Posts Tagged ‘low VOC products’

Kitchen Renovation is Complete — Finally!!

April 8th, 2014
Kitchen renovation

View of kitchen, cabinetry, lighting, maple hardwood flooring

Well, five months after my deadline, my kitchen is finished. I’ve promised my friend Nancy Peterson, CEO of, that I will write a post for her called “Why I will never be my own general contractor again”. Let’s just say it was an eye opening experience. This post, however, is not about the mistakes I made (and there were plenty!), it’s about whether or not I achieved my green kitchen goals.

I would say that I accomplished some green goals but failed miserably in others, in particular with indoor air quality. For many of you, this will be the one area where you will probably not want to compromise. I, on the other hand, seem to be willing to sacrifice mine and my family’s health for the sake of aesthetics, and in some cases, durability.

To recap, a green renovation uses a minimal amount of resources and materials that are repurposed or renewable, have low-embodied energy, can be recycled or repurposed at end of life, are as local as possible and don’t cost the earth, literally. It aims at creating a space with high indoor air quality, that is functional, easy to use and low-maintenance and very durable.

Design: I worked with the designer to maximize space in the 10×16′ room. Most weeknights we eat around the island, which is one reason I didn’t want the sink relocated there. The kitchen is compact, with all the pots, pans and bowls I use on a regular basis easily accessible. We maximized the use of the island, using it for storage of cookbooks and table gear (placemats and napkins) on the outside, and microwave and beverage fridge on the inside (facing the stove). It is the most functional kitchen I’ve ever worked in. We also put a TV in it, the first time we’ve had one in the kitchen, and it helps get through dishwashing duty a little easier.

"Outside" view of kitchen island

“Outside” view of kitchen island

Materials: I sourced as many materials locally as I could. Here is a list of what I used. I’ve marked myself on a scale out of ten for each area how successful I felt I was at achieving “green” goals:

  • Flooring: Sourcing local wood for the floor was embarrassingly simple. I called five or six flooring stores to ask if they carried Quebec maple hardwood flooring and they all paused, surprised I would ask such a dumb question. “But of course we do. What plank width and grade would you like?” was the usual answer. I used maple because that’s what was there before and I liked it. Maple and birch are a little less expensive than oak, which is the most popular floor wood right now, and there is a misconception that they are difficult to stain because their grains are so tight, but the fellow who finished our floors said both maple and birch are a great hardwood for floors and stain just fine. (Note: as mentioned in an earlier kitchen post, we tried to save the original floor, but it was too far gone by the time we ripped everything up.). Score: 6/10
  • Cabinetry, LED lighting, Cambria Quartz counter top

    Cabinetry, LED lighting, Cambria Quartz counter top

  • Cabinetry: We used low VOC, partial FSC plywood made in Eastern Quebec for the boxes and local Quebec maple for the cabinet doors. Regarding indoor air quality, all the low-VOC plywood was negated by the highly stinky and toxic lacquer I ended up using for the final finish. Our experiments with Allback linseed oil paint were unsuccessful: dry time per coat was a minimum of 24 hours, and the cabinet maker told me it took him six coats to achieve an opaque layer. Further, we couldn’t achieve the colours I wanted for the cabinets. Colours are a variation of Sarah Richardson for Para Paints. Perimeter cabinets: SR43 Shoreline (P2718-04) Island: SR73 Herringbone (P5244-52D). Score: 7/10
  • Counter tops: Cambria quartz, Edinburough design, 1.25″ thick. This is one of the best decisions we made. I was debating between all the different quartz manufacturers out there, two are less expensive but produced overseas, and three were higher end and produced in North America. I went with Cambria because they mine their quartz in Ontario, Quebec and the US, and manufacture in the US and the quartz is apparently very high quality (at least that’s what all the salespeople and installers told me). All I know is that I’m really happy with the end result. It’s low maintenance, never needs sealing and you use soap and water to clean it. Score: 7/10
  • Sink and Faucet: Novanni, made in Coldstream, Ontario. Identical to the one I had in my last house in Toronto, so I knew it was right for me. Faucet, not so much. I ordered a Rubi Basilico because I liked the look. When I was speaking with the vendor I commented on how inexpensive it was and would it hold up. He told me it was one of their most popular lines and they’d never had any problems with it. Well I don’t like it. The cartridge sticks when you turn it on so you either get nothing or a full force stream, and the handle is constantly coming loose and needs tightening. The flow is aerated, so it saves water, but I think I will order a Tapmaster foot control switch which will solve all my problems. Score: 7/10
  • Novanni Sink, Rubi Faucet

    Novanni Sink, Rubi Faucet

  • Lighting: If you spend as much time in the kitchen as I do, you want to avoid eye strain, and there’s nothing like cheap lighting or not enough of it to contribute to it. Fortunately, despite my agonizing over lighting, I couldn’t be happier with my choice of the LED 4″ potlights (2700K colour temperature) from Halo. The amount of light they give off is plenty, so much so that I never have to put them at full power (they are fully dimmable). Further, the distributor tried to convince me that “2700K is just as good as 3000K” but for me, it isn’t. I wanted to replicate the colour temperature of  50W halogen potlights, which is 2700K. Note: “colour temperature” refers to how cool or warm lighting is. There is a good explanation of the variations of colour temperature on the Home Depot website. Score: 9/10
  • Energy Efficiency: The kitchen has ten LED potlights of 10 Watts each, which I usually only have on at about 80% strength. That means I’m only drawing 80 Watts of power for all the lights. The undermount lights and pendant lights are also LED (except for the bird lamp over the sink which uses three 20W bulbs, but it’s rarely on). I marvel at how little electricity the lights draw. Ten halogens at 50W each would have drawn 500 Watts and needed to be replaced every few months. However, before I congratulate myself on the low wattage of the lights, we also installed a TV and bar fridge, and kept the 15 year old Amana fridge and Bosch dishwasher. Our TV and beverage fridge are frivolous “nice to haves”. A strict green kitchen would forgo both of them. If I had a Power Cost Monitor I could see how much electricity the fridge and dishwasher are drawing, suffice it to say, new ones would definitely be more efficient! Score: 5/10
  • View of "inside" side of island. Beverage fridge and microwave.

    View of “inside” side of island. Beverage fridge and microwave.

  • Indoor air quality: As mentioned in the section on cabinetry, I used a toxic lacquer for the kitchen cabinets. They will likely be off-gassing for years. The floor stain was a water-based ultra-low VOC stain from BONA, covered by a smelly and off-gassing but hard wearing polyurethane protective coat. Finally, we kept the high quality 15 year old Thermador gas stove because it is in excellent shape, but, let’s face it, if you’ve read Clara’s post on indoor air quality in the kitchen, I probably should have replaced the stove with an induction stove. We did install one of the best venting hoods on the market, a Vent-a-Hood, and it vents to the outside, but it’s not perfect. On the other hand, a professional hood would have been overkill as replacement air can be a problem if the vent is too powerful for the spaceScore: 2/10
  • Stove, vent, cabinetry

    Stove, vent, cabinetry

  • Carpentry materials: There were minimal adhesives and caulk used, but they were standard, drywall was by CertainTeed but I looked up recycled content and in Montreal it’s only 5% (in Toronto it’s 95%. The reason for the big difference is whether or not the manufacturing facility has access to recycled material). Framing wood was not FSC. All off-cuts and scraps I took to the eco-center for recycling. Score: 0/10

Total score: 43/80 or 56%. 

Cost breakdown: Below I’ve listed in percentages of our costs. We did nothing elaborate or out of the ordinary, we reused our appliances because they were in good shape. Labour costs were more than I had anticipated, but every time you open up a wall you have to be prepared for some unanticipated expenses. The LED lights were also more expensive than halogen, but with lower running costs and never (supposedly) having to replace the bulbs, I’m content with the upfront costs. Naturally cabinets and counter tops were expensive, but I had anticipated that. The amount of detail and work that goes into cabinetmaking is incredible and as my civil-engineer brother in-law pointed out, “the island touches the ground in nine places, that’s not an easy thing to accomplish, especially in an older home with an uneven floor.”

Labour (48% of total cost):

  • Design
  • Demolition
  • Rough carpentry
  • plumbing
  • electrical
  • masonry
  • floor finishing
  • tile installation

Materials (52% of total cost):

  • Flooring
  • Cabinetry (includes installation)
  • Counter tops (includes installation)
  • Sink and Faucet
  • Lighting
  • Drywall, carpentry wood, supplies
  • Paint, caulk, etc.
  • Appliances and Furniture

Lessons learned:

First and foremost, unless you can do 80% of the job yourself, hire a general contractor. Believe me, it’s worth it. Secondly, when sourcing materials, be proactive, and if your contractor doesn’t use greener materials, offer to source them and buy them yourself. While some contractors won’t like this idea, others will be more than willing to have you running around to all the different stores, fighting traffic and picking up the material yourself. Third, if you don’t already have a preferred contractor, source one that regularly uses green materials and has green habits such as minimizing waste.

Essentia Natural Memory Foam Mattresses

July 24th, 2013

Essentia natural memory foam mattresses

I was contacted by Essentia a few weeks ago regarding their mattresses. I had never heard of them before — probably because they don’t do a lot of traditional advertising. It turns out they are based in Laval, just outside Montreal. It manufactures and distributes its mattresses straight from its Laval location, importing the raw ingredients.

Essentia Mattresses are an alternative to synthetic memory foam mattresses. Apparently, one of the complaints about memory foam mattresses is that they “sleep hot.” In other words, because they are synthetic, they don’t breathe and therefore, a lot of people heat up during the night (and not in a good way!). Because Essentia mattresses are made from plant-based ingredients, they breathe, allowing for a cooler, more comfortable sleep.

Another complaint with memory foam mattresses is that the “cast” is difficult to get in and out of. The cast is the shape that’s formed once you sink into the bed and it moulds to your body. Once that shape is there, it can be difficult to move out of it.

rubber tree sap collection

Essentia mattresses are made from hevea milk, the sap from the rubber tree. On their website, being the Canadian company they are, they liken collecting rubber tree sap to tapping a maple tree for sap. The sap is boiled down to produce the hevea milk, which is then shipped to Canada. Essentia adds a few other ingredients such as jasmine essence, cone flower oil and grapefruit seed extract, pours it on a mould, steams and bakes it in an oven to produce the mattress. The mattress is covered with a 100% organic cotton cover.

There are two kinds of latex manufacturing: Dunlop, which was developed in 1929, and produces a firmer latex, and Talalay, a newer method that produces a “light and fluffy” latex. Essentia uses the Dunlop latex method in production of their memory foam.

Products: Essentia makes latex mattresses in various sizes, as well as pillows which will mould to your neck and head. Mattress products vary from thinner to thicker. While all offer the same support, the difference will be in how long the mattresses last. Thicker mattresses last longer than thinner ones. For their complete product line, see their online catalogue.

Comfort: because the mattress is produced entirely from plant-based ingredients it breathes and allows for air circulation. Petroleum-based memory foam mattresses don’t allow for air flow, so heat generated while sleeping builds up around you. In addition, because the latex foam isn’t temperature sensitive, there isn’t the same cast problem that there is with synthetic memory foam.

Fire retardants: there has been a lot of attention given to the highly toxic chemicals used for fire retardants, particularly when it comes to mattresses. In Canada, fire retardants in mattresses are not mandatory, however, they are in the US. Essentia does not use fire retardants for its mattresses shipped within Canada, and for those shipped to the US, they use Kevlar as a fire retardant.

VOCs: Again, thanks to fire retardants, synthetic materials and petroleum used in other memory foam mattresses, mattresses generally contain a lot of volatile organic compounds. These are chemicals which leach into the air and you can breathe in. They have been linked to cancer, asthma, headaches, etc.. Essentia mattresses are made without the use of VOCs. The local health and safety board officials tested the workers’ environment and determined that their workers don’t need to wear protective gear or masks to work with the materials. The mattresses have also received the GreenGuard certification, a certification developed in California to limit the emission of harmful chemicals into the air.

Durability and End of Life: The mattresses have a 20 year warranty, longer than most coil mattresses, and on top of that, because the mattresses are derived from plant-based ingredients, they are biodegradable at end of life, so no landfill!

Production Process: The rubber tree sap is sourced from a plantations in Indonesia that have acceptable working conditions and no practice of using child labour. The company uses LEAN production methods to keep waste low. My contact at Essentia, Jason Wright, told me that waste is almost negligible except for cotton scraps from making the mattress covers. They are looking for ways to repurpose those as well.

Employee engagement: Essentia has recently formalized a program they developed a few years ago that encourages employees, particularly within their retail stores, to get involved with non-profit organizations within their communities. They are participated in a variety of events such as providing venues for artists, and hosting vegan cooking competitions. The point is to develop community connections.

For a store near you, see their dealer page. They have retail outlets throughout North America.





Green Planet Paints – Zero VOC, Petroleum Free

December 11th, 2012

Green Planet Paints

Ed. Note: After reading this article, Ted Sosniki, President and CEO of Go Green World Products, LLC, manufacturer of Green Planet Paints, offered some additional and helpful advice regarding these paints. His comments are indicated in quotation marks.

I came across Green Planet Paints the other day while doing some research on another product. It was the photo and the tag line that caught my eye. A woman is sitting in a tub of paint and the tag line reads “Paint so safe you can bath in it.”  It turns out this is a petroleum free, “truly zero” VOC, non-toxic paint.

Ted:  Note I would not recommend bathing in it though as it would dry and clog your skin pours. Not good health wise.

It’s important to note that while the big commercial paint manufacturers have been doing a good job at lowering their overall energy use and eliminating the noxious fumes from some of the chemicals that are needed to make synthetic paint, according to the Green Planet website, there are still over 1500 chemicals used to make most commercial paints and further, the main ingredient is still petroleum. So making paint is still a fairly petroleum-intensive process.

Ted: …[commercial paint companies] have not yet done anything as far as petrochemical reduction, increased Bio based content or recycled content which is what defines “Green”.

Green Planet Paint, on the other hand, is plant and clay-based that is completely petroleum free and “Truly Zero VOC.”

Ted: (Although Green Planet Paints are a true zero VOC paint the paint is not an absolute zero VOC but it does have the lease amount in the industry even after tinting with the GPP tint system, the actual VOC level is at 0.08 g/l. Also, VOC content/emissions dose not define green by its self, green means that not only is there a reduction in VOC emissions but that there is also a reduction  in petrochemical content, an increased use of sustainable and recycled content and this is what defines green.)

It’s explained on the website that even in zero VOC paints there exists about 5 g/l (grams/liter) of VOCs/liter of  paint. It consists of plant-based binders and additives and mineral-based pigments. While there is an odour, which according to reviews on the website, is the smell of damp clay, or “earthy,” it is not toxic and will go away within a week or so.

Ted: Note that in some cases a chemical or cleaner small is sometimes noticed when GPP is applied to latex paints that are less than 10 years old and the GPP primer was not used. We have also noticed that in few cases where an exterior latex was used on the interior of a building, this chemical or cleaner smell is sometimes strong and can last up to 30 to 45 days, especially when the GPP primer was not used. In these cases we found that it is the underlying latex that is gassing off and causing this and it can include some bleeding of the underlying paint into the clay of the GPP paint giving a translucent look in some places. The GPP primer is a special primer and not a thinned out highly flat paint like that of the big manufactures. The GPP primer was designed to lock down a wall and prevents gas off of the underlying substrates/paints.

Green Planet Paint Color Palette itself consists of 48 naturally pigmented colours in varying tones from vivid and intense to soft, pastel.  Coverage is 350-400 square feet and is applied to walls with a roller, brush or sprayer.

Ted: custom coloring is available at a one time fee if the color requested has never been matched yet. There are some limitations as minerals cannot make synthesized colors like oil based tints.

Green Planet Paint was originally developed by Meredith Aronson in the early 2000s. Meredith is a materials scientist with an expertise in clay and natural pigments. She was interested in creating a paint out of non-toxic, non-petroleum based materials. Eventually, she developed a paint that uses clay and natural pigments with soy/plant-based resin binder.  She eventually sold her paint company to Go Green World Products, LLC after filing for bankruptcy.

I contacted Ted Sosniki, President and CEO of Go Green World Products, and asked him a few questions about the paint. One of my first thoughts was whether this is a washable paint, and how long it was expected to last. Ted told me that indeed it is washable, and applied properly, the paint will last for about  10-15 years on a previously painted wall, and up to 20 years on a new wall. I noticed that the website says that Green Planet Paints “can improve the air quality in the room or building by over 50% and are listed on the federal IRS tax deduction/credit bill.” I asked Ted to explain that a bit more. I was wondering if Green Planet acted like American Clay which neutralizes the negative ions in any room where it’s applied; his response:  

Kind of like American Clay but on steroids, due to the resin / clay mix with Tio2 [titanium dioxide], it becomes a air scrubber. Tio2 is used on all kinds of air cleaning systems, lights that can remove smells from the air and water systems for purification of water.”

Finish: The paint is available in Eggshell or Flat, as well as Primer. Available sizes: 1 quart, 1 gallon, 5 gallons.

Ted: A semi gloss is available upon request but not necessary to use in bathrooms or kitchens like the petroleum paints as the eggshell was developed to be an eggshell from the beginning and not a blend of flat and gloss like the petroleum paints.

Application: While application is as simple as using a roller, brush, or sprayer because this is a different kind of paint, the website provides a few tips on getting the desired smooth finish you are looking for. I’ve highlighted a few that you might want to keep in mind if planning to use this paint, but definitely refer to the website for more specific instructions if you are planning on using this paint.

