I am a volunteer with the Climate Reality Project – an organization dedicated to educating the world about climate change and the science behind it. Its goal is to dispel the myth that it doesn’t exist, or, according to Donald Trump, a hoax invented by China. Like many who work in some way or another trying to get greenhouse gasses under control, I have been thinking a lot about the consequences of the recent US election and what it will mean for the progress we’ve made, especially over the last year.
On November 9th, Karel Mayrand, the President of the Board of Directors of the Canadian chapter of Climate Reality Project, wrote some encouraging news. Below, with permission from the Climate Reality team, I am sharing his blog post. Thank you, Karel, for sharing your thoughts.
Trump, climate and us: A letter to those who won’t give up
Like me, you likely woke up before sunrise this morning, opening your eyes in the dark to confirmation that the nightmare is real.
Like you, last night I felt sick to my stomach. I felt a strong sense of anxiety for my sleeping children, who also went to bed anxious. What future will we be leaving them?
I’ve noticed that there has been a significant transition in the green building industry, especially with respect to residential building. A few of my favourite green building haunts have reinvented themselves over the past few years. Most of them started out selling green building supplies, but those that have survived are either still the loner in their geographic area with enough demand to support their business or they’ve transitioned into building services. Why? Because many of the green building products have become so mainstream that they are no longer niche. By now, the terminology “zero and low VOC” have become so common that most people will ask for these types of products — and the vast majority of salespeople know exactly what people mean when they ask for them (believe me, this wasn’t the case in 2009). Energy efficient products are everywhere and consumers have gained enough knowledge that they feel comfortable to ask the right questions. We want to know about recycled material content in our products, where they were made, and what will happen to them at end of life.
The progress that has been made in terms of general knowledge is remarkable. I attribute a lot of that knowledge with the rise in popularity of LEED. Whether the term has made it into the vernacular at the consumer level is almost irrelevant. Most builders — whether they love it or hate it — are very familiar with the certification and all of its pros and cons. But that is the point: now that the building industry is aware of it, it can work with clients who want to build better, healthier, durable and long lasting homes with better knowledge.
So, where does that leave me? In transition mode. I feel that my job is done with respect to writing about specific building materials, energy efficiency products, etc. While these issues are still important, there is enough knowledge and information out there that my news is no longer needed. I’ve covered VOCs, recycled material, energy efficiency, LEDs, water efficiency to death! On to bigger and better things! While I will leave all the previous articles up on the blog, the scope and content of the blog will transition into the bigger picture: the circular economy, extended producer responsibility, waste management, and sustainable cities. My work-life is currently focussed on these areas so it makes sense to write about them. And, as you will see, green building materials, energy and water efficiency are key pieces of these larger issues.
In the mean time, for the best information on green materials, building science, energy efficiency and green building, here are my go-to resources:
Materia: a totally awesome website dedicated to materials of the future, many of which are bio-based, all of which are interesting and different.
Inhabitat: quite possibly the best design blog out there with lots of green and inspirational ideas.
Treehugger: love this website and all the discussions that happen under articles. It is at the heart of most eco developments so if you only want to visit one site, this is the one.
Green Building Advisor: Aside from all the fantastic green building information available, the discussion forums are excellent.
Building Green: Green building guru Alex Wilson has been building green since before it was hip and trendy. He and his team are well-known for expert advice on all things green building, including materials.
Building Science Corporation: for highly detailed, thorough explanations of the latest developments in building science, this resource provides essential information.
The Scotiabank Ecoliving award rewards Canadian businesses, innovators and students in the field of home energy efficiency products and services. The purpose is to showcase the great work that is happening in energy efficiency around Canada. There are three categories:
1. $50,000 Business Leadership Award: This award is for the business that provides eco-friendly products or services to the residential sector.
2. $15,000 Innovator’s Award: This is for a company or individual who has developed a prototype or is in the early stages of development of a residential energy efficiency product or service.
3. $10,000 Student Leadership Award: This is for a full-time enrolled post secondary student involved in developing a prototype or innovative concept in the realm of home energy efficiency.
The first Scotiabank Ecoliving Awards were given away in 2011 to three very worthy businesses and individuals. In fact reading about them made my eyes water-up, but I’m a sucker for brilliant ideas and the brilliant people behind them.
To give you an idea of what creative Canadians are up to, Scotiabank followed up with the three recipients of the 2011 awards to see how they were using their awards. They’ve all put them to good use.
BUILD, based in Winnipeg, MB was the Business Leadership Award winner. Shaun Loney, the executive director of this not-for-profit organization, is like the Mother Theresa of contractors. His organization is killing three birds with one stone:
BUILD trains people to retro homes to make them more energy and water efficient, giving them employment. The group also retrofitted an old building into a Social Enterprise Centre where they share the space with a co-op hardware store and a bedbug remediation centre — in total, the 3 groups employ 150 people who would otherwise not have jobs.
BUILD used their award to successfully lobby the Manitoba government to pass Bill 24, The Energy Savings Act. Winnipeg will be the first jurisdiction in North America where utility companies will pay for energy and water efficiency infrastructure improvements in low-income areas. The idea is that Hydro Manitoba will install them, and the charges will go on the resident’s now reduced Hydro bill so residents will benefit from the better efficiency and not see a change in their monthly bill.
BUILD retrofits low-income homes so it is increasing residential energy efficiency in Manitoba while training and employing people from low-income neighbourhoods who might not have other opportunities. It’s a win-win-win.
Alex Lerche of EcoPlus Home won the Innovator’s Award. Based in Bathurst, NB, EcoHomes Plus makes low-footprint, energy-efficient homes. The company’s homes have since been added to houses available to build in six sustainable communities across North America. EcoPlus homes have been used in Serenbe, GA, an award winning green community. In fact, Alex had the idea of opening up a 2200 sq. foot “life lab” in Serenbe to demonstrate to Georgians the energy efficient technologies available today (such as induction cooktops), that don’t affect quality of life. In an area where air conditioning costs eat up a huge portion of residents’ electricity bill, (as well as putting pressure on the grid), convincing people to invest in more energy efficient technologies is critical.
Eden Full, the Student Leadership Award Winner, has used her money to further tweak her invention of the SunSaluter. It rotates with the sun to collect up to 40% more sun, meaning 40% fewer solar panels are needed to maximize energy output. Eden’s further goals are to help electrify areas in developing countries from a monastery and orphanage in India to a school in Uganda.
Entries are being accepted until February 15, 2013.
I’ve written about Aspera Recycling before. They already work with a few municipalities and retailers in Ontario to keep old carpet out of landfill. For those who live in the Maritimes, here is some good news about how to get rid of your old carpet!
HALIFAX – During the Carpet Recycling Summit in Halifax last week, Aspera Recycling Inc., the leader in postconsumer
and post-industrial carpet recycling in Canada, announced the opening of Aspera Atlantic a division that
will service the Maritime region. The Ontario based company has partnered with Greentree Resources of Halifax
NS to open a collection and sorting facility, the first of its kind in the Maritime Provinces.
It is estimated that Nova Scotians discard between 6800-7900 tons of waste carpet each year. Currently, there is no
other facility in Atlantic Canada that accepts used carpet for recycling. By working closely with leading carpet
manufactures and retailers, Aspera Atlantic will be able to reach its goals of diverting carpet from landfills and
maximizing the utilization of the recycled components.
“Carpet is made of plastic and putting it into landfills where it will sit for centuries to come is just not a sustainable
solution” says Richard White, President of Aspera Recycling. “The RRFB and the Nova Scotia government
recognize not only the environmental impact of this practice but the loss of non-renewable resources. We are
delighted about our partnership with Greentree to launch the diversion and recycling business in the region to help
solve this problem.”
Aspera Atlantic will collect, sort and prepare the carpet for processing. Paul Behner, President of Greentree
Resources said “We are very pleased to partner with Aspera and provide a solution to the Atlantic Region.” In 2008,
Behner was recognized by the Eco-Efficiency Centre for Environmental Excellence in Business for his work in civil
construction. “I am passionate about recycling; I see a world where all materials can be recycled with a goal to create
net positive impact on the environment.”
About Aspera Recycling
Aspera Recycling was founded in March of 2011 as a pro-active response to meet growing demand for waste
diversion and the recycling of post consumer used carpet. Having established a Canada wide collection network,
Aspera is the first national waste carpet diversion and recycling company with collection and sorting facilities in
Vancouver and processing facilities in Toronto.
About Greentree Resources
Greentree Resources, located at 933 Cobequid Road, Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia is an eco-station development
with a long standing history of recycling.
Team Ontario consisting of students from Queen’s, Carlton universities, and Algonquin College
While I’d heard of the US Solar Decathlon, I confess I didn’t know a lot about it other than teams had to design and build small houses that ran on 100% renewable electricity. Then I met Dayna Malich, a team member of Team Ontario, one of two Canadian teams which entered and have been accepted to compete in the 2013 Solar Decathlon. (Team Alberta is the other Canadian team). This event was first held in Washington, DC, in 2002 and has since been held in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011. This is the first time is it being held in Irvine, California. Teams from all over the world can put submit a proposal. The top 20 designs selected by the United States’ Department of the Environment are selected to build their homes in Irvine.
The decathlon contest rules require that the homes must be between 600-1000 ft2, affordable and appealing to the consumer, run entirely on solar electricity (have a net zero energy balance or better), and compete in ten different categories, some of which are juried, others are measured. The team with the most points at the end of the competition is the winner. There is a height restriction so that competitors won’t shade their opponents’ solar panels at any time during the day. From the Solar Decathlon website:
Each contest is worth a maximum of 100 points, for a competition total of 1,000 points.
Teams can earn points three ways:
Teams complete household tasks such as cooking, washing dishes, and doing laundry.
Team houses perform to specified criteria, such as maintaining a comfortable (71°–76°F) indoor temperature range.
Jurors who are experts in their field (such as architecture, engineering, and communications) award points for features that cannot be measured (such as aesthetics and design inspiration).
Contests based on task completion or monitored performance are called measured contests; contests based on jury evaluation are call juried contests.
Learn more about the 10 Solar Decathlon 2013 contests:
In addition to the juried and measured contests, the entrants have to use the house as it would be used in a normal family setting. Contestants have to host a dinner party and a movie night, do laundry, wash dishes and keep the house within the 71-76F range with humidity at a comfortable level throughout the contest.
All teams are selected from post secondary institutions from around the world. Team Ontario is a group of students from Queen’s University, Carlton University and Algonquin College.
Team Ontario Artist’s Rendering for US Solar Decathlon 2013 Entry
I spoke with Karl Kadwell, the project manager of Team Ontario, about their project, the Decathlon itself and what they hope to achieve with their entry.
Students from Queen’s and Carleton universities first got involved with the solar decathlon in 2009 when they entered the competition for 2011. Although they were short-listed for the 25 they were not selected for the final twenty teams so they regrouped. They took the next two years to build the team while improving their modelling and technical skills, and then partnered with Algonquin College for 2013 competition. They went to the 2011 competition to see what had worked for the 2011 contestants and stayed in contact with several of the competing teams during before the 2011 competition. Algonquin was brought in because of their advanced housing program at their Perth campus, and the house will initially be constructed in Perth. They have great technical programs and have been doing the bulk of the drafting and CAD work.
According to contest rules, the houses are supposed to be designed and judged for each respective geographic location. But they also need to perform well in California. A lot has to be taken into account when designing the structure. Not only does the house have to have a low energy load that can be generated entirely by its own solar panels, it has to look good (market appeal) and be affordable (defined as costing US$250,000).
Size and Design: Homes are restricted to being between 600-1000 ft2 — a starter home for a young and small family of a couple and one child. The homes must be places that people want to live in and can afford to buy. That means they must be aesthetically pleasing — which is always a big deal to me, because if it isn’t attractive and functional, and no one wants to live in it, then it’s not a very good design.
Passive house features have also been included in this house. Maximizing southern exposure in winter, and minimizing it in summer is a key design feature of the house. The design team has incorporated a special exo-structure that will help shade the windows in summer, but allow light in in winter. Thermal mass will be incorporated into flooring and counter tops.
The HVAC system will also be an advanced system. So far it is based on a system of heat exchangers and involves two water tanks, one cold and one hot. The hot water tank will provide heating and hot water. The cold water tank will provide a sink for excess heat in the system. It’s a fairly complex system and it will only be with time and testing that the final model will emerge. In all homes with exceptionally tight building envelopes a heat or energy recovery ventilator is used to extract stale air from the home in bring in fresh outside air, preheated or cooled by the exchanger before it is sent into the house. The general debate or rule of thumb is that in warm climates an energy recovery ventilator is best and in cool climates a heat recovery ventilator is best. Karl said that this was in fact an issue that they’d been wrestling with and in the end have found and are testing a unit that can be either an ERV or HRV. If it works to their satisfaction, the unit will be an ERV in California and an HRV in eastern Ontario.
Energy Balance: throughout the contest, the homes will be judged on how energy is used. All homes must operate as they would if they were in use by a normal family. This is the reason behind the hosting of a dinner party — where all food must be prepared and stored in-house — a movie night, to see how the home adjusts to different occupancy and energy loads. Laundry must be done in the house as well, as the home needs to be used as it would in a regular setting. The designers, therefore have to think about energy loads all the way along — how much energy can the solar panels generate? Is there a storage system (battery system) to store excess energy to draw from later, etc. They are striving for a net positive energy balance — where more energy is produced by the home than consumed.
Materials choice: Karl told me that in the past and in current models, all teams do their best to take into consideration the impact of materials used. They look at materials’ embodied energy, where it’s sourced from, its impact on the earth, how recycleable it is at end of life and durability of the material itself. This information has to be incorporated into the overall affordability of the home itself. Many green materials can have an overall price premium on them, so there is a fine balancing act that teams need to play.
One of the interesting materials that they’re looking at using is Panasonic’s vacuum insulated panels (VIPs) for the building envelope. VIPs have an R value of 60/inch. If Team Ontario’s system is successful, imagine what it could mean for urban infills where space is at a premium? The panels themselves are 1/2″ thick with an associated R value of 30. As Karl explained to me, the entire house will not have an R value of 60 because there will be thermal bridging, and of course there are doors and windows. To prevent a certain amount of thermal bridging, they will stagger two layers of panels so that seams are interspersed. The house itself will also have a traditional stick wood frame, a flat roof with more VIPs used and some additional insulation.
Water balance: teams need to account for how much water their homes use during the contest. They will do a water budget at the beginning of the project and incorporate a water storage tank onsite. Each home’s water tank will be filled once during the contest, according to its predicted budget. It’s up to the team to manage the water use throughout the contest. Karl said that low flow fixtures and rainwater harvesting are being incorporated into the design. Waste water will be measured at the end of the contest to see how much water was used during the contest.
One of the key design points that needed to be considered from the beginning of the project is transportation of the home. This house has to travel from Perth, Ontario (where it will be built initially), to Irvine, CA and reconstructed. While the team looked at both train and truck, in the end they decided on a truck shipping system because of the ability to design a slightly larger home. If train transportation was used, all components need to be designed to fit into the train shipping containers.
Budget: While the US DOE gives each team $100,000 over two years upon meeting certain benchmarks, the entire project is projected to cost around $900,000. In addition to engineering, architecture and building departments, students from the commerce faculty are also actively involved in this project helping to raise money and develop and implement marketing plans.
There are several benefits to running this contest:
The students and faculty of the involved schools are pushed to come up with creative new ways to look at housing design. These are designs that can be used by the next generation of architects, engineers and related field technicians.
The students working on the projects get to apply their knowledge and creativity within a real work environment, possible years ahead of where they would be doing similar work in their post-university career.
The public, who are lucky enough to be able to view these homes, learn about building materials and techniques that are feasible with today’s technology but are also affordable.
The event gets wide media coverage from media outlets worldwide and aims to shift general thinking about better and more energy efficient housing.
The US government sees value in the contest because it trains the leaders of tomorrow and helps evolve the housing industry.
It also gets a first hand look at some of the latest thinking and modelling in energy efficient housing.
The house will be open for viewing in Perth, ON sometime in mid 2013, before it gets deconstructed and shipped to Irvine, CA for the contest. After the competition, it will be reconstructed back here, although where (Kingston, Ottawa or Perth, ON), is not yet known.
The Solar Decathlon will take place Oct. 3–13, 2013, at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. The competition houses will be open to visitors on eight days over two weekends. Public hours will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily:
For the most part we rely on third party organizations to determine what is and isn't a "green building material." The only time we might not is when products are locally produced or no third party green designation is available for the product.