I met Chris Phillips at the launch of the Healthy Home in Downsview in March. Chris is the owner of Greening Homes, a renovation and green building company that specializes in environmentally responsible building. Chris was in charge of refitting the Healthy Home at the Hangar in Downsview Park with some green building features. If you have any interest in green building, I strongly recommend you visit the Healthy Home, it will give you some great green ideas about the steps you can take to retrofit your home.
Chris is hugely tall and thin with an open and easy-going manner. He is extremely busy not just with his building company, but also with teaching, taking a Master’s degree in building science at Ryerson, and recently becoming a new dad. When we were able to connect for this interview our conversation went well beyond my estimated half an hour. Listening to Chris talk about a more holistic approach to building in an industry that, for the most part, is oblivious to its environmental footprint, is music to my ears. Here is someone who is genuinely concerned about the future of our planet and is intent on decreasing the impact the building industry has on the planet one home at a time and not just someone who has decided “green is the new black.”
Chris’ approach to any renovation project is to minimize a project’s carbon footprint and this is evident while on the job site. He and his workers car pool, take public transit or bike to a job site. They recycle and reuse as many materials from a job as possible, and they aim to make as few drops at the dump and transfer station as possible. There are no Tim Horton’s runs — they set up coffee on the job site and bring reuseable mugs. Chris produces a report at the end of each project which documents all the steps he takes to reduce his team’s and the job’s footprint and compares it to what would have happened in a regular renovation project. His clients are pleasantly surprised at the amount of waste they’ve avoided sending to landfill, as well as shocked at how much a regular renovation job would have provided. Fewer tipping fees also save the client money, and as the City of Toronto’s tipping fees rise, Chris is already ahead of the game.
When starting a new project, he prefers to be invited in before the job begins or when the architectural drawings are in initial stages. He can work with the architect or interior designer to provide different available green options, and the earlier these options are incorporated into the job, the less time and money it will cost. He also quotes by doing a time and materials cost breakdown so that a homeowner can have a better amount of control over his costs. In general, “green” finishing products (ie, flooring, counter tops, kitchen and bathroom fixtures) tend to be more expensive than standard ones. While there might be a slight upcharge in what’s behind the walls, such as the type of insulation, or the use of FSC lumber and panelling, the difference is made up in saved energy costs down the road.
Another consideration when building green is that the overused word “green” means different things to different people, but Chris takes an entirely holistic approach to building and renovating. Not only does he think about minimizing the use of resources, the amount of waste a job produces, and the number of trips he takes to get materials or go to the dump, he also makes sure he’s using products that don’t produce harmful off-gasses. All the adhesives, stains, caulking and sealing products he uses are zero or no VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds), meaning that they won’t emit toxic gasses into your home once a job is done. He chooses responsible products as a matter of course: plywood with no added formaldehyde, FSC lumber and recycled drywall. When he first started in the green building business tracking down these products was not always easy, but as awareness and demand for these products grows, they are easier to get.
But sometimes clients will ask Chris to decide what steps they should be taking. That’s when he’ll pull out a questionaire to help them focus on their priorities. Chris says that people have more of an idea of what they are really looking for in a renovation than they might think, it’s just a matter of helping them understand what their priorities are and by asking certain questions, Chris can get the answers he needs to give them the kind of renovation they’re looking for.
I asked Chris if he had a favourite “green material” he liked to work with. He loves American Clay, so much, in fact, that he’s done his own house entirely in American Clay. The benefits of that product are numerous. From the sheer beauty of the product whether it’s the more rustic look of the Loma to the smooth ceramic-like finish of the Porcelina, American Clay or any clay plaster for that matter, also brings with it health benefits. Chris likes clay for two other reasons: one, it helps clean the air sending dust particulates to the ground where they are easily vacuumed or swept away, and two, the negative ions produced by the clay which are abundant in nature cancel out the effect of the positive ions produced by all the new electronic devices we have in our homes today. Negative ions make us naturally feel better. One other point that came up though was the sheer energy intensiveness of the paint industry and just how much petroleum is used in paint. Avoiding the use of paint can also reduce the amount a renovation’s carbon footprint.
For more information about sustainable building, contact Chris in Toronto at:
Greening Homes (416) 532-6811.
Greening Homes is an incorporated company, fully licensed, bonded and insured.