  1. Order the correct amount of paint needed for the job. If more than one gallon of paint in the same colour is needed for a room, mix the paint in a large bucket as colour can vary slightly from gallon to gallon.
  2. Use high quality brushes and rollers or a sprayer. Horse hair brushes and quality cotton or wool rollers with a nap of 1/2 to 1″. Do not use foam rollers as the paint absorbs into the foam. Ted: (you do not need to use high quality brushes and rollers, simple cost effective non-synthetic brushes and rollers work the best)
  3. Prime wall surfaces before applying paint as absorption rate may vary with paint.
  4. Do the cut-in first (paint along the corners with a brush), and apply the rest of the paint with a roller or sprayer while cut-in is still wet in order to avoid a “framed” look. Ted: (do not do large rooms like this on hot dry days as issues will arise. For best results we recommend downloading the helpful hints document)
  5. Wait until the first coat is dry before applying the second. Drying rate will vary depending on the humidity in the air, but will usually take around two days.
  6. To store brushes and rollers while taking a break — wrap in a plastic bag and twist end closed around handle. Store in refrigerator. Can be stored this way for up to two days.

Where to buy: SIP Distribution is the Canadian distributor. There are a few retailers who sell it, however, if there is no one in your province you can contact SIP Distribution directly.

What makes a cabinet and a cabinet company Green?

March 2nd, 2012

zero-VOC kitchen cabinets

Beside budget, style, color, durability, brand that influenced our selections in the past, kitchen cabinet manufacturers increasingly compete for our business on the basis of  providing healthy cabinets.

Cabinets are often made of particle board, press wood, hardwood plywood paneling , medium density fiberboard etc. that typically contain formaldehyde , and other VOCs that are emitted as gases from certain liquids and solids including various binders, lacquers and paints.  The higher the VOC in finishes and adhesives are used, the longer time it will take to dissipate and will continue to out gas after installation (even if it is at a lesser degree)

Because we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, chemical free materials are very important to protect our health, future immunity, enhance our quality of life, and contributing to the environment overall.


Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when considering cabinets for a new home or a remodeling project:

a Green Cabinet Maker

  • works with formaldehyde-free and low or zero VOC adhesives, binders and finishes.
  • has a written policy stating the company s commitment to environmental quality
  • use sustainable materials and production
  • using a local cabinet maker will help reduce the embodied energy as cabinets are expensive to package and ship
  • efficient, just-in-time manufacturing process uses no material access, waste kept minimal
  • offer clean design, simple aesthetics, FSC-certified and recycled woods
  • works with materials used harvested or extracted in a conscientious way
  • the manufacturing process does not harm or exploit the people that made it
  • strive to manufacture, quality, well -made, durable and functional, easy to maintain product
  • use materials that are at the end of their life easy to dispose in a safe manner
  • use materials  that are sustainably harvested-mature trees are selectively cut allowing younger ones to replace them
  • use materials that are rapidly renewable, eg bamboo which is a grass not wood, grows like weed and very sustainable for cabinetry, or cork which spontaneously regenerates
  • conserve by using wood veneers. Wood veneers are  less wood (wood is a slowly renewable resource) All solid, engineered and reclaimed wood are FSC-certified
  • applies useful application for discarded or waste materials from the manufacturing or building process
  • provides MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) to disclose their furnishing materials. MSD Sheet list the product components to help consumers make  the most informed choice for their home.

Green Cabinets

  • meet LEED Green Building Rating System specifications for rapidly renewable resources, low emitting materials and can help earn points toward LEED certifications, including all adhesives used in assembling the cabinets
  • use rapidly renewable materials, like bamboo; or wheat straw_wheatboard, it has proven to be just as strong as particleboard and as a rapidly renewable source growing in a single season, and is made without formaldehyde; or agrifiber that will decompose (although hindered by binders, resins and finishes) these boards and panels are manufactured from agricultural byproducts that are annually renewable. Keriboard is an engineered product using stalks of sorghum plants, and bamboo is used in a laminated plywood under the trademark Plyboo.
  • use woods, veneers from managed forests,
  • use formaldehyde free particle board or exterior grade plywood,  cores made from marine grade plywood which emits lower formaldehyde levels
  • use wheat straw_wheatboard, it has proven to be just as strong as particleboard, and is a rapidly renewable
  • use locally or domestically harvested FSC-certified wood (LEED ) or salvaged wood
  • use stains and water-based paints that are low or zero VOC and Green Guard or Green Seal certified
  • use materials with third-party verification of source of safety that sets and measures air quality standards for cabinets
  • use solvent free glues, factory cured and low emission finishes, check for safety.
  • provide Material Safety Data Sheet . If the cabinets are imported, contact the importer or distributor and ask for manufacturing details. Material Safety Data Sheets list everything that goes into the product.
  • use eco-friendly hardware, power coated steel:very low emitting VOCs, water resistant, sanitary, hypo-allergenic, low maintenance and very durable
  • use face construction that can be solid wood, bamboo, agrifiber products, metal or recycled glass. Green cabinets don t support the use of endangered species, but if  offer tropical wood, they are all FSC -certified
  • stainless steel emits no chemical toxins of VOCs, hypo-allergenic, water resistant, low maintenance

Reusing cabinetry is always preferred especially if the cabinets are in good condition. Using salvaged cabinetry can be a way to reduce the impact of manufacturing the amount of material entering the landfills.

Clara Puskas is a Green Designer, Founder and CEO SIPgreen and xlkitchens.



Homestead House — The Only Canadian Milk Paint Manufacturer

November 4th, 2010

One of the things I’m finding, as I write articles for this blog, is that there are a lot of great local manufacturers of truly green building products, that are “best kept secrets.” The problem is, they shouldn’t be secrets, they should be announced to the world so that people will use their wonderful products! The latest in the line of great products is Homestead House Milk Paint. Homestead House Paint Company is a manufacturer of both milk and latex paints based right here in Toronto. I spent a few hours with Jennylyn Pringle talking about her company’s products and in particular milk paint.

Milk paint is made from casein (milk protein), clay, limestone and natural pigments. The ingredients are found locally, and the paint is made in a facility just outside Toronto. It contains no synthetic or petroleum-based ingredients and is, zero VOC. Milk paint is best known as an historical paint; It is a paint formula and technique that was brought over from Europe 250 years ago and today is primarily used on antique furniture or reproductions.  Colours are developed within an historical palette and are derived from natural pigments. One of the unique properties of this paint is that it actually soaks into the wood fibers, which means it will last as long as the item on which it’s been applied. Because of this, the paint is breathable and will never peal. One other benefit of milk paint is that because it is slightly alkaline (basic), it resists the growth of mould and mildew.

Milk Paint

While milk paint has always been applied easily to plaster and wood, it has never adhered well to other surfaces. Now, however, there is a new primer, Milk Paint Bond, which, when applied to drywall or metal permits milk paint to adhere to these surfaces. Milk paint comes as a powder that needs to be mixed with water. It dries quickly, so, for the beginner, Homestead House recommends either mixing in small batches or adding an extender, which will permit the paint to be mixed in larger quantities and will stand for several days. This is ideal for room applications. When painting a room, it’s best to mix all the paint at once as the colour will be consistent. The website notes that for best consistency use a blender to mix the paint. Jenny said that it’s not actually necessary to use a blender, but if mixing by hand you need to stir really well in order to make sure all the powder is mixed in. The other option is to pick up a blender from a thrift shop.

Homestead House offers workshops in milk paint use. You can check their website for dates and cost. Right now there are a few painters in the city who will paint your house with milk paint, see their “Links page” for a list of painters and designers for more information. If you are interested in a DIY project, consider painting your next room with milk paint, or, ask your painter to give milk paint a try. I’m going to use it to paint our master bedroom. I’ll write a blog post on it when it’s done (don’t hold your breath, I’m thinking summer, 2011).

Kitchen Cabinets

Cost: 2lb bag (which makes 1 gallon of paint), $75. Coverage: 450 sq. feet.  (note that on its own, milk paint is not washable. A coat of hemp oil or beeswax must be applied for washability. If painting a room with it, it’s best to paint in low traffic rooms).

Other products: In keeping with its line of low-impact paints, Homestead House carries low-impact paint strippers and finishing products as well. See their product page for more information.

Concrete Elegance — concrete countertops with 88% recycled content

October 7th, 2010

I always hesitate to write about concrete as a green building material. Concrete manufacturing is one of the most energy and water intensive processes around with an average CO2 output of one kilogram per kilogram of concrete produced! So, when I was at the Green Building Festival a few weeks ago, I passed by the booth for Concrete Elegance and spoke with Alla Linetsky about her product. I had written about Concrete Elegance before, but it was purely from a decor perspective, its green attributes at that time were ignored. As it turns out, concrete from Concrete Elegance is a pretty ‘green’ product after all.

Concrete Elegance was established in 2004 and since 2006 the company has been continuously improving the environmental footprint of its product. Some of the improvements it has made include:

  • Replacing 80% of Portland Cement — the energy intensive part of concrete — with recycled cementing materials, mostly with steel mill slag from Ontario smelters
  • replacing all of the sand and gravel with the broken, multi-coloured glass shards left at the bottom of our recycling boxes that would otherwise go to landfill
  • producing a product that is less than half the thickness (and therefore weight) than traditional concrete but just as durable
  • sourcing up to 88% of all ingredients from Ontario
  • replacing steel reenforcement with glass fiber filaments which use less energy and are lighter and stronger than steel
  • casting on permanent table surfaces, eliminating disposable formwork material using VOC free ingredients and sealer.

In addition to its environmental qualities, concrete offers a lot of flexibility in design. Because it’s a poured substance, it can be made into unusual, thin-walled three dimensional shapes that would be impossible to fit with solid sheet material. It can be polished or honed and needs sealing only occasionally.

Curved sink and counter top

The cost is similar to stone surfaces and largely depends on what your needs are. For instance, concrete can be made into fireplace surrounds, floor tiles, counter tops, backsplashes, and even complete counter tops with sinks (although not recommended for your primary sink). It can be used in interior and exterior locations.

Concrete, like all surfaces, does chip so you need to pay attention — although chips can be repaired, you will see them. A knife will scratch the finish so use a cutting board, and while the food-safe sealer applied is non-porous it develops its resistance over time, so it’s best to clean up spills quickly in the first few weeks.

For more information on Concrete Elegance, visit their website.

Concrete Elegance

610 Bowes Road, Unit 14, Concord, ON, L4K 4A4

Phone 416-567-5529
Fax 416-913-2462

(note: please call before you visit as they may be at a customer site).

Building a Wall Using Green Building Materials by a Beginner Builder — Me.

October 4th, 2010

Boys' room before wall

When we first moved into this house three years ago, it was with location in mind. We moved from a beautiful four bedroom home in a pretty neighbourhood just outside the city core, to a smaller, semi-detached home with three bedrooms in an excellent school district, walking distance to the subway. I knew that the boys sharing a room was going to be an issue one day, but it’s only been in the last year that they’ve been bugging me about to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Fortunately it’s a big room with two windows evenly spaced. Initially, we put up a curtain to divide the area, but we used a wire and hook system, which wasn’t all that sturdy so it came down on a regular basis. We looked at putting IKEA bookcases down the middle of the room, but for many reasons, it wasn’t going to work. So it seemed to me that there were two possible courses of action. Either, leave it alone and let the boys work it out, OR, use this as a perfect excuse to test out my new-found building skills and build a wall! Guess which one I chose?

I developed my materials list and sent it to Ian Burns at the BiY Learning Center to make sure I had everything down and the correct amounts of each (I did, hooray! Off to a great start!). I called in an electrician to have him move the one centered light in the middle of the room to two lights and two switches. It was then that he told me I had wet insulation above one of my son’s bed, which meant a leak in the roof above. Figures.

After having a temper tantrum and then dealing with the leak and the resultant damage caused by water pooling in insulation and the vapor barrier, we were back on track to building the wall (the leak is a whole ‘nother blog post).

Lumber: I located FSC-certified 2x4s at my local (Leaside) Home Depot. What I forgot to check was how straight the pieces were — which, it turns out, weren’t very. Last week when I was at the Green Building Festival, I remarked to Mark Kidd of Tembec on the fact that 4 of the 9 pieces of timber I’d bought (and cut before I could return them) were significantly warped. Tembec is the main supplier of FSC-certified lumber to Home Depot and he told me that that’s unusual because Home Depot orders tier 1 lumber, which is the highest grade lumber you can get. I put it down to beginner’s inexperience of forgetting to check the lumber before buying.

cutting away the baseboard

Initial Frame Construction

Framing is complete!

We measured and constructed the wall frame and I based the measurements on the drywall sheet size so there’d be as little waste as possible. We cut the baseboard out of the wall so we could mount the wall completely flush to vertical wall, nailed in the ceiling and floor beams, measured between each beam at 16″ intervals and cut studs to match. This is the part my husband, Kevin, and neighbour, Victor, helped me with. Victor kindly cut the pieces of wood with his skill saw (way faster than manually, although we did about half of them by hand), and Kevin hammered in the pieces — also faster than me.

First side of drywall

Oops! First insulation, THEN second side of drywall!

Drywall: I located CertainTeed drywall at Rona, Sheppard and Willowdale, which is synthetic, recycled drywall made in the west end of Toronto. We screwed the drywall to one side of the wood frame. The ceiling is lower than a regular ceiling, so we had to cut the second piece of drywall down to 3.5′, again measuring at different intervals because the ceiling height varies as you go towards the middle of the room.

Ultra Touch Cotton Insulation

Insulation. We used Ultra Touch insulation. Although there won’t be a door of any kind between the two sections, the insulation adds sound dampening and sturdiness to the wall. Ultra Touch Insulation is a great product; no gloves or masks required to use, it fit snuggly into the wall section and it’s made from scrap denim fabric.

Drywall assembly complete!

Next, we sealed up the wall with the second two sheets of drywall. It turns out you do have to measure again on the other side of the wall. Logic would dictate that the wall would be the same height on both sides of the frame but then, logic would be wrong! We goofed a little on the cutting the second upper piece of drywall so there is a bit of a bump up at the ceiling/wall joint that just screams “DIYer!” — oh well. You have to make a mistake here and there.

Mudding and taping -- Arghh!!

Mudding and taping -- arghh

Mudding and Taping and Sanding, Oh My. Oh my, oh my oh my. I still suck at this part of the job. While I’m improving, it certainly is a skill that takes practice. I can see my mistakes pretty easily, and as much as I tried to apply as little mud as possible, this was easier said than done. I’m sure if I did a few hundred more walls, I’d have the technique down pretty thoroughly. I don’t think I’ll ever get that far though.

Priming and Painting and Caulking. I used a low VOC caulk from Adbond, a Montreal company that makes a lot of eco-friendly sealants and finishes. I primed with Behr water-based primer and painted the ceiling after patching the holes made by the light being moved and the roof leak. I painted the peninsula wall (the divider wall), Cloud Blue from low VOC Pittsburgh Paints….then then I gave up. Yes, that’s right, I threw in the towel, I called “uncle!” I raised the white flag! I called my trusty painter Terry MacKenzie to finish the painting. By this time I’d been working on the darn thing (which was now known as “THE WALL” in any email correspondence I had with friends) for about 3 weeks in the spare time that I had and our house, my work, the family and my mood were all suffering for it. I’d already seen signs that I was cracking: I’d left little blue smudges of wall paint on the new white ceiling and I didn’t care. When you work that hard, you want the results to show it and a sloppy paint job is the first thing people will notice. Terry finished the job in 4 hours, it would have taken me 16.

The Wall -- Finished!

Voila! I feel pretty proud of myself now that I have this new set of skills to build a wall. Granted, it was a simple job, but still and all, it feels like an accomplishment. While I was building this wall, I had a thought: Building is a lot like cooking. You have a set list of ingredients, a certain amount of each is needed and they’re combined in a specific order. So I decided I’ll write a book all about construction skills to help women not be quite so intimidated by building projects and I’ll call it If You Can Cook, You Can Screw! What do you think?


Home Depot, 101 Wicksteed Ave., Toronto, ON. for FSC-certified lumber. Call your local Home Depot first to make sure they carry it.

Rona, 258 Sheppard Ave. East, Toronto, ON. for CertainTeed Drywall. CertainTeed Drywall: Synthetic drywall manufactured in the west end of Toronto. Even the face and back paper are 100% recycled.

Eco-Building Resource:  136 Wellington Street East, Aurora, ON. Ultratouch Cotton Insulation, AdBond caulk.

Terry MacKenzie (painter extraordinaire): 416-254-3090

BiY Learning Centre :  358 Dufferin Street, Toronto, ON. For home improvement classes.

Nadurra Flooring — FSC, Reclaimed, and Bamboo too

September 16th, 2010

The number of hardwood flooring suppliers out there is almost overwhelming. You can go to a big box store or a carpet store and find a large selection of wood flooring — and for the most part, because the flooring looks fairly similar (if you’re going for new), you’re probably going to buy your flooring material from whoever gives you the best price. But what about the behind the scenes actions in the hardwood industry? We see beautiful flooring samples in the store, but do we know where it was logged and whether it comes from environmentally sensitive areas? Whether it’s milled here or overseas? Sometimes logs cut in Canada are shipped to China, milled there and shipped back here to sell. Do you know what kind of glues are used for prefinished or engineered floors? How much off-gassing is taking place? Whether or not labour and environmental practices are considered? Most likely not, and also most likely the salesman doesn’t either. But what if you could choose where your wood came from and how it was harvested, and know that you were providing jobs in mills in Ontario, Quebec and New England, all the while supporting responsibly managed, working forests — and getting beautiful flooring all at the same time? How good does that floor look now — pretty amazing, right? Knowledge is a powerful thing — and let’s face it, from the grocery store to the mall, we consumers don’t have a heck of a lot of information on how our stuff is made. Something that needs to be changed, and soon.

Nadurra Hardwood Flooring Selection

Ian Jackson of Nadurra Wood Corporation is a bright light in the fuzzy world of hardwood flooring. I spent a morning with him talking about responsible hardwood flooring and what that really means. Nadurra sells a variety of wood flooring from reclaimed hardwood to bamboo, FSC or not, low or zero VOC. And, believe me, Ian knows his wood. In fact, he selects the suppliers based on the mills and forestry practices and he is the only hardwood flooring retailer in Ontario to have the Forestry Stewardship Council’s Chain of Custody Certification. Ian admitted that when he was a young and enthusiastic university student studying Environmental Studies he was a certified treehugger. Yes, one of the ones who chained themselves to beautiful old growth forests so loggers wouldn’t cut them down. Twenty or so years later, Ian now sees the value of a well-managed working forest. He selects his hardwood from mills that practice selective cutting, retrain local populations in logging and milling practices and where possible, forests that have set aside a percentage of land protected from logging altogether. Because he travels to see these mills, he can make better judgement about whom to buy from and who not to.

Take his experience with bamboo flooring. One of the first mills he visited had had many accolades about its responsible bamboo management, but when he arrived in China and visited the mill, he saw that while its was an FSC certified business, the boxes were stamped with the FSC logo, but the bamboo itself was not! He’s not using them as a supplier.

Bamboo: Nadurra’s FSC-certified bamboo flooring comes from a 50 year old plantation. The bamboo is harvested and milled in China and shipped to Canada. According to Ian, bamboo is best harvested when it is between 4 and 6 years old; any earlier and it will not be strong enough, any later and it will be too brittle for processing.

One of the criticisms of bamboo flooring is that it wears much faster than hardwood, and therefore has to be replaced more often. Nadurra has just introduced a new line of bamboo flooring called Composite Traffic. Hardwood durability is measured on the Janka Scale, with Maple measuring 700 and 1450 depending on the variety. This new composite bamboo measures 2600-3000 on the Janka scale. Made from bamboo pulp, it is compressed into a solid product (versus “engineered”), and is available in 4 colours: natural, carbonised (darkened through processing, no stain added), Riverbed Composite and Sand Dune Composite. The two latter colours are a mixture of the carbonized and natural colours. These new bamboo floorings are currently not FSC certified, but will be shortly. It can also be available in low or no VOC and formaldehyde-free and comes with a 30 year warranty.

The protective finish applied to this line of flooring is from Bona, a Swedish company that offers some of the most eco-friendly finishes on the market today.

Pricing: for FSC-certified bamboo, pricing ranges between $3.50-4.99/square foot.

Ian admits, however, that probably the “greenest” choices a person can make in terms of buying new flooring would be to choose one of his three Nadurra lines of hardwood flooring. They are classified into three categories of green: “Bronze,” “Silver” and “Gold.” The designations are based on the practices and transportation involved in getting the hardwood flooring from forest to Toronto.

Lower Canada Collection (Bronze): FSC hardwood varieties from Quebec, including Maple, Oak, Ash and Birch. Available in engineered (with Baltic birch backing), or solid wood, finished or unfinished. Price range: $4-8/square foot. This wood is logged in FSC certified forests in Quebec.

New England Collection (Silver): FSC hardwood selectively logged in New England forests. Forests are actually “gold” rated by Nadurra’s system for logging and milling practices. However, the wood is shipped to Quebec for finishing. Increased transportation therefore means that it qualifies for a “silver” level of “greeness.” Wood is available in engineered or solid, or “click.” Note: “Click” flooring is on HDF (High Density Fiberboard) backing. Click Flooring tends not to be as durable as either solid or engineered because of the HDF backing. Wood selection: Hickory, Black Cherry, Black Walnut (unfinished only), Birch, Maple and Oak all available finished or unfinished. Prices: Solid, unfinished: $5.50-8/square foot. Solid prefinished, $5.50-8/square foot.

Upper Canada Collection (Gold): FSC hardwood from central Ontario forest where 11% of forest is set aside for conservation. Forest itself is selectively logged and wood is milled on site. Mill retrains local native population in logging and milling jobs. Available in solid only, Maple, Oak, Ash and Birch. Price: $5-7.50/square foot.

Reclaimed Wood: Nadurra has a wide selection of reclaimed wood from local Ontario barns and factories. While reclaimed wood offers the “greenest” choice of wood floors, not to mention wide plank sizes because the wood was originally from first growth forests, it is more expensive, and obviously, one day this wood will also be used up. Varieties of wood are Elm, Hemlock, Noble Oak, Pine, Loyalist Maple and Birch. Available in solid or engineered. Price: $6.50-11/square foot.

Ian also carries Logs End flooring, milled from logs that have been submerged in the Ottawa River for awhile (50+ years), and Eco Timber, an eco-forestry company based in Colorado that practices responsible forestry and milling.

Please note the new address for Nadurra Flooring (updated as of August 14, 2013).


157 Bentworth Avenue, Unit A

Toronto, ON

M6A 1P6

Tel: (647) 345-8414

Toll Free: 1-888-NADURRA (623-8772)

EcoInhabit — Earth Inspired Living in Meaford, Ontario

April 6th, 2010

During March Break our family was skiing in Collingwood, ON in the most spectacular weather I’ve ever skied in in my life, even if it was a bit weird and scary being in Collingwood in March in almost 20 degree weather — the same as it was in Florida, according to the weather map.


In any event, one day instead of skiing I decided to visit Ecoinhabit, a green products supplier, which lies just off Highway 26 between Meaford and Thornbury – a fun field trip for me, apparently an excruciatingly boring one for my 14 year old son — go figure.


Ecoinhabit is occupied in an old barn with exposed rafters as well as the metal roof peeking through the wood. It’s a beautiful environment and the store itself is worth a visit. EcoInhabit can help you with many of your green building and lifestyle needs. In addition to building materials, it also carries organic sheets, towels, mattresses, futons, etc. If you’re in the Georgian Triangle area, drop in to take a look. Kara, the store manager, is very knowledgeable and passionate about the products the carry, and like me, cares about whether or not a product is really as green as the manufacturer wants you to believe it is.

Ecoinhabit Store Entrance

Below is a list of some of the products Ecoinhabit carries.

Sealants, Adhesives, and Caulking.

AFM Safecoat products. This is a California-based company that specializes producing low and zero-VOC paints, sealants and adhesives that are considered the safest and least toxic on the market today. Many of its products have received the Scientific Certification Systems’ Indoor Advantage Gold Certification, meaning that they are excellent for indoor air quality.

Ecoinhabit carries the following products:

  • Transitional Primer, $54.99 per gallon,
  • Zero VOC wallpaint. Available in flat (no sheen, $57.99/gallon), eggshell (low-gloss, easy to clean, $59.99/gallon), semi-gloss ($59.99/gallon) and exterior ($59.99/gallon).
  • Carpet Cleaners and Sealers: SafeChoice Shampoo ($30.99/gallon, $11.99/quart), SafeChoice Carpet Seal ($39.99/gallon, $14.99/quart), SafeChoice Lock Out ($32.99/gallon, $13.99/quart).
  • Caulking: $14.50/ten ounce tube.
  • SafeCoat Almighty Adhesive $14.50/10 ounce tube.
  • Safe Seal, $61.99/gallon, $19.99/quart
  • Hard Seal,$57.99/gallon.
  • MexeSeal,$62.99/gallon.
  • Grout Sealer, $23.99/quart. Coverage: 100 linear feet.

For a more detailed description of the benefits of these products, read the post on AFM Safecoat products.


Interface Flooring’s Flor carpet tiles: The residential line of Interface’s carpet selection is called Flor. It offers the ability to mix and match carpet tiles to create unique and interesting patterns similar to linoleum tiles, only with carpet. Carpet tiles made from recycled carpet: $8.99/19″x19″ tile. 100% wool carpet tile: $19.99/19″x19″ tile. Note: prices are approximate only. Please call Ecoinhabit for up-to-date pricing.

Eco-Timber: Engineered and reclaimed hardwood flooring products manufactured by Eco-Timber are made exclusively from Forest Stewardship Council Certified US managed forests. Milling and processing is done in Denver, CO. $10.25/ft sq. Bamboo flooring comes from FSC-certified forests in Asia. $5/ft. sq.

Ontario Reclaimed Flooring: Local reclaimed flooring made out of barnboard from barns that need to come down from around Ontario. $7 – 10/ft sq. Unfinished.


American Clay: An all natural clay product with natural pigments. Applied as plaster, zero VOC, it actually works to purify the air. For more information on American Clay, see my post on its benefits. 50lb bag of: Loma, $80; Meritimo,$120; Porcelina: $145.

Countertop Surfaces:

IceStone: A surface material made of recycled glass and concrete. Available in many different colours and thicknesses. $46-102/ft. sq. For more information on IceStone, see my post on its benefits.

PaperStone: A surface material made of compressed recycled paper and eco-resins. Looks a bit like laminate, the darker ones have a stone-like appearance to them. $42.75-48.50/ft sq. For more information on PaperStone, see my post on its benefits.

The Healthy Home at Downsview Park: Kitchen

March 29th, 2010

I wrote a post about the Healthy Home a few days ago. But really, there’s SO MUCH information on the home to cover that I couldn’t capture it all in one post (well, I could, but your eyes would glaze over after awhile).

To recap, the Healthy Home is an example of how using smarter materials doesn’t have to look different. All of the products used in this home are easily obtainable in Toronto. In fact, what was surprising to me was how many products were supplied by Sears. I’ll be honest — I have never thought of Sears as a supplier of green materials — shows you what I know.

I thought for this post I’d focus on the kitchen, because, well, it’s my blog, and I love the kitchen! (I’m in one for most of the day — it feels like anyway — so functional and pretty kitchens are important to me).

A few of the features of the Healthy Home’s kitchen:

Sink area

Kitchen sink -- height modified

Cabinets were manufactured by Heritage Finishes: Cabinets are made from low-VOC Composite wood board (Uniboard NuGreen low VOC wood composite panels), Richelieu Hardware supplied Greenguard veneers, and Allstyle cabinet doors supplied low-VOC cabinet doors. There is very little, if any, “off-gassing” of harmful chemicals from these cabinets. Low-VOC glues, adhesives and paints were also used in the making of these cabinets.

(Note: Greenguard is a third party certification organization that focuses on helping companies improve the indoor air quality of their products.)

CeasarStone Quartz Counter tops

Countertops: Provided by Dixie Marble and Granite. CaesarStone is made with up to

93% quartz and a polymer resin. Quartz is the second hardest substance and is excellent for kitchens. The surface is non-porous, durable, won’t scratch or stain.

Backsplash: Provided by Antica Tile and Stone. Onix Moonglass in Pearl. Mosaic tiles are made from 98% recycled glass.

Wall paint: provided by Homestead House, which is a local Toronto company, and the only Canadian company to produce a milk paint. The paint has a higher pigment concentration for fuller colour intensity, and is zero VOC.

Led-Linear Chandalier

Led-Linear Chandalier

Lighting: The kitchen chandalier is provided by Led-Linear, and uses linear LED lighting strips in a creative way for a central light. Undermount lighting for kitchen cabinetry was provided by Hafefle.

Appliances all supplied by Sears:

Wall Oven by Sears

  • Refigerator: Kenmore Elite. Energy Star. Annual energy cost: $47. Internal icemaker, external water dispenser.
  • Dishwasher: Kenmore Elite. Energy Star. Saves up to 42% water and 31% energy cost. Includes HE function, automatically measuring time water and energy for maximum efficiency. Annual energy cost: $30.
  • Cooktop: Kenmore Elite Induction Cooktop: cooks in half the time of gas or electric cooktops. Annual electricity cost of $23.
  • Wall oven: Kenmore Elite Self-Cleaning oven. Annual electricity costs $24.
  • Water filtration system: Kenmore MD Central Water filtration system. The system filters chlorine and other unpleasant tasting odours from water. Filter never needs changing as it’s self-cleaning.

Sears Self Cleaning central water filter

The Healthy Home is on display at Downsview Park until December, 2011. Open to the public, Monday-Friday 6-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 12-3pm.

Get Adobe Flash player