Archive for the ‘Guide’ category

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).

Are stone countertops eco-friendly?

May 17th, 2010

CaesarStone collection

The “greeness” of  stone counter tops is a conumdrum I have been wrestling with over the years. You can get LEED points for using stone countertops because of their benefits to indoor air quality. But generally speaking, in the true sense of the word, stone countertops are not green. Stone is a massively energy and water intensive product to produce. Producers tout its “natural qualities.” Stone may be natural, but that doesn’t mean that all natural things are safe or responsible to use. If that were the case you could argue that petroleum is a natural product too.

But let’s be realistic: A lot of us love stone countertops. They’re nice to look at, they’re sleek, they’re fairly easy to clean and they can last and last without fading and can, to a certain extent, be revived or refurbished when they get too rough looking. So, whether we like it or not, stone countertops are going to be around for awhile.

Cambria quartz countertop

That being said, if you could choose a more “eco-friendly” stone, assuming there is such a thing, you would look for stone manufacturers that are conscientious about how they produce their stone, and you would look for stone that stands up to the test of time. Some stones are more durable than others and will last for 100s of years if looked after properly. Others, like the prima dona marble counter tops in my kitchen, will be worn out within a few years unless they’re taken extra, really good care of.

If I were to choose a stone countertop I would choose a quartz-based product. Quartz is the fourth hardest natural substance and is one of the most common substances on earth. Quartz countertops have many advantages over granite, marble, soapstone and limestone countertops. Quartz countertops are:

  • low maintenance and never need to be sealed,
  • non-porous so they are stain and bacteria-resistant,
  • available in a wide variety of colours and edging finishes,
  • generally come with a 10 year warranty (check your manufacturer for specific warranty)
  • Greenguard approved — which is given to products with high indoor air quality value. These products don’t off-gas any harmful chemicals.

Quartz manufacturers:

Two quartz manufacturers stand out when it comes to their environmental commitments.

CaesarStone not only offers a line of products which includes up to 42% post-consumer recycled material, its manufacturing and transportation practices are central to its environmental commitment.

Cambria: According to its website, its quartz is mostly mined and manufactured in the USA. The company recycles 100% of water used in the manufacturing process and even recycles storm water captured on the property. Environmental best practices are used throughout the manufacturing and packaging of Cambria products and even within its head office. See here for more details.

To find a CaesarStone dealer near you, click here.

To find a Cambria dealer near you, click here.

Rating System for Water Efficient Toilets

February 8th, 2010

Maybe you haven’t yet taken advantage of Toronto rebate program to switch to a new water efficient toilet. And maybe you haven’t because you’ve heard that there are many on the market that just aren’t that good — that the water pressure isn’t strong enough so you need two or three flushes — and, well, doesn’t that defeat the whole point of a water saving toilet, hmm?

Fear not. There is an organization out there called the Canadian Waster Water Association (CWWA for short), that, in combination with the California Urban Water Conservation Council, makes it its mission to test popular toilet brands for their effectiveness. I’m not kidding. And you should see the report!  It’s called “Maximum Performance (MaP) Testing of Popular Toilet Models 15th Edition.” It’s extensive and frankly, not that easy to read. But once you decipher all of their codes it becomes a little easier to read. The most important column is the fourth one which measures the values for “MaP Flush Performance (grams of solid waster removed from a toilet in a SINGLE flush).” Obviously, the higher the number, the better. The lowest number in order to qualify for MaP is 350grams. The highest flush is 1000 grams (that’s one kilogram of waste — which is a lot!).

The program tests hundreds of models of toilets — which means that using this chart can be overwhelming. My suggestion is to print off the report and take it with you when you go toilet shopping.  Appendix C has the toilets listed from worst to best in terms of solid waste removal efficiency.

If you’re not familiar with Toronto’s water efficiency program you get a $60-$75 rebate when you buy a water efficient toilet or washing machine. Retailers will help you fill out the forms for the rebate. As of 2009 they’ve changed eligible models — but most retailers are familiar with the program and will have the qualifying toilets highlighted. For specific information on the qualifying models see the website.

Hot Tip!: on February 27th and 28th from 7am-10pm, Home Depot Stores in Toronto will be offering a $75 instant rebate on City of Toronto selected toilet models. To qualify you must live within the City of Toronto and you will need to bring a water bill, government-issued photo ID, and use the in-store coupon. See the City of Toronto Water Efficiency Website for more details. It doesn’t say whether or not there is a limit to the number you can buy.

Note: this program has been discontinued. 🙁


How To Talk to Your Contractor about Adding Green Materials to Your Renovation

January 16th, 2010

You’ve decided to bring more eco-friendly products into your renovation or design but you’re worried about talking to your contractor about your decision. If you’re new to the renovating or home-building game, don’t laugh — this is a more common problem than you might think.

Whenever you discuss using any new product outside a contractor’s comfort zone, be prepared for a “discussion.” The discussion could be as simple as a one-way conversation where he says “No.” There is the occasional contractor who’s willing to work with you when you ask for certain things, but generally you’re lucky if you’re able to convince him to use low VOC paint.

Here’s the thing: you and I look at it from an end-result point of view. We want to use materials that are safer for our kids to be around. We don’t want them to breathe toxic fumes from formaldehyde-laced particle board, or put their little barefeet on chemical laden carpets, or sleep in rooms painted with high VOC paints. But from the contractor’s perspective it’s a whole new can of worms involving a potentially huge learning curve and possibly a significant time investment, if not monetary investment too.

Let’s face it, time is money and somebody has to pay for something a contractor’s never tried before. For example, if you tell your contractor you want to use no added urea-formaldehyde plywood, you’re asking them to track it down, because not everyone carries this kind of plywood, so they either have to charge you for the hours they spend looking for it or they’ll decide to “eat the cost” or bury it in one of the other project charges. Further, contractors usually work with preferred  suppliers who give them a contractor’s discount for being a steady customer. Asking to use materials that their regular supplier doesn’t stock can mean that a new supplier likely won’t give them a contractor’s discount for a small one-off job as they don’t have a credit history. Further, they’ll probably have to pay for the material up front.

Another problem is familiarity with materials. New materials they’ve never used before could result in a slower installation time (reading instructions, making mistakes in installation, calling the manufacturer for direction), which again will cost someone more money.  And then there’s the liability if it isn’t installed properly. Finally, sometimes contractors are just not convinced that some products will do what they say and they want to protect you from throwing your money away. Part of their job is being your adviser and part of their job is making sure they finish on time so they can move onto the next project.

So, how do you resolve your desire for using green building materials with your contractor’s needs for finishing the job on time and keeping his costs in order?

1. If you’re new to the renovation game and you don’t have a contractor already lined up, find one that advertises “green.” That is, one who has already worked with a variety of green materials, has his suppliers ready to go, and is not afraid of the challenge. A good place to start is the Canada Green Building Council. The general contractors listed there are all LEED accredited, green building professionals. Unfortunately, the directory does not distinguish between residential and commercial builders so a little digging is required. Another good place to check is a local contractor’s website. Many contractors, like Tony’s Roofing Services LLC, include information about the kind of “green” options they provide on their website or blog.

2. If you already have a contractor with whom you’re comfortable — and personality fit is key to a successful renovation — before the project even begins ask him if he’s willing to use some green materials in this renovation. If he’s resistant then ask him what his concerns are. You can be prepared to assume the extra time and money cost involved, and you can help him out by locating and purchasing the materials for the job. Note though that many contractors are uncomfortable with you purchasing materials because if they over-estimate how much they need, they can just use the rest of the material on the next job. If they under-estimate and it’s their regular supplier, they usually can call them up and get more but not if you’re doing the ordering. You have to be flexible when trying to incorporate green building materials into your job and willing to be a little more active in the green building project.

3. If you want to incorporate something significant into your green build, like geo-thermal heating, and your contractor is trying to convince you otherwise, you can either stay firm and tell him you’re doing it and then work with him to schedule in the job, or you can use his HVAC company and see what energy efficient measures you can accomplish with them. When you work outside of his trades while he’s still on the job, be prepared to be on the job site to handle any problems. Also stay in constant communication with the contractor about when the best time to schedule the installation will be. The last thing you want to do is throw the rest of his schedule off.

Plug Load Measurement for your Home — Energy Efficiency at its Easiest and Cheapest

January 15th, 2010

You might not have thought about it, but if you look around your home and think back to 20 years ago, we have a lot more stuff plugged into our walls than we did then. There are cell phones and Blackberrys, cordless phones, several TVs , at least one or more personal computers, think of the number of iPods your family has, gaming consoles, DVD/VCR players, surround-sound systems, alarm systems, coffee makers with built-in clocks…a lot of these gadgets didn’t even exist 20 years ago.

So, while today’s large appliances use approximately 3 times less electricity than those from 20 years ago, we have so many small ones now that any efficiency gains made by the large appliances have been completely wiped out by the introduction of all the small ones. According to a Stats Canada report, between 1984 and 2002 large appliances energy consumption decreased by two-thirds, but small appliance energy consumption increased by 105%!

Standby Power: One of the things the electronics companies developed awhile ago was keeping electronics such as TVs and computers running on a small amount of power even when they’re technically off so that they don’t take forever to warm up like the TVs of old (I remember being able to make popcorn — on the stovetop — in the time it took for the TV to warm up when I was a kid — yes, I’m that old!). One of the problems with this development is that your appliances’ power is on even when it’s off, if you follow me. They might draw as  little as one Watt per hour — but multiply that by 24 hours/day, 365 days/year by 5-10 appliances by hundreds of thousands of households and you get a lot of wasted power. In fact, Consumer Reports estimates that 8% of all power consumed by households is standby power, or more than 108 billion Kwh in the US.

Determining where to cut back.

I’m not suggesting you give up your small appliances — but you might want to cast a critical eye through each room and determine what really needs to be plugged in all the time. Could you subtitute any of your cordless phones for ones that don’t use electricity? Do you need all those TVs or game consoles — or do they need to be plugged in all the time? Do you need a DVD player when the PS3 will do both jobs? How often do you actually use your VCR anyway? Does it need to stay plugged in, or could you just plug it in when you need it? (Just put masking tape over the flashing clock like my stepfather did so you don’t have to reset it all the time!) Can you put a group of these electronics on a power bar and turn everything off?  But be careful what you put on a power bar — avoid things that need resetting every time you turn the bar on, like wireless routers, or anything that uses a fan for a cooling down period after its been turned off (a plasma TV for example). There are some nifty power bars with sensors to determine when people are in the room, and another that determines what the most important electronic in the group is (the TV or Computer for instance), and keeps that one running while the rest turn off — but so far they’re not available in Canada. You can read about them on

MeasuringYour Electricity Consumption appliance by appliance.

My favourite little green gadget, the Kill A Watt, has just become easier to use. The latest model is the Kill A Watt EZ, a device which measures how much power anything you plug into a wall uses. The one I have measures Watts, but the EZ turns everything into dollars and cents so you know how much money your appliance will use in a year (you have to program in the rate, but you can get that from your last hydro bill). Plug your TV into it and see how much electricity it uses in the on and off modes. Do the same for each appliance to discover which are the largest electricity hogs in your home.

Where to Buy:

The Kill A Watt is usually available for sale at home shows  and on Amazon. I bought mine at the Cottage Life Show for $75. The National Home Show is February 19-28th, as well as the Green Living Show, April 23-25th. You can also buy it online from the stores listed below.

Green Gadgets sells it for $33 (I think I might have gotten ripped off!) — but they don’t have the latest model. It’s an online store. Check shipping costs.


%d bloggers like this: