxic chemicals. Permaculture (which I have written about before), recognizes that all biological systems are closed so that one living thing’s waste product is another’s food source. To that end, on their website they note that their store is not so much about green building materials as it is about sourcing products that are low impact, responsibly-made and better for your health as well as that of the planet’s. In other words, they stay away from a lot of what might be considered electronic green gadgets. The kind of items they stock focus on healthy sleeping, healthy eating and fresh interior air.

Building products: In addition to paints, there are several other better building products to choose from. To name a few that I’ve already written about, there is American Clay, Log’s End flooring (timber salvaged from the bottom of the Ottawa River), IceStone, PaperStone, (for counter tops) Nature’s Carpet (100% wool carpet), Safecoat paints and sealers, Ultratouch cotton insulation….

BUT, they also introduced me to a few new and intriguing products such as insulation made from leftover sheep’s wool, paint made from linseed oil, an intriguing exterior stucco-like product that’s made in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and a new concept: modular built strawbale homes. I’ll discuss each of these products in future posts.

Because they are located in a building which also has artisans and trades, they can also set you up with cabinetmakers and contractors who will take care of any building project work you want done in the Kingston area. Their objective is to source better building and living products as locally as possible and to use local trades and craftsmen to complete their customers’ projects.

Lifestyle products: Another aspect of this store that is the selection of lifestyle products they offer. When John took me around the store he was most enthusiastic about Xtrema, the ceramic cookware and baking line they’ve brought in. He explained that the problem with ceramic cookware in the past has been that it can’t be used over direct heat or it will crack. The manufacturers of this line have solved that problem and Xtrema cookware can be used directly over gas or electric elements (However, it can’t be used with induction cooktops, which use a magnetic pull between cookware and energy source). The cookware is also reasonably priced compared with high-end stainless steel pots and pans. A 24 piece set sells for $530.

Also within the kitchen category, there were tea and coffee makers, and my personal favourite was Presso, a manual espresso maker — perfect for cottage living (although you still have to heat the water).

There are plenty of products that focus on sleep as well. A buckwheat pillow by Eco et Eco, is as local a product as you can get. Except for growing the cotton, all parts of the pillow are made in Quebec. Apparently, buckwheat is a great material for people who sweat a lot around the head and neck area at night as the buckwheat wicks away moisture and heat and allows the sleeper a more even body temperature.

Other bath and sleep products include organic cotton towels, mattresses and mattress pads, and duvets.

In the household cleaning category, Living Rooms carries natural coco scrub pads, natural luffa sponges and soap nuts. Soap nuts look a bit like acorns and are the fruit (called a drupe) of the Sapindus genus of bushes and trees, which grow in tropical climates. The drupe produces a natural soap substance that can be used as a laundry soap. Soapnuts are very versatile and can also be used to make household cleaners, shampoo and even toothpaste! Usually soapnuts can be reused four or five times before they lose there effectiveness. At end of life, they can be composted.

To explore the products they offer on line, visit their website.

If you’re in Kingston or surrounding area,  Living Rooms is located at:

12 Cataraqui Street
Kingston, ON
K7K 1Z7

613.766.6821

info@livingrooms.ws

Regular Store Hours
Monday 10am – 5pm
Tuesday 10am – 5pm
Wednesday 10am – 5pm
Thursday 10am – 5pm
Friday 10am – 5pm
Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday Closed
Or by appointment.

 

 

 

A New Green Building Store in Toronto: “g” GreenDesign Center

June 1st, 2011

 

******UPDATE: UNFORTUNATELY, g GREENDESIGN IN TORONTO HAS CLOSED DOWN AS OF OCTOBER 20, 2011. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON OTHER g GREENDESIGN CENTERS, PLEASE VISIT THEIR WEBSITE AT: http://ggreendesign.com******

 

“g” GreenDesign Center is a new green building store located in the Castlefield Design District in Toronto. If you’re just learning about how to “green” your renovation or build a new greener home, this is a great place to start your search. “g” GreenDesign offers all kinds of small, little one-offs from your picnic supplies (places, cups and cutlery) to ReBinders — recycled cardboard binders — great school supplies for September. But the small items serve a purpose. You come in to buy biodegradable cups and cutlery for your next picnic, but you can also learn so much about greening your next home improvement project while you’re there.

“g” GreenDesign is a franchise owned by David Lee and Joe Caricari, with store manager, Michele Vig. The concept of “g” GreenDesign was developed by Nicole Goldman, with the first location based in Cape Cod, MA. As an interior designer who was building her own house, she wanted to build green but was having difficulty sourcing all the products and trades. Nicole had the idea of developing a green building store that would be a one-stop shop so people wouldn’t have to run all over the place trying to do exactly what she did.  By franchinsing out, she offers homeowners the opportunity to take advantage of all the research and foot work she’s already done. Toronto is the third location of this store. Because suppliers are already in place, sourcing products becomes that much easier. All trades hired, naturally, are local and the store carries local products as well such as milk paint from The Homestead House.

While green interior products abound in the store and, admittedly, are the most fun to put together, it’s also great that they offer all the options for building a tight building envelope, and all the HVAC systems you could dream of — not to mention the design services that will help you put it all together.

“g” GreenDesign carries many of the finishes I’ve written about before including American Clay, PaperStone, IceStone, Eco by Cosentino, Marmoleum, etc., but it also carries many products I have yet to write about including fabrics, window coverings, bamboo products and lighting. I will be visiting shortly to learn more about these products.

The next time you’re in the Castlefield Design District, drop by and take a look around. Michele will be happy to help you out.

“g” GreenDesign Center is located at 113 Miranda Ave, Toronto, ON, M6B 3W8.

Phone: 416-782-9105

website: http://ggreendesign.com

EcoInhabit Brings You the Healthy Home

May 18th, 2011

If you were in the lucky position of being able to build from the ground up, it would be an great time to sit down and have a chat with Tim and Jan Singbeil, the new owners of EcoInhabit, a green building store located in Meaford, Ontario.

Jan and Tim have lived in Meaford for about 20 years, and during that time have been farmers and owned a cabinetry shop. They’re big believers in restoring the land and using benign materials for building. “Benign” in this case refers as much to the off-gassing potential of the product as it does its environmental impact.

When EcoInhabit’s former owners put the business up for sale, Jan and Tim decided it was a good opportunity to expand their cabinetry shop into a full-service green building shop. The store itself offers a variety of green building products, such as American Clay, zero VOC paints and stains and reclaimed flooring. They still maintain their cabinetry operation so they sell solid wood furniture made in their own shop, including kitchen cabinetry and solid wood bed frames. They also sell biodegradable cleaners, reusable produce bags and a line of eco products for babies. It’s a fun place to browse through.

But what you’re really getting when you go into EcoInhabit, is a lesson on building and maintaining a healthy, durable, low-impact home. The Singbeils’ philosophy is that using local, durable materials and building with people from within the community are two of the keys to building durable, healthy buildings. They are also lucky to be able to work with some like-minded customers in the area who are willing participants. Jan and Tim continuously seek out better building techniques so that once built, these structures consume as little energy as possible and don’t off-gas any harsh chemicals.

Tim said that once they were working with a client and their objective was to build a home that would last, at a minimum, of 100 years. Then they decided, “if we’re building a home to last 100 years, why not 300?” The consequence of that target meant that as few mechanical systems were installed as possible; low-tech and no-tech are better than mechanical systems that are definitely not going to last 300 years, or 100 years for that matter. Homes are super-insulated, oriented to take advantage of passive solar energy in the winter and shaded in summer. Heating systems are as small as possible and mechanical cooling systems are avoided as much as possible.

A healthy home is mould and mildew free, sturdy and severe-weather proof, with no off-gassing of toxic chemicals from construction. The Singbeils construct homes with Durisol blocks, and encourage clients to choose American Clay for some wall applications since it works so well with the thermal mass of the Durisol blocks and regulates relative humidity.

They put a lot of thought into home construction and source as locally as possible working with expert trades who are familiar with their green materials. Any particleboard products are NAUF (no added urea-formaldehyde), and now they’re entering a new green area which is EMR, or, electromagnetic radiation, another form of pollution in the form of electricity. I confess that I’m not that familiar with EMR and, so, need to learn a little bit more about it.

To learn more about EcoInhabit and the Singbeils’ building philosophy, visit their website, or better yet, if you happen to be in the Georgian Triangle, make sure you stop by the store.

Website: http://www.ecoinhabit.com/

Location:

121 Old Highway #26
Meaford, Ontario
N4L 1W7

Tel: 1.519.538.0777
Toll-free: 1.888.538.0777
Fax: 1.519.538.0778

Email: info@ecoinhabit.com

Durisol — Insulated Concrete Forms made from Recycled Material

May 12th, 2011

Durisol Building blocks

A few weeks ago I sat down with the new owners of EcoInhabit, a wonderful green building business located in Meaford, ON. Tim and Jan Singbeil are passionate about green building and even more than just building energy efficient homes, they are passionate about building healthy, low energy-consuming homes.

At the core of a healthy home is the use of construction materials that are durable, mould and pest resistant and help with the overall air quality. In this case, the preferred building product for Jan and Tim is Durisol blocks. I was really curious about Durisol and I’d wanted to write about it for a few years, but my biggest hesitation was the fact that Durisol, like any insulated concrete form, depends on concrete for its full benefit, and concrete isn’t exactly the green builder’s best friend with all that energy intensiveness built right in. So I looked at Tim and said, “Convince me that Durisol blocks are a green building material.”

Our conversation lasted for over two fascinating hours, and by the time I left, not only was I a believer in Durisol, I was a believer in “healthy buildings” — which is about so much more than constructing energy efficient buildings — it’s about constructing buildings that take some of the toxic burden off our already too chemically-laden bodies.

If you’re not familiar with Durisol Blocks, they are in the family of Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), however, ironically, ICF manufacturers don’t consider them a direct competitor — and truth be told, they’re not, because they do so much more than provide a sturdy, well-insulated building. An ICF built foundation has many advantages over a simple poured concrete or block concrete foundation. An ICF consists of a “brick”, like a concrete block, typically made out of styrofoam, and filled with concrete. The advantage of this building system is that it’s easy to assemble, it’s extremely sturdy, it uses less concrete than a traditional foundation, and includes insulation so no additional insulation is necessary. It’s also mould and pest resistant.

Durisol up close.

Durisol blocks, however, go beyond ICFs. They are completely petroleum free being made from 80% recycled soft wood waste that would otherwise end up in landfill and 20% concrete. They kind of look like a concrete brick, only the holes are filled with concrete, once the forms are set in place. Imagine putting a house together like constructing with Lego blocks, and are intended to be for contractors and DIYers alike. Tim told me that learning to build with Durisol can be a bit tricky in the beginning, but that once you get the hang of fitting the blocks together, the process is pretty straightforward.*

Construction: similar to lego blocks, it means that there is no thermal bridging — heat can’t escape through the wood studs which happens in a traditional stick-built home. Buildings are solid and durable. Unlike polystyrene ICFs, which are insulated on the interior and exterior of the concrete, Durisol blocks are insulated with recycled mineral wool on the external side of the block only, allowing the other benefits of Durisol to work.

 

Thermal mass: because insulation is on the exterior side of the building block, the concrete within the block is able to act as a significant thermal mass which means it can regulate heating, cooling and relative humidity within a building.

In order to perform the way they were intended, Durisol works best without a vapor barrier between the finished walls and the blocks, which means that a breathable finishing coating such as American Clay or limestone are excellent complementary materials to use. There have been studies done showing the benefits of Durisol, but adding a vapor barrier prevents the walls from doing their job. The concrete won’t be able to act as a thermal mass the way it’s intended, and relative humidity won’t be regulated.

Healthy air: Durisol blocks are made with benign materials so there is no off-gassing of any harmful toxins. Further, when built with a breathable wall finish, the structure acts as an extensive relative humidity regulator because of its hygroscopic qualities. For further information on the benefits of breathing walls, Durisol has developed this comprehensive report.

Mould, pest and vermin resistance. Because these blocks are made with 20% cement, they are mould, pest and vermin resistant. Home air stays healthy. Termites aren’t an issue. Neither are hurricanes for that matter. These blocks are so sturdy when filled with concrete, they are “severe weather” proof.

R-value. Durisol makes several different blocks, narrower ones with no insulation that are good for interior walls, and thicker ones with insulation for exterior walls. The smallest block with no insulation has an R-value of 8. The thermal blocks, that is, those containing recycled mineral wool insulation, range in R value between 14 and 28. Unlike a traditional stick-built home, there is no thermal bridging in Durisol homes. For more detailed information on the block’s thermal performance, read here.

What about the concrete issue? So yes, concrete is used in the building of a Durisol-built home. However, because of the other positive properties of Durisol-built homes, and that the concrete industry is constantly working on lowering its carbon footprint, it can be considered a cost of building for the time-being. Whether or not building with concrete is sustainable, well, that’s a whole different question. The sustainability of a building method implies that it can be repeated infinitely without decreasing or degrading future populations’ needs.

Oh, and if you’re wondering if this is some new-fangled green building material, the answer is no. Durisol has been around since 1953, so its buildings have a proven track-record.

Tim and Jan have convinced me of Durisol’s “green” properties, provided the blocks are used they way they are meant, and not just for energy efficiency, but in the construction of a healthy home. Thanks so much for speaking with me Tim and Jan!

For more information on Durisol, visit the website.

For more information on Tim and Jan Singbeil’s company, visit EcoInhabit’s website.

*In an earlier version of this article I explained that Durisol was not a DIY product and that specialists were needed to build properly with it. However, Tim emailed me to let me know that, in fact, Durisol is made for home installment and only on occasion is his building team called in to help with construction involving Durisol.

Sustain Eco Store, Sustainable Building Store in Huntsville, Ontario

March 1st, 2011

Jonathan McKay from Sustain Eco Living Store in Huntsville

When I was at the Interior Design Show this past January, skimming through the brochure index, many of the green products and services that were there were all represented at one exhibit — that of Sustain, an eco building and lifestyle store based in Huntsville, Ontario. The owners of the store, Jonathan and Celine McKay, are a young couple who have a mission to educate builders and cottagers alike about the importance of building responsibly and sustainably.

I spoke with Celine last week about what they hope to achieve with their business. Celine was very candid with me about their store; she said that their philosophy is to encourage people to introduce small changes into their lives that are better environmentally speaking than the traditional product, so a product they carry might not meet a true “greenie’s” expectations.

Celine and I have a lot of the same goals and philosophies about green building: having a lot of people making small incremental changes will have a better result than a few people making major changes. Not that these latter folk aren’t praise-worthy, they are, it’s just that it’s hard for many people to make dramatic environmental alternations to their lives. Then, of course there’s the fact that many people don’t have an interest in changing their lifestyles or there is the common misconception that “going green” is more costly, or the products don’t work, or aren’t as green as they’re marketed, or even that the styles are “too modern” or “too antique.” While all of these concerns are valid, Celine and Jonathan like to point out that the paths to “a greener lifestyle” are as varied as the number of paint colours on the market. Celine told me that some people come in wanting “toxic free” products, while others want ethically produced products, and others want the lowest environmental impact products available.

Celine and Jonathan’s goal is just to get people to consider using a low VOC paint instead of a regular paint, or perhaps use their bamboo flooring instead of a big box store’s. (Bamboo in itself is a big can of worms that we won’t go into right now, but let’s just say that when it comes to flooring, you get what you pay for: the cheaper it is per square foot, the poorer the quality).

So, when Celine and Jon look at representing a “green” product, they look at every detail of the product from its manufacturing right through to its use. Their important criteria for representing a product are:

  • Is it produced using fair labour practices?
  • Is it produced while safely managing the environment? For example, does the manufacturer have recycling systems in place, conserve, reuse or minimize water? Conserve energy or use renewable energy?
  • Is it produced locally? If not, how is it shipped?
  • Is it produced with the lowest impact ingredients available?
  • If the product is to be visual (like flooring or tile) is it design worthy or attractive? Is it durable? Does it off-gas?
  • Is the retail price point realistic?

Basically, if the product can pass these tests, Celine and Jonathan will carry it in their store. If you look at their website you’ll see a lot of products that I’ve covered before such as PaperStone, American Clay, Nadura flooring, AFM Safecoat and UltraTouch cotton insulation. But in addition to these products they also carry furniture, air purifiers, natural latex mattresses, infrared heaters, and area rugs all of which have a lower environmental impact than their “regular” competition.

You’d think that running a store would be enough for the pair, but in addition to that they also produce a stunning online magazine called Pure Green Magazine. Celine told me that the magazine’s target market are regular home decor magazine readers, such as those who read Canadian House and Home and Style at Home. The goal of Pure Green is to demonstrate that being green doesn’t have to be “out there” on the design front. While a lot of people think that green design is modern and expensive, Celine’s out to demonstrate through concrete examples that green design is just like any other design only with a lighter environmental footprint that’s also healthier for its occupants.

The next time you’re in Huntsville, drop around to their store and have a look. In the meantime you can subscribe to their online magazine here. The next issue is due out in May, 2011.

Thanks again Celine for your time!

Sustain is located at:
8 Crescent Road, Unit B2
Huntsville, ON
P1H 0B3

t.    705-787-0326
f.    705-787-7326

Store Hours:
Monday to Friday: 10 – 5
Saturday: 10 – 4
Sunday: closed

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