Archive for the ‘Green Homes’ category

Endeavour Centre’s workshop schedule for 2016

January 27th, 2016

In the wake of record-breaking warming temperatures, you might be wondering what you can do to lighten your carbon footprint. Besides curbing your air travel and becoming a vegetarian, you can looking at tightening your residence’s building envelope, or renovating using more benign materials. The Endeavour Centre in Peterborough, ON, hosts a bunch of different kinds of green building workshops, and the first one on designing your sustainable home will be held in Toronto on February 6-7th.  The schedule for all of their courses is below, but visit the Endeavour Centre’s website for more information.

» Read more: Endeavour Centre’s workshop schedule for 2016

Green Moving Tips

April 9th, 2015

Green Moving Tips

Moving with an eco-friendly idea in mind means you will need to take care of many details that have to be checked during the process. You would do well to ensure you will not throw away any possibly non-biodegradable items or other things in the process of moving if you can work on recycling them. Just like other green initiatives around the world, green moving has become more and more popular, allowing moving companies to do their jobs without too many issues involved with polluting the environment during a moving job. The following tips will give you more information you can use to ensure you have an eco-friendly experience in such cases:

» Read more: Green Moving Tips

Canada’s Greenest Home — One Year Later

March 24th, 2015

Canada's greenest home

Usually once a home is built, the builder hands the keys over to the new owner and unless there’s a problem, the builder moves on to the next project. However, in the case of a straw-bale built home in Peterborough, the home has been lived in for the past year and all water and energy consumed has been recorded. The goal was to see if, in fact, the home is Canada’s greenest home. You can read all about its features in the article I wrote last year. Chris Magwood, director of the Endeavour Centre, whose students built the home emphasizes that it’s not supposed to be a competition, it’s meant to demonstrate that building a green home is achievable using currently available technology that is locally available.

» Read more: Canada’s Greenest Home — One Year Later

Canada’s Greenest Home is Complete!

May 24th, 2013

Canada's Greenest Home?

Chris Magwood, Executive Director of  The Endeavour Centre sent me a note letting me know that Canada’s Greenest Home is now complete and up for sale. As he mentions in his blog post on the subject, being the greenest home is not a brag per se, as those people working in the green construction industry tend to work cooperatively rather than competitively. I had a long list of questions about the home that I sent Chris’ way, and he answered each one with significant detail.

If you’re not familiar with the Endeavour Centre, is an independent school that teaches green building skills and techniques. People in the program spend half their day in the classroom and the other half building a house, getting that hands-on practical experience they need.

Using criteria from both LEED and Living Building Challenge certification systems, the team at Endeavour built what is likely to be one of the greenest homes on the market today. Not only was it built with end-use in mind, it was built with materials that have a low embodied energy. For the most part, materials come from close to home, and are made, as much as possible from renewable resources.

The house is a spacious 2300 square feet of living space on two floors. There are three bedrooms (including a Master-ensuite) on the second floor, and two bathrooms. On the main floor there is another room which can be used as a fourth bedroom, den, playroom, office, etc. in addition to the kitchen, living and dining rooms and another bathroom.

Shell: The east and west walls for both the first and second floors are made from NatureBuilt straw Structural Insulated Panels. The south side of the building is “double-framed dense packed cellulose” and the north wall is site- strawbaled. Chris estimates that the SIP walls have an R30 value, the roof has an R-80 value, the basement floor has an R-16 value, while the basement walls, built from Durisol blocks are  R-16. This is a very tight shell despite its vapour permeable walls, with an air exchange value of 0.63 ACH/hour at a standard pressure of 50 Pascal Pressure. Ross Elliot from Homesol Building Solutions  performed the energy audits throughout construction. Chris noted that the floor joists were constructed within the structure so there is no issue with having thermal bridges around the joists. Needless to say, this is a very tight building envelope!

James-St (14 of 19)

James-St (13 of 19)The windows and doors were manufactured by Inline Fiberglass. They are triple glazed (ie., three pieces of glass), argon filled with fiberglass frames. Fiberglass is one of the best materials you can use for windows and doors as the glass and fibreglass expand and contract at the same rate meaning the seal remains tight.

Because the building envelope is so tight, the house is equipped with an Air Source Heat Pump made by Mitsubishi, and an accompanying Energy Recovery Ventilator. Newer ASHPs work even in cold climates such as ours as they can find the heat in air that is -30C (provided the building envelope is tight enough). The ERV recovers heat not just from air, but also from moisture in the air so it is doubly efficient. Chris told me he wouldn’t worry about moisture in this house in any event. Because the walls are made of natural materials (straw, lime plaster, clay and wood), they are breathable and therefore can absorb moisture from the air and dry without worry of mou

Ross Eliott has estimated that with average consumption patterns the annual cost to heat the home should be about $325, taking into account average Time of Use rates in Ontario. In addition, there is a 5 kilowatt PV solar system on the roof which should generate some extra income for the homeowners as part of the microFIT program. In theory, Ross estimates that the home should run at a surplus, and that because the home is so well-insulated, it shouldn’t have any need for air conditioning (although it’s included in the ASHP). No fossil fuels are needed to run this home, and in the event that the homeowners draw more electricity than they produce, they have a contract with Bullfrog Power, a green energy retailer.

Exterior cladding is FSC pine from PurePine and are treated with Sansin stain (water-based) in the factory, and the cedar shingles were sourced in Madoc, Ontario.

Water use: There is no sewer hook-up for this home. The toilets come from a composting company in Sweden called Clivus Multrum. The system only uses 0.1L of water per flush. I’ve looked at the diagram on the Clivus website and asked Chris about it. To be honest, I was a little leery about a composting system within the home itself. The system comes with a fan, and a drainage system that separates urine from excrement and by the time the compost reaches the front of the system it is only about 10% of its original size and ready for use (it takes one to two years to reach the front of the system). My two reservations with this system are sanitation and smell. However, Clivus has been in existence since the 60s and in North America since the 70s, so maybe my reservations are unfounded. Chris noted that they have installed this system in two houses before with great success.  Despite my reservations, I can see a system such as this one being a great way for progressive cities to entice new buildings and retrofits to not use the city sewer system — provided there is a lot of training and some sort of certification system in place to make sure proper safety/sanitation measures are taken.

Because there is no need for water for the toilets, there is also no gray water system. There is a rainwater harvest system in place which can be used for any household uses including watering the garden. An overflow system lets excess rainwater  onto the front garden.

Interior finishes are a variety of materials including non-toxic acrylic paint from Mythic, AFM Safecoat Naturals paint, a homemade Clay finish, lime plaster and Kreidezeit clay. There are no toxins in this house!

Is this Canada’s Greenest house? It is durable, made of low-embodied energy, local and attractive materials, with exceptionally low running costs, that doesn’t tax the municipal sewer or electric system. Further, it blends in with its neighbours, is a reasonable size and offers typical functionality all of which are important factors in creating any “green” house. The market will decide how desirable this house is. And desirability is a key ingredient in any green house.


Sustainable Building Courses Coming to Toronto

July 10th, 2012

Two very green home courses will be held in Toronto in the next little while.

The first one is a certified Passive House Training course, being held at Ryerson University in two phases: Phase one, July 31-Aug 4th, 2012 and Phase two, August 20th-23rd, 2012. Passive House certification seems to be gaining ground in Canada. Ross Elliot, the course leaders, is a Passive House Certified Trainer/Consultant. To give you some idea of how quickly Passive House building is growing, Ross is currently working on 8 Passive House projects, but anticipates to be working on another 30 this year. In a nutshell, Passive House building consists of building an envelope so tight while using passive solar heating techniques, that a traditional furnace is no longer needed to heat a home.

A study done in the spring of 2011 for the Canadian Home Builders Association found that energy- efficiency is now a “must have” feature for buyers and has become “significantly more important”  to Canadian consumers. A series of U.S. studies in recent years reveal green features are a key factor for consumers:

  • 70% of buyers are willing to pay more for a green home
  • 80% of buyers would choose the most energy-efficient home
  • 55% list “green” features as an important part of the decision to purchase
  • 70% of homebuyers are more likely to buy green in a tough economy
  • 79% are willing to pay more for a home with predictable energy costs
“Buildings in Canada plus their associated electricity use currently exceed all transportation emissions combined. Why are people still content to build leaky, uncomfortable, energy guzzling homes when we know a better way?” asks Elliott.

This course will teach you to implement Passive House principles in residential, commercial, and retrofit scenarios. Topics will include;

  • Principles of Passive House design – heat transfer, air-tightness, super-insulation, ventilation and moisture control
  • Instruction in the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), a powerful and precise energy modelling software
  • Minimizing mechanical systems (Energy Recovery Ventilation)
  • Passive House construction examples plus materials selection and trainees will perform cost optimization and economic feasibility studies
  • Quality Assurance techniques

The nine-day PHIUS Passive House Consultants Training is approved for GBCI CE Hours (32 hours)

In addition to himself, Elliot has assembled a team of experienced Passive House instructors to teach the course.

Elliott’s team includes:

  • Russell Richman, CEO of Russell Richman Consulting Ltd. an engineering firm in Toronto specializing in sustainable buildings. He is also an Assistant Professor of Building Science at Ryerson University
  • Ryan Abendroth, the Certification Manager at the Passive House Institute US and a Certified Passive House Consultant and Trainer. He is also Principal of Passive Energy Designs LLC in Missouri
  • Graham Irwin of California has worked in construction for more than twenty years and was one of the first Passive House Consultants in the US. He has a degree in physics with additional studies in engineering and architecture and he is Principal of Essential Habitat Consulting.

The cost of the course is $2250, plus $250 to take the Certified Passive House Consultant exam. The course also counts 32 hours towards GBCI (LEED continuing education) and AIA continuing education credits.

For more information on the Passive House course, visit the website.


The second course that’s coming to Toronto is an Earthship course, being held at the ROM theatre September 21-23rd, 2012. Cost is $400. The philosophy behind Earthship buildings is that buildings should use local, lowest impact materials possible to build a superior energy efficient dwelling. Usually, that means building with local refuse such as old tires, plastic, discarded water bottles, used glass bottles, etc. Energy consumed is from 100% renewable sources, rainwater is harvested, and waste is treated on site. In addition, you can usually grow some of your food inside and outside of an earthship. Houses tend to be of a whimsical nature that remind me of a cross between something out of Whoville and Luke Skywalker’s childhood home. To see some examples of Earthship dwellings, visit Kirsten Jacobsen’s Earthship page on Flickr.

Here is the itinerary for the course. Note that everyone who attends all three days will receive a certificate of completion.


Friday September 21
10:00am – 12:00pm
History of Earthships discussion/presentation of how and why they evolved.

2:00pm – 5:00pm
Solar/Thermal dynamics: discussion/presentation of how the Earthships heat and cool themselves and how this is integrated with the structure and climate.

Saturday September 22
10:00am – 12:00pm
Custom Earthships: discussion/presentation on custom Earthships and how to design them.

2:00pm – 5:00pm
Earthship Systems: discussion/presentation of specific details of the Earthship Systems independent power, water, sewage and food production.

Sunday September 23
10:00am – 12:30pm
Earthship Disaster Relief projects around the world discussion/presentation of how Earthships are evolved by
these projects.

2:00pm – 5:00pm
Types of Earthships – discussion/presentation of the various types of Earthships and how to get started on your own.

***UPDATE***July 11, 2012

I was just contacted by Chris Magwood of the Endeavour Centre, based in Peterborough who asked me to pass along a few courses the centre is also offering:

On July 26 we’re presenting Architecture After Oil, a public talk by California designer and engineer Bruce King, who heads up the Ecological Building Network and has written several key books on earthen and straw bale building.

On July 27, Bruce King is teaming up with another influential engineer, John Straube (of for a professional seminar called Engineering Outside the Box.

Both of these events are being held at Ryerson University, The Pit, 325 Church Street. The web link for these events on our site is

We’re also putting on a Make Your Own Solar Shower workshop on July 29, an Earthen Floors workshop on August 19 and a How to Design Your Own Sustainable Home workshop on Oct 13-14. The link to workshop listings is



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