Posts Tagged ‘eco-friendly countertops’

A Tour of Maison de Développement Durable, Equiterre’s Headquarters

November 26th, 2012

Living wall in lobby of Maison de Development Durable

Maison de Développement Durable” (MDD) Centre for Sustainable Development is a 6 storey office building a little to the east of Place des Arts on Ste. Catherine in Montreal. Equiterre, the not-for-profit foundation behind the development of this LEED Platinum certified building, wanted to show what could be built from an environmental perspective so they set out to build the most energy efficient and least energy intensive building in Canada. Complete data isn’t in yet, but Ricardo Leoto, technical adviser, for the building, says the data is showing that per square foot it is the most energy efficient office building in Canada.

This building took almost ten years to come to realization. The Equiterre Foundation, originally located in the east end of Montreal started looking for more centrally located office space and decided that they wanted to build the most efficient building possible using today’s technology. All in all, it was a project that started in 2001 and was completed in 2011.

Here are some of the features of the building:

  • Hydro Quebec owns the land and gave it to the MDD to build the building. The land is leased for 50 years.
  • The concrete contains 25% fly ash, which helps lower the embodied energy of the concrete.
  • Rainwater is used for the toilets, collected from the roof, supplemented with city water when necessary.
  • A daycare within the building with a small playground on the roof is used by building tenants and Hydro Quebec employees.
  • A mini “test” wind monitor on the roof, installed by students at Concordia University, to see if a wind turbine can be installed on site.
  • Wiring is fed under an accessible floor making repairs or movement much easier than if it is behind walls.
  • CO2 sensors are installed in meeting rooms to make sure there is always fresh air in the rooms.
  • A deposit bin in the lobby for old batteries, cellphones and CDs.
  • Le Commensal a vegetarian (recently flexitarian) restaurant.

Green (vegetative) roof plus, salvaged window washer scaffolding hooks


wind turbine test site monitored by Concordia University


Rainwater capture system, for use in the toilets

Heating and cooling: The building uses a complex system of geothermal heating and cooling. However, when the temperature drops below -30 a gas heating system will kick in order to ease electricity demand. There is also a Heat Recovery Ventilating (HRV) system, which captures the waste heat and uses it to prewarm cool outdoor air before it goes through the heating system.

The distribution system is designed so that vents are built into the floors with adjustable openings to control the amount of air entering a room. The air released into the building is at a constant temperature of 20C, winter or summer. I asked Ricardo if they’d had any adjustment issues when they first put the system into operation and he said that the system was so efficient that for the first little while, the indoor temperature was 25C (during the winter) because the HRV was so good at collecting and transferring the waste heat to the incoming cold air. They adjusted the controls and haven’t had any trouble since. In fact, the gas furnace hasn’t been activated yet because the temperature hasn’t been cold enough in the one winter the building’s HVAC system’s been in operation.

The entire system works in reverse in the summer time. In addition, although more expensive, the geothermal tubes are individually controllable within the main floor furnace room, that way, it there is a problem with one pipe, the entire system doesn’t need to be shut down.

Ricardo confessed to me that although they’ve had no issues with the HVAC equipment, the building itself could be more efficient because, as it is elsewhere, plug load is still an issue — yes, even in a building full of environmental organizations, lights, computers and other plugged in equipment are still left on when not in use. Just goes to show you — even environmentalists aren’t perfect (myself included).

On the other hand, it’s important to note that while Equiterre had the option to purchase spaces in the parking garage for its office space, they actually pay not to have access to them, so everyone uses alternative methods to get to work. The St Laurent metro stop and the de Maisonneuve bike path are both a block away, and because of its central location, it is well suited to be a carless office.

Venting for geothermal HVAC equipment


individual geothermal tubes


All air vents are located in the floors with manual flow controls

Green Roof: it  absorbs water and provides insulation in the summer. Indigenous plants that don’t need watering are used. The rain water is collected through a tube at the other end of the building and provides water for the toilets in the building (supplemented by city water).

Living wall: a vegetative wall that maintains moisture levels for the lobby at an ideal state as well as purifying the air. A green wall can absorb up to ten times the pollutants that a mechanical system can. A simple circulation system consisting of a pump, directs the air towards the green wall and the plants purify the air which is circulated throughout the building.

