Posts Tagged ‘Water Efficiency’

Home Sweet Home Water Efficiency Champions Announced Today

March 22nd, 2011

Today, March 22, is World Water Day. A day designated by the United Nations to remember to conserve water. Here in Canada we are some of the biggest water users on the planet and so we tend to take water for granted. But as our communities grow and stress our resources, we need to think more about conserving a precious resource. There are many fairly easy ways to conserve water around the house including installing aerators in your faucets, low-flow shower heads and when it comes time to buy new toilets, washing machines or dishwashers, make sure you look for water saving features.

Ontario Green Spec held its second annual Home Sweet Home contest and people who’d built or renovated homes with green features were encouraged to apply. To mark the UN World Water Day, Ontario Green Spec selected three “Water Champions” to highlight projects that focused on increasing water efficiency.

A ‘Green’ Victorian – 153 Huron Street, Toronto: This 120 year old house is the home of MP Jack Layton, National NDP Leader and MP Olivia Chow in downtown Toronto. The renovation project, carried out by the Green Catalyst Group and InLine Design.Build, earned the highest water conservation score within the Renovated Home of the Year category. This is the most difficult category in which to achieve gains because it’s more practical to include efficient technologies during the construction phase, rather than re-building later. However the existing housing market is also the most significant sector in terms of total water conservation opportunities, and we applaud this project for showing leadership within that sector. The water saving features included the installation of two 1000 litre rainwater harvesting tanks, replacing old toilets with efficient dual-flush models, and installing a water-saving showerhead.

Stickwood-Walker “EcoLogic” Homes – 1096 Quaker Trail, Newmarket. This new home is part of Canada’s first neighbourhood of LEED Platinum homes. The Town of Newmarket set very high environmental standards for the Stickwood-Walker housing development, including a 50% reduction in water use and 35% reduction in discharge. The team at Rodeo Fine Homes met the challenge.  This project achieved its water targets by including a 2300 litre rainwater harvesting system, grey-water recycling, efficient appliances, low-flow faucets and showerheads and dual flush toilets.  More info: Newmarket Ecologic Homes or

Cambridgeshire LEED Home – 6 Tremaine Drive, Kitchener. This model home was built by Terra View Homes as part of their Edgewater Estates neighbourhood. It achieved exceptional water conservation through the inclusion of a 5000 litre rainwater harvesting system. Rain from the entire roof surface is channelled into an in-ground cistern, which is then used to supply clean water to all toilets, and to irrigate outdoor plants.  A landscape architect “xeriscaped” the grounds, including drought-tolerant sod and permeable paving that allows rain to soak through into the soil. The project also employed efficient appliances, low-flow faucets and showerheads and low-flow toilets to further the water savings.  For more information, see

The Home Sweet Home Contest celebrates green residential building. The winners will be announced on April 12th, 2011 at the awards gala. For more information about the contest or to buy tickets for the gala, visit the website:

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.

EcoFitt: Water-Saving Fixtures and LED Lighting Options

January 25th, 2011

EcoFitt is a Mississauga, Ontario-based company that has been in the background of water and energy conservation for several years. The company works primarily with utility companies such as Enbridge, Union Gas, BC Hydro  and Manitoba Hydro and provides them with energy and water saving kits that the companies in turn give to some of their customers.

In the past six years I’ve lived in two different homes, and in both of them I have had visits from Enbridge representatives giving me a free energy and water-saving kit in addition to the offer of installing the items. The kit contained a water-saving shower head, two faucet aerators, a compact fluorescent light bulb — maybe two, I can’t remember anymore –and a few other things to help our household conserve water and electricity. Both of these kits, it turns out, were provided to Enbridge by EcoFitt.

Now, however, in addition to working with utility companies, EcoFitt is reaching out directly to consumers and property managers to help them save money and conserve resources. While they don’t have a retail store, all of their products are conveniently available through their website.

I spoke with Melinda DeNicola, Director of Marketing for EcoFitt, about a few of the products they carry.

There are a few different kinds available depending on what your needs are. Each of the kits is geared towards a specific goal. For instance, the “gas energy efficiency kit”  ($57.70) includes weatherstripping and ShrinkFit plastic sheeting that helps insulate old, drafty windows. It also includes a water-efficient shower-head and some aerators.

