Posts Tagged ‘green design’

How to Tell if You’re Working With A Green Kitchen Designer

June 15th, 2011

Kitchen renovations tend to be a first priority when it comes to renovating older homes. There are many reasons for this including colour, design, material use (think terracotta tile flooring from the 80s), and most importantly, functionality. Kitchens are also a great place to start a more eco-friendly renovation. There are more and more green options everyday, and they’re easier to find from efficient appliances to better flooring choices to no-added urea formaldehyde cabinetry.

I was wondering about what kind of things you should look for when you’re searching for a green kitchen designer so I contacted Clara Puskas. Clara knows a thing or two (and more) about green kitchen design. She’s the Chair of the Green Committee for the National Kitchen and Bath Association, as well as an experienced green kitchen designer and has won numerous awards for green kitchen design. So, needless to say, she knows what it takes to design a more eco-friendly kitchen than the norm.

2011 Winner: Small, Green Kitchen

I asked Clara, “What are some of the points that distinguish a green kitchen designer from a regular kitchen designer?” and she responded:

A green kitchen designer will be able to:

  • provide more space without necessarily changing the square footage of the home,
  • focus on natural and task lighting, water and energy saving,
  • work with rapidly renewable/ fsc certified/ zero VOC/ environmentally preferable products, but reuse if possible (try avoidng landfill),
  • design for smart storage, recycling and use,
  • design to use less materials/more open shelves etc, clean look, easy maintenance is priority in green design and product choices,
  • [develop a] design [that] should adapt easily so no major changes/replacements should be needed for 50 years,
  • appliances energy star and as needed depending on home/ family size, cooking style,
  • proper venting, air quality, insulation, windows, doors not only for natural light but to connect with outdoors, decorate with fruits, vegetables, plant to create shade during summer, or use blinds, green roofs…d.epending on how far the client can/willing to go.

The more time and effort you put into the design, the better will be your end-result. Keep these points in mind when searching for green kitchen designers.

Then I asked Clara about how she approaches a new design for her clients.

I start interviewing my clients in their home so I can see the space, the position of the home on the lot, windows, door locations, can we work within the same footprint? Finding out what they like and dislike in their present kitchen, budget vs. extent of reno- wish list, how they use adjacent dining room, are key information. Checking, and upgrading the existing electrical, plumbing, insulation is the perfect time when renovating the kitchen. I also recommend if feasible enlarging , upgrading windows  if there is a nice view and doesn’t compromise storage, function within the same footprint. This helps connect with outdoors, enjoy the four seasons, helps fresh air circulation, and with natural light received that could result in energy savings. When no windows are available,  skylights, solar tubes are wonderful alternatives to consider .  Energy efficient lighting fixtures, dimmers, multiple switches will also promote energy savings. Designing for proper ventilation of gases and moisture is priority for a healthy kitchen.  Also very important how many are in the family, how old they are, how they use the kitchen, do they cook together, further more do they entertain in the kitchen, are the guests involved in preparation of food, or not, in that case the design should keep guests out of the working triangle. All these information  effects fixture, appliance choices beyond being energy star rated. How they shop and therefore store, effects appliance, storage, recycling considerations . I recommend environmentally favorable products that conserve energy, water, improve air quality, rapidly renewable,  long lasting and low maintenance, with consideration of my clients’ height, age,  perhaps physical limitations that all  effects design  choice for mechanism, height of counter tops, appliances, storage under and above. I aim to optimize the existing space’s potential, by using environmentally friendly products that minimize water and energy consumption. and with all these  create safe, functional, healthy and beautiful rooms that meet my clients need and dreams.

As you can see by the detail of Clara’s questions to her clients, there is a lot to take into consideration when designing a new kitchen. Making it a green kitchen adds an additional layer of complexity because it goes well beyond material use — it’s more than just using bamboo as a floor. It’s about keeping the same home footprint, if possible or realistic, using less, not more, of everything which means simpler cabinets with less millwork. Reusing anything that’s possible, etc., bringing in natural light, therefore thinking about smart, efficient window choices….

Chef's kitchen with stainless steel counters, gas appliances, open cabinetry

Chef's Kitchen. Winner in Large Kitchen Category, sustainable design

Finding a green kitchen designer. There are kitchen companies that specialize in green kitchens. Like Clara, designers with a dedication to being environmentally conscious will have received a certain amount of training above and beyond their design degrees, so it’s best to ask them what sort of training they have. Look for training and completed certificates in sustainable kitchen design, lighting, etc., from resource centres such as the American Institute for Architects, and Interior Design schools and organizations. They could also be LEED qualified, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional.) Regarding education, the National Kitchen and Bath Association offers a one-day Green Kitchen Design workshop for its members.

For more information regarding Clara’s services, visit her website, XL Kitchen Studio

All Photos courtesy of Clara Puskas, Chair, Green Committee, National Kitchen and Bath Association.

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

June 1st, 2011




“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


A Tour of the First “Passive House Certified” Residence in Canada

March 8th, 2011

First Certified Passive House Residence in Canada

We went to Ottawa for Family Day weekend to visit my husband’s family. A few weeks before this, I received a press notice that an Ottawa house had become the first Passive House certified in Canada. “Say,” I thought, “wouldn’t it be great if I could arrange for a tour of the house while I was in Ottawa?” So I did.

If you’re not familiar with the Passive House movement, houses are designed and built so that they only use 15 kwh/m2 of energy for heating and cooling and 120 kwh of electricity per month for lighting, appliances and other household uses. To give you an idea of what this means, the typical new home built in Ontario today uses about 10 times the amount of energy consumed by a Passive House certified building. If you’d like to know more about the Passive House movement in Canada, you can read about it here.

Chris Stratka of Vert Design was intent on building a super-insulated home when he bought the property in the New Edinburgh neighbourhood of Ottawa. However, when he took the design to a Passive House consultant he was told it probably wouldn’t qualify because the building materials and systems available in Canada that he had specified were seen by the consultant as inferior to those available in Europe. Although Chris was disappointed, he decided that he’d build the “best” house possible and leave it at that. Specifically, Chris is aiming for a Platinum LEED for Homes rating, with a particular emphasis on the Energy and Atmosphere section of the certification.

Chris decided that the best way to achieve his home’s performance targets was to use a modular home builder, and located one just outside Ottawa who would build to his insulation specifications. As I’ve written about before, modular home building has several environmental advantages such as the materials being protected from the elements (moisture, heat, cold, etc.), less waste in production, and less disruption to the local neighbourhood because the final product is put up so much faster. Chris’ home was assembled on site in three weeks. Yes, there was still the need for electricians, HVAC installers etc., but the major construction vehicles were on the street for a short period of time and there was never a dumpster on site.

Once the walls were assembled, insulation was added to the ceiling, caulking and sealing was done, Chris called in green building specialist, Ross Elliott from Homesol Building Solutions, a building performance consulting company that provides third-party inspection, testing and verification services. Ross performed the blower door test to identify any leaks that might have escaped the caulking and sealing. Chris said that if you’re going for energy efficiency in a new or renovated home, it’s essential to bring in the energy auditor a few times while the house is under construction. It’s much easier to fix leaks and holes in a partially built home than once the drywall is up and everything is already in place, and it will save you money in the long-run through lower energy bills. It was after the initial test that Chris and Ross believed that they just might be able to qualify for Passive House certification after all.

There are two other aspects about the house that were of primary importance to Chris:

1. He built it using only North American supplied materials in order to demonstrate that we North Americans have the resources and the technology to build super-insulated homes. All the major building materials,  hot water heaters, geothermal heating/cooling, and windows are manufactured in Canada and the US.

2. Testing for air leaks at several stages of building was essential to achieving the home’s air tightness.

In order to build a Passive House certified residence, there are several elements in addition to air-tightness that are essential to take into consideration:


Inline Fiberglass Windows

Orientation: Part of the Passive House formula is the ability to take advantage of the free heat a house can receive in the winter by orienting windows to absorb the light. In this case the house if perfectly situated, facing due south, and backs onto conservation land next to the river. It means he’ll never have to worry about another building going up that would eventually block his sunlight and heat source. The canopy in place protects the room from the heat in the summer when the sun is high in the sky.  The shading system that is currently being installed protects the rooms from the heat of the low winter sun.  In this building the issue is not getting enough heat – it is getting too much!

"Tilt" feature of "Tilt and Turn" windows

Windows: All windows are “tilt and turn” windows provided byInline Fiberglass, a window manufacturer based in Toronto, ON. They are triple-glazed, Low emissivity, argon gas filled, and the fiberglass frames themselves are insulated. The day I visited it was -15, but when I put my hand to the window pane, the glass was warm. When I do the same thing on my own home’s windows, the glass is always chilly; in fact, it’s just plain cold anywhere around any window in our house.

A nifty feature of the windows is the “tilt and turn” aspect. They tilt open at the top to let air flow in or out, or can be opened completely as a door on side hinges. This is a great feature to quickly cool down a room in the summer time, if the hot air has risen to the third floor.

Heating and Cooling System: In hindsight, Chris says, the geothermal heating and cooling system he had installed wasn’t necessary. However, when first designing the place, and being told that it would never pass Passive House certification, he figured he’d use the least intrusive HVAC system he knew of — geothermal. His particular system is made by Maritime Georthermal from New Brunswick. In future passive house designs, he would use baseboard heating in each room as Passive House homes are designed so that traditional heating methods such as central furnaces, aren’t necessary. He’s also added a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV), from Airia Brands from London, ON. When I asked him why he hadn’t chosen an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV), he replied that ERVs are more suited to humid climates where moisture is present year round.

For a complete breakdown of the specifications of the wall composition and HVAC, hotwater and windows used, please see Chris’ PDF document on his website.

Other “eco features.” Passive House certification’s focus is on energy use for heating, cooling and plug load. It does not look at other factors such as indoor air quality, water use, or minimizing the use of building materials. Chris referred to LEED criteria for these areas. Some of the more eco-friendly features of his house are:

  • Green Roof garden. Essentially his house takes up the entire plot of land, with only a small patch of property out back. Since he would like to grow some of his own food, he has designed the roof so that it can hold a substantial garden with herbs, tomatoes, beans and other vine plants, and maybe some crooked carrots (the depth of the soil will be about a foot). The green roof will also add further insulation to the home.
  • Rainwater recycling. There is a space built into the second floor that is awaiting rain barrels which will capture run-off from the eavestroughs and will be stored inside the home to feed toilets with water. The point of putting the rain barrels on the second floor is that the water is fed to the toilets through the use of gravity. That way they are unaffected if the electricity goes off.
  • Energy Star Appliances. All appliances, including washer/dryer, are Energy Star rated. The cooktop by Kenmore, uses induction heating, which is also quicker than gas.
  • No gas line to the house. Chris says that there are two reasons he relies on electricity for heating and cooling, cooking and hotwater: the first is that gas doesn’t fully combust and is not indoor air quality friendly, and secondly, to become dependent on gas means that you can never convert your home to 100% renewable electricity. Chris has plans for solar panels on the roof.

For more information on this project, visit

For more information on Passive House certification, visit the Passive House Institute US.

In Canada see: Passive Buildings, and Canadian Passive House Institute.

Urban Tree Salvage Uses City Trees to Create Beautiful Furniture

February 17th, 2011

I love Urban Tree Salvage. They have some really unique pieces of furniture and accessories. Last year for my birthday I was given a cheese board from this store, and it receives nothing but compliments — how many cheese boards can say that?

Urban Tree Salvage takes City of Toronto municipal forest trees that need to come down due to storm, disease or insects and turns them into pieces of furniture instead of mulching them. There are over 9000 trees taken down each year in Toronto and UTS selects the logs that will produce really unique pieces of furniture. Often the trunks have grown pretty thick so they produce extra wide planks. For instance, this poplar table in the photo is an ebony-stained solid wood plank that measures 42 inches wide, 10 feet long, three inches thick, and sells for $7600. Melissa Neist, Sales and Marketing Manager for Urban Tree Salvage, is standing with beside the table.

Ebony-stained Poplar Table with an "Iffy" base (staggered table legs)

Urban Tree Salvage Emblem embossed on all tables

"Iffy" table base made of hot rolled steel, staggered table legs

Urban Tree Salvage is a fully integrated production facility and includes a sawmill, kiln and furniture production shop. Customers can come in and select the slab they want and the company will turn it into a gorgeous table.

For more information, visit their website.

Located at: 19A Malley Road, Scarborough, ON, M1L 2E4.

Phone: 647-438-7516

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Favourite Toronto Shops for Green Handcrafted Gifts

December 13th, 2010

It’s the most stressful time of the year — shopping for your loved ones, friends, teachers, and others you may want to thank for all their efforts throughout the year. We’re lucky to live in a city with such diverse shopping. In addition to the chain stores, there are so many artisans, galleries, and craft shops that promote talented individuals’ work, whether made locally or abroad. Here are a few of my favourites. This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of amazing local shops, but it’s a start…

MADE: This is a unique store and art gallery that sells hand-crafted furniture, light fixtures and decor exclusively made by Canadian artisans. Best of all, if there’s a piece of furniture that you like but maybe it needs to be sized differently, Julie Nicholson and Shawn Moore (the owners), will have it made to your dimensions. The work in here is eclectic, gorgeous and well worth a visit. Furniture designers include the Brothers Dressler, vases and lighting from ceramic artist Katherine Graham, and of course, a lamp made entirely from hockey sticks by Barr Gilmore (there had to be something quintessentially Canadian in the mix, eh?).

  • 867 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON. Phone: 416-607-6384

Grass Roots: An institution on The Danforth, Grass Roots offers a wide variety of home decor and natural items. There are stainless steel storage containers, organic cotton towels, bulk household cleaners (all natural), and lots of ethical gifts. Have a look online, and then pop by the store to have a poke around.

2 Locations:

  • 372 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, ON. Phone: 416-466-2841
  • 408 Bloor Street West, Toronto, ON. Phone: 416-944-1993

Ardith One: This wonderful store is great for finding one of a kind pieces of pottery including decorative serving trays and dishes.  (A great place to shop for wedding gifts too.)

  • 3311 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON.  Phone: 416-487-7766

Craft Ontario (formerly The Guild Shop): An excellent display gallery and shop for Canadian artists who work in a variety of media from glass to wood to metals. You can shop by artist as well.

  • 1106 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON. Phone: 416-921-1721

Use your Live Green Toronto card for extra savings at shops around Toronto. Apply for the card online, and show it at participating stores to receive a small gift or discount. Stores participating in Live Green Toronto program are those that are committed to a greener way of doing business whether it be greening their operations or the items they sell. Both Homestead House Paint Company and Greening Homes General Contracting Services have 15% discounts if you use your Live Green Toronto card.

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