Reused materials were an important part of this building. Tables in board rooms are made from bowling alley lane wood put together with a base by a local metalworker. Kitchen counters are made of concrete and recycled glass come from a local Quebec manufacturer. One piece of feedback they’ve had is that the counter can chip where pieces of glass are located leaving a divot, particularly on the edges. On the roof the window washing hooks (for the window washing equipment were salvaged from a neighbouring building that was being destroyed.

recycled bowling alley lane wood -- into table top

Salvaged wood from Logs End


Recycled glass in concrete - Quebec manufacturer


Equiterre Green Building Materials Library

Public education: There are monitors and information screens throughout the building that visitors can look at to find out how the building is performing versus expectations. Further, there is a library of materials used in construction at the far end of the main floor, where visitors can learn about what kinds of green building materials were used and what are their benefits.

All tenants are paying the exact same rent that they were in their previous buildings while getting a more comfortable and lighter footprint building in which to work.

For more information on Equiterre or the Centre for Sustainable Development, visit their websites.

Accessible wires under flooring plate. Carpet by Interface Flooring


Recycle your old CDs, phones, and batteries here!









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Nexterra LivingHome Revisited

April 17th, 2012

Nexterra LivingHome — Kitchen

Two years ago I attended the press party for Nexterra LivingHomes. I was pretty excited about the concept of a green modular home that achieved the goals of being lighter on the planet, but was still functional and gorgeous. The house is now ready and, since I was in Toronto to attend the GreenLiving Show,  Gary Lands of Nexterra, took me on a tour of the nearly completed and furnished model home. There are three other homes that will be built at 20 Senlac, blue prints and property positions are available on the Nexterra website.

Exterior Rainscreen cladding be Externit


Side view of house — double garage under scaffolding

The Nexterra LivingHome consists of 6 prefab boxes: four large boxes and two smaller ones.  The finished home is a spacious three plus one bedroom, meaning three bedrooms on the second floor with a fourth in the basement. Ceilings are 10′ tall on each level so there is a real feeling of space — even the basement ceilings are 10′. The home has wonderful flow, with windows used both strategically and liberally so that there is plenty of natural light.

Laura Felstiner, involved with establishing Nexterra’s partners, told me they are targeting LEED Platinum certification, but won’t know until the house is completed and systems are operating, in order to monitor energy consumption.

Some of the features of the home:


Geosmart furnace

Waterfurnace HRV

Third floor tower leading to roof deck (also works as a heat stack)

Building envelope and HVAC system: The building is tightly sealed, with R35 insulation in the exposed walls, and R30 insulation in the basement walls.Insulation is Heatlok Soya, a sprayfoam insulation made from recycled water bottles and soy. It’s an excellent insulation with an R-value of 6 per inch. The key to Heatlok is that it doesn’t lose its R-value over time. Many sprayfoams lose a little of their insulation value due to natural shrinkage of the material.

There is easy accessibility to the roof via the third floor stairway, which also acts as a heat stack. When days are hot in the summer and (hopefully) nights are cooler, opening the door to the roof, while opening lower floor windows prompts cool air to be drawn into the lower floors while the hot air escapes through the open top floor door. There is also space for a whole house fan in the roof which would accomplish the same thing if the lower level windows are open. The roof is also solar PV panel ready, and there will be a roof deck as well.

Geothermal heating system by Geosmart provides both heating and cooling for the home. In addition, because the building is tightly sealed, there is a Heat Recovery Ventilator and air purification system by Water Furnace, that keeps the air clean and circulating through the house.

Windows have fiberglass frames, made by local Toronto business, Inline Fiberglass, and are double-glazed, low-emissivity, filled with argon gas. These windows are some of the best insulating windows on the market today. You can read more about the advantages of fiberglass windows in this article.

Appliance Bank: AEG microwave, oven and steamer oven

Franke Sink with culinary work prep sink and built-in compost bin

Recycling bins built into kitchen cabinets — by Scavolini

Kitchen: The cabinets were done by Scavolini, an Italian company that takes sustainability very seriously. Not only are the cabinets NAUF (no added urea formaldehyde), but there are thoughtful additions such as a recycling centre built into the island. The company itself also practices sustainability during the manufacturing process. The two manufacturing plants run almost entirely on electricity derived from the rooftop solar panels on their factories, waste is minimized as is the amount of water used in manufacturing. While the cupboards are manufactured in Europe, they are shipped by boat and flat-packed, and are assembled on site. Flat packing items allows companies the opportunity to ship more items in one container, lessening the number of cargo holders needed.

Countertop by Caesarstone, Faucet by Franke

Countertop: Caesarstone “Quartz Reflections” with up to 42% reclaimed quartz and with particles of recycled mirror and glass which adds a very nice sparkle.

Euro-Line Appliances provided all the appliances and the stainless steel sink. The sink is by Franke and includes a prep bowl and strainer, as well as a built-in compost bin. Appliances are by AEG and include an induction cooktop, and a wall of ovens consisting of a microwave, convection oven and steamer oven. The dishwasher is also AEG. European appliances use significantly less electricity than standard North American models and will lighten the electricity load for the house, Faucet is by Franke.


Barnboard in mudroom

Mudroom: Between the garage and the kitchen is a mudroom to which barnboard has been added for a great rustic touch. Barnboard comes from Muskoka Timber Mills, and was installed by Andrew Reesor, a local artist.

Dual flush Aquia II by Toto

Powder room: Just off the mudroom is a smart little powder room containing a dual flush (3/6 litres) toilet by Toto Aquia II, and a vanity and sink by WETSTYLE, featuring a proprietary WETMAR material for the sink basin.  It is completely recyclable at end of life and can be made into new WETSTYLE products.

Inlaid cork flooring by Jelinek at entry way.

Other features of the main floor: The welcome mat at the front door is actually an inlaid cork flooring provided by Jelinek. Wood flooring through the rest of the house is Kentwood, FSC engineered oak. Engineered flooring is often used because it behaves more consistently than solid wood, not being susceptible to expansion and contraction.


Halo LED lighting in basement

LED pot lights throughout the house are 4″ Halo, 5Watt lights. When Gary was showing me around the house he asked me what was my favourite feature. I told him the LED potlights (he might have been a little disappointed with my answer). I thought they were 50W halogens because of their light temperature (colour) and brightness. I had no idea they were LEDs. Not only will these lights use 10 times less electricity than their halogen counterparts, they will likely not need to be replaced for 15 to 20 years. Now that’s great lighting.

The pendant lighting in the kitchen and over the dining room table is provided by Eurolite.

Living Room — furniture by Gus* modern, art by AGO

Furniture in living room is provided by Gus* Modern. Pillows are provided by Bev Hisey and are Goodweave certified. Goodweave is a not-for-profit group with the aim of ending child labour in the carpet industry while providing education opportunities for children in South Asia. Second life rugs were provided by Elte.


Cast-iron fireplace by Jotul

The fireplace is provided by Jotul, model F 370 DV. Jotul manufactures this fireplace from recycled iron in one of the cleanest foundries in Europe.


Home office








The desk in the home office was constructed by JM & Sons out of recycled metal and reclaimed wood. Gary explained that the home’s interior is set up so that if someone has a home office, any clients they might receive can stay in the main part of the house. This eastern-facing wall has large windows so that lots of natural daylight can stream in.

All art throughout the house is provided by the Art Gallery of Ontario’s  Rental and Sales department.


Master bathroom, bath tub, sinks and vanities by Wetstyle

The second floor consists of a Master-ensuite with floor to ceiling closets on the end walls providing lots of storage space. The washroom has been outfitted with Wetstyle tub and sinks and vanity. Other storage cupboards also come from Wetstyle.

Faucets and showerheads throughout the house are low-flow from Aquabrass. I should also mention that while all toilets and faucets are low-flow, they’ve also built the house to be grey-water ready. Grey water, water that comes from the shower drains, can be used to feed all toilets in the house, literally helping to reduce your water use in half.


Bunkbed in bedroom #2 by Kolan


Bedroom #3, crib by Oeuf

The two other rooms on the second floor are set up as kids’ rooms, one with a crib, the other a set of bunk beds. These rooms are bright and spacious and putting furniture in the rooms shows that they are big too — there is plenty of play area in both rooms. The kids’ bunk beds  and bookshelf are made by Oeuf out of Baltic birch and eco-MDF and low VOC water-based finishes. The table in this room was made by Heidi Earnshaw, a local artist.

The crib and dresser are made by Kalon from FSC domestic maple and low VOC food grade dyes and stains.

The paint throughout the house is white, zero VOC provided by PARA paints.

What you notice when you walk through this house is not only is it a great example of a green-designed beautiful contemporary house, but also there is an absense of “new home smell” — ie., no smell of chemicals off-gassing into the air. Neither the products that were used to construct the house nor the furniture installed for modelling the home contain toxic chemicals providing a comfortable healthy indoor air environment.

If you’re at all interested in modern, low impact homes, take a look at this one. It will be available for sale at some point, right now it serves as the model home for three others to be built down the same laneway.

For more information on the home, visit the Nexterra website.

For more pictures of the home, visit BEC Green’s Facebook page.


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Polytrazzo — 80% recycled material, 12% