Posts Tagged ‘Healthy Home’

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.

The Healthy Home at Downsview Park is Open to the Public

March 22nd, 2010

Healthy Home Kitchen view (photo courtesy of CMHC)

Downsview Park is a pretty cool place. It’s got a lot to do and some nifty things to see. Downsview is also a place that is actively being developed as an environmently friendly place to live and play. The home development that’s going in will be interesting to watch, but already there are reasons to come and poke around here. There’s the farmer’s and merchant’s market (open Saturdays and Sundays), GrandPrix Kartways which uses electric go-karts (so no direct emissions), the Canadian Air and Space Museum (I’ll bet you didn’t even know Toronto had an air and space museum) and The Hangar and Sports Complex. Our family’s been to the Hangar on several occasions — mostly for birthday parties (beach volleyball and soccer parties), but also for winter soccer practices. It’s a really neat space with lots of natural light and several massive (hangar-sized) playing fields. And if you’re wondering, yes, it really is a former hangar, once used by de Havilland Aircraft Company, and later by the Canadian Armed Forces.

Now, however, there’s another reason this area of Toronto is worth a visit. There’s a new “green home” exhibit that will be on display in the Hangar until the end of December, 2011. A Healthy Home is a great project and a definite ‘must-see’ for anyone interested in incorporating green building products and philosohpy into their renovation or new build. The designer, Barbara Nyke of Nikka Design, and builder, Chris Phillips of Greening Homes Contracting, have extensive experience using green building materials and have effectively demonstrated how “less can be more” through this project while creating a practical and beautiful living space.

If you’re a design junkie, or have done the rounds of design shows in Toronto in the last few years, you might well recognize this home. In its first few renditions it’s been known as “The Sustainable Condo” initially designed in 2004 by Busby, Perkins and Will Architects.  The point of this project was to show that small spaces had lots of potential to be multi-functional while incorporating “green” materials and efficiencies, and yet still look normal.

Healthy Home Kitchen and Living Room (photo courtesy of CMHC)

This current rendition goes a step farther  as it has now been fitted with walls and a ceiling so that insulation, drywall, and framing could be added,as well as a new HVAC system, some upgraded water efficiency options and more lighting options.

Why this house is considered “green”: It looks like any other compact condo maximizing space without compromising design. But there are many differences that aren’t visibly noticeable and most have to do with the materials used. Faucets, toilets, washer and dishwasher use less water, and furnishings and building materials don’t off-gas harmful chemicals. Finally lighting is LED and compact fluorescent, using less electricity.

This is a terrific example of how green doesn’t have to be weird or unaffordable. It’s a nice “normal” house with some wonderful and creative features. My favourite feature is the “welcome mat” which is made of 100% recycled tile and marble chips — which otherwise were bound for landfill.

I’ll dedicate several posts to highlight each of the features of this house and most importantly where you can buy the material — because it’s great to see green, but “doing” green is just as important.

Healthy Home Exterior (sponsors) (Photo courtesy of CMHC)

The Hangar: 1-35 Carl Hall Road, Downsview, ON. Open to the public: Monday to Friday 6-9pm, Saturday and Sunday, 12-3pm.

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