The “electric” energy kit ($32.80) aims at helping you lower your electric bill by providing you with a thermometer for your fridge (most people set their fridges and freezers too cold but don’t know it), an air filter whistle (it whistles when your air filter is dirty and needs changing — simple idea to increase energy efficiency!), two CFLs and 12 draft stoppers for your plug outlets. (Note: I noticed from the photos that the light switch and electrical outlet plates they’re showing are the older style. If you have a newer home with more modern square light switches, make sure you ask whether or not they carry those kinds of plates).

One of EcoFitt’s most popular items is their water-saving Niagara toilet line. They carry three different models including the Niagara Power 1.0 GPF pressure-assist toilet, which, as the name suggests, uses 1 gallon (3.8L) of water to flush ($395.60).

LED Lighting by Fawoo. A Korean company that makes high-quality LED lights at a reasonable price. They have unique 3W and 4W bulbs, the “04 LumiDas-H Spot” that were developed to replace the halogen 50W spot light. While not yet up on the Eco-Fitt website, these 3 and 4W bulbs are available in “warm” and “daylight” lighting temperatures. For LEDs they are reasonably priced at $28/bulb. According to the Fawoo brochure, the lights are

[m]ade of flame-resistant plastic instead of aluminum, the lamp saves dramatically its manufacturing cost and made it affordable at the price of 40% below than the existing equivalent LED lamps.

The quality of an LED light rests as much on design as it does on the quality of the chip that it uses. In this case the chip manufacturer is Nichia, a reputable chip manufacturer, according to Dmitri Shaffer, LED Lighting specialist. (Note, for a thorough explanation of how to choose LED lights, read “LED Lighting Illuminated.”)

Programmable Thermostat. The programmable thermostat is a great item for helping any household improve its energy efficiency. The problem with many programmable thermostats is that they don’t get used properly because people don’t know how to program them. Eco-Fitt now offers a Thermostat installation service (additional charge for thermostat installation), and the HVAC professional who installs it will also be able show you how to operate it.

Rebates: EcoFitt’s products qualify for local government rebates depending on where you live, however, you do have to do the paperwork yourself.

If you’re interested in increasing the energy and water efficiency of your home, but don’t feel like braving the cold temperatures and snow we’ve had lately, browse through EcoFitt’s website and order products from the comfort of your home.

For more information visit their website:

Gifts for the Green Builder in Your Life

December 14th, 2010

I’ve been browsing through old posts to see if I could come up with any “gift suggestions” for all the green builders out there. There is a definite slant towards practical materials in these posts. I don’t think anyone would be thrilled to see SIPs panels, a bag of insulation or a 3 litre toilet under the tree. But I do think a bucket of all natural iQ cleaners would make a nice house warming gift!

Anyway, I did manage to collect a few products and services out there that might actually appeal to the green building enthusiast in your life. Here are a few of my suggestions:

Kill A Watt EZ

1. The Kill-A-Watt. Are you really surprised by this one? It’s one of my all-time favourite measuring tools. I’ve used it on almost every appliance and gadget we have in our house. It’s straightforward and easy to use and measures the number of watts your computer, TV, iron, toaster, basically whatever you plug into a wall, uses. It’s a great gadget to identify the biggest and smallest energy users in your house.

Available through and other retailers.


Digital Timer Controlled Power Centre: A power bar with 8 grounded outlets, four on a timer and four independent. This power bar has 7 program opportunities and can be set to auto or random. Great for using with lights if you are away. We have our computer and wireless system hooked up to this, so it all turns off at night. (In addition to saving energy, it also stops our teenagers from staying on social web pages until the wee hours of the night.)

Available through Canadian Tire for $24.95

Energy-Wise Landscape Design

Energy-Wise Landscape Design: This is a wonderful and thorough book for the avid gardener in your life. It is not a picture book but rather a comprehensive look at how to landscape your property to lower your energy bills (cooling in summer and heating in winter), and save water. It is meant for any climate zone. The appendices help you with calculating tree height and latitude, as well as plant selection.

Available through $29.95 plus shipping.

A Milk Paint Painting Course: Milk paint is an all natural product that contains no petrochemicals consisting of a mixture of limestone, clay, casein, and natural pigments. It’s a zero VOC product that soaks into surfaces so it never peals or chips. Learning how to mix and apply isn’t difficult, but sometimes it helps to watch someone else do it first, so Homestead House, the only Canadian Milk Paint manufacturer, offers courses in learning how to paint with its product. What a great gift for the do-it-yourselfer! See their Services Page for more information on painting classes.

95 Niagara Street
Toronto, Ontario
M5V 1C3
(King St W. & Bathurst click for map)


Cork gifts and accessories: Cork is an amazing product with so many different uses. It grows on the cork oak tree in the Mediterranean. The bark can be harvested every 9 years for up to 200 years. At the Cork House in Oakville, the store is overflowing with accessories made from cork. In addition to the flooring I wrote about, there are handmade decorative cushions, cork furniture, both upholstered and wood/cork combinations, cork pads of all kinds, watch staps, cork-bound journals, purses, toilet kits….you get the idea. The store is located in Oakville in the oldest building in Halton Region.


Address: 2441 Neyagawa Blvd. Oakville, ON. L6H 6Y3
Phone: (905) 257-5588
Fax: (905) 257-5589

Beyond the Six Litre Toilet

November 16th, 2010

Of all the exciting building subjects out there, “toilets” isn’t one of them. However, in the grand scheme of things, toilets are probably the highest water consumers in our households, so if you’re in the market for a new toilet, consider how much water (and money) you would save by getting one that uses less water than the one you currently have. In fact, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) notes that up to 200,000 litres of water per year is wasted due to leaky toilets. (Source: Household Guide to Water Efficiency)

Toronto currently offers rebates on water-friendly (low-flow) toilets. Depending on the model you choose, you can receive $60-75 per toilet, for a replacement fixture. When I first wrote about toilets a few years ago at HomeStars, the “in” toilet was the 6 litre toilet. The progression of water-saving toilets since then has been rapid. After six litre toilets, there was the introduction of “dual flush” toilets and for businesses, the “waterless urinal.” Now, however, there comes the 4.8 litre and 3 litre toilets. There are plenty of models out there, but three that were demonstrated at the Green Building Fest in September, which I’ve highlighted below. [Editor’s Note: The City of Toronto Toilet and Washing machine rebate program ended as of March 1, 2011.]

As I always recommend before setting out on your toilet purchasing journey, check with my favourite toilet publication written by a joint committee: the Canadian Waste Water Association and the California Urban Water Conservation Council. It’s a very thorough list of which toilets succeed in being both water efficient and effective waste removers.  Trust me, the effectiveness of a waste removal system is important. We have fairly good 3 year old Toto 6 litre toilets (now passé of course), but they are no match for my teenage sons and are constantly getting plugged. Finally, the CMHC offers an excellent document on what features to look for when buying a toilet. You can download it here.

Adelaide Cube Toilet Dual Flush

Caroma: An Austalian company that is a leader in dual flush technology. These toilets are available in a wide variety of styles to suit both modern and traditional bathrooms. Dual flush gives you the option of using 3 litres (0.8 US gallons) or 6 litres (1.6 US gallons). The flush design and technology is slightly different than that for traditional toilets. For complete installation instructions, check out the Caroma website. For a list of local distributors click here. Note, here is a link to a CMHC report on “Dual Flush Toilet Testing” where they tested consumers use of a Flapperless, Caroma, and Toto toilet.

Niagara Flapperless “Simcoe”

Niagara Flapperless “Simcoe” toilet: a regular looking toilet on the outside, it contains a patented flush system that’s so simple you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it.  The difference between the Niagara line of toilets and traditional toilets is the absence of flexible seals such as the flapper valve which means that leaks are a thing of the past. As mentioned earlier, toilet leaks through flapper valves can waste up to 200,000 litres per year. It uses 4.8 litres of water and has a MaP rating of 1000 grams. Available at Home Hardware, current cost, $174 each in Toronto before local rebates.

For more information contact Water Matrix, the Canadian distributor for Niagara Flapperless.

(Note: Home Depot sells a few models of Niagara Flapperless toilets in the US under their Glacier Bay label.)

Proficiency 3L toilet

Proficiency Ultra High Efficiency Toilet. This is a 3 litre toilet that also carries a patented flush system. It “uses a very swift and quiet, yet powerful flush with just 3 litres of water.” Its MaP rating (Maxiumum Flush Performance) is 600 grams. Available in white or biscuit, two pieces, elongated bowl with a narrow tank and “stylish flusher.”

Available at Home Hardware. (Price may vary by location and over time).

%d bloggers like this: