Posts Tagged ‘architecture and design’

Home Sweet Home Competition and Student Challenge 2013

June 22nd, 2012

 Last week the National Conference for the Canada Green Building Council was held in Toronto. It was the perfect time for the Home Sweet Home Competition to launch, and what better place to do it than at the winner of last year’s home renovation award, The Rosedale House?

There are two divisions of the Home Sweet Home Competition — one is for professionals and residential projects that have already been built, the other is for students from universities and colleges across Ontario, to design a well-built, low energy-using dwelling. The competition was developed by Mindscape  Innovations Group as they were developing the Ontario GreenSpec directory — a listing of services and businesses that sell green building materials across Ontario. They saw a gap in the category of green building awards; there were awards that were national, and others that were regional, but there were no awards at the provincial level, so they developed one.

The purpose of the competition is to highlight new and innovative house building projects and in particular, designs which focus on lowering a home’s carbon and water footprint, as well as the materials used. Finally, the competition recognizes that homes are built by teams of people, and that the end-result of their work is demonstrated in the finished product. Winning projects demonstrate that constructing a home that uses less, well, everything, is not only achievable, but also beautiful, easy to maintain, with low running costs. Emphasis is put on using as many local products as possible, and materials which are produced in an ethical and fair way, and preferably close to the building site.

You can see the winner of the 2011 Home Sweet Home Competition here as well as the winner of the Student Challenge, here.

So that homes can be judged against similar entries, the professional competition is divided into four categories:

  1. Production Home
  2. Custom Home
  3. Affordable Home
  4. Renovated Home

As this is a provincial competition, the home must also be built in Ontario.

The Student Challenge offers the opportunity for students enrolled in building and design programs at colleges and universities across Ontario to enter their best designs which should demonstrate the following characteristics:

An entry should be

  1. Healthy and Comfortable,
  2. Efficient, Affordable and Economical,
  3. Ethical: Socially and Ecologically Responsible.

All entries will be screened for energy efficiency and technical design aspects before the judges look at the entries. Because they structure the challenge around a story problem, to make it more realistic, this year they were able to get Rick Mercer involved. The story goes like this: Rick, “the unofficial lead of the opposition,” is having a “granny flat” built for him on the property of 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa. The address should be known to Canadians, as it is the residence of the Prime Minister. The students’ task is to design a home that is situated on a pre-determined piece of land at 24 Sussex, and the final product should be no larger than 8000 cubic feet or 262 cubic meters.

I was thrilled and honoured that the nice people at Mindscape invited me to be one of the jury members, and a distinguished jury it is! I am looking forward to seeing what the students design.

Some of the Jury Members from the HSH Competition and Student Challenge. Left to right: Ted Kesik (Competition), me (Challenge), Derek Satnik (Mindscape), Dave LeBlanc (Competition), Lloyd Alter (Challenge). Photo courtesy of Deena Huertazuela

To find out more about either the Student Challenge or the Professional Competition, visit the main website for Home Sweet Home.

To see the winning entries from 2011, visit this page:


A Green Reno Can be Easier Than You Think

April 30th, 2012

Family room -- FSC cabinets in background.

There are a lot of decisions to make when you renovate.  From the design of the space to the finishing materials, you want a house that works for you and your family.  Working with an architect or a designer can help, but ultimately you have to decide what goes where.

I finally found an easy way to make those decisions.   Using sustainability as the deciding factor.   It’s not that I am “granola green”.   My love affair with green has come slowly and selfishly as I learn how important indoor air quality is.  Modern homes have become air tight for energy efficiency, but modern building practices and materials bring in a staggering number of chemicals that off-gas into our airtight homes.

Labor costs make it impractical for us to re-use much of what we tear out of an existing home, but in Canada we have the luxury of craigslist, kijiji, freecycle and Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore that help to reduce consumption and waste.   The old appliances in my house in Toronto found a new home at my daughter’s school, my basement laundry area has sliding doors reclaimed from ReStore (at only $20 each vs. $35 for new!), and I re-used the mirror from my upstairs master bath in the downstairs powder room.

PaperStone countertops.

The colours in my Toronto house are bright and beautiful…and they didn’t smell when they went up on the wall.  These days, it is simple to find non-toxic paints at your local Rona or paint store.  That ‘freshly painted smell’ is not something you want to drift into the (tightly sealed) air in your home.  Why buy toxic paint?  Yet go to your home improvement shop and the shelves are full of it.  Yes, cost is a factor.  But the $1-2 per gallon difference is worth it in my book.

The warm fuzzy feeling of carpeting under your feet is cozy and inviting.  But that eerie ‘new carpet smell’ can be eliminated if your carpeting and underlay are made of natural fibers like wool or cotton.  My builder recommended cork flooring for the basement and I love it.  It has the same sound absorbing qualities of carpeting, is soft and comfortable even in bare feet, and made of naturally re-growing cork.  Real wood floors (FSC certified of course) are gorgeous as well and you can ask for water-based sealants to keep them that way.

Formaldehyde has found its way into many of the building materials that are common in new builds and furniture.  MDF, plywood, particle board and drywall, sealants and glues all have it.  I heard a recent CBC radio report that there is even formaldehyde in consumer branded baby shampoo.   Some formaldehyde is naturally occurring, but a lot of is actually added to these products.  It reminds me of hormones in meat…I’m fine with hormones that are naturally occurring, but keep the added stuff away, please.  I eat less meat these days, but I buy the good stuff and as demand for the good stuff increases, prices will come down.   These days building materials can all be bought in versions without the added formaldehyde (it’s called “NAUF” – no added urea formaldehyde).   Just like the health benefits of non-GMO beef are worth the added price, for me, the health benefits of NAUF products rate high on my list.

Cabinets made from FSC wood, with no added urea formaldehyde interior MDF.

I didn’t know about these things before I moved to Canada last year.  I had renovated before using conventional building materials and furnishings.  It wasn’t always so easy, but these days there are ‘green’ products everywhere because most commercial construction buildings adhere to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards.  You may work in a LEED office building and not even know it – but the materials and energy efficiency in your office mean the air quality is better at work than in your house.  Thanks to the LEED standards, the construction industry has come up with new materials to meet the standards.  LEED isn’t perfect – but it has created demand for (and lowered prices of) sustainable and healthy building materials.  This means they are also becoming more available (and affordable) for consumers.  Many of us just don’t know we should ask for them.

So how did ‘doing a green renovation’ make my reno easier?  It gave me a common denominator.  Something upon which I could base all of my decisions.  Rather than “this year’s colour” or “what’s in fashion”, I based my decisions on “what’s the healthiest and best option for my family”.  When deciding which architect and contractor to use – I went for ones that had truly green credentials.  Turns out they were also incredibly honest and conscientious people to work with.

Close up of PaperStone countertop

When choosing appliances, I only chose Energy Star rated appliances.  I thought all appliances were Energy Star, but they aren’t.    That helped narrow the choice, and then the rest was up to size and shape and cost.  When deciding which countertops to use, I experimented with one of the newer materials: Paperstone.  It’s made entirely of recycled paper.  Mine’s jet black and cut into a tear-drop shape to fit my breakfast nook perfectly.  It’s stunning and I don’t have to worry about whether or not it might be leaking radon like my old granite countertop did.


Stainless steel countertop in kitchen, cork tile backsplash

And yes, I do feel good about my reno.  The builder minimized the waste created rather than just ‘tearing it all out’ and responsibly managed what could be re-used or re-cycled.  My old cabinets went to ReStore instead of landfill.  The crew came to work on public trans or bikes and brought their coffee in re-useable containers.  Did I do a green reno to help the planet?  Nope.  I was entirely selfish about doing it for my family.  It turned out it that making every decision based on sustainability was actually easier (less is more) and I am happy I did my part for my kids’ future on this planet.

A green reno can be easier.

Bettina Hoar has become so passionate about sustainable design that she has partnered up with Amanda Levey to create Toronto-based studio called Sage, specializing in helping others integrate sustainable design, architecture and living into their homes and offices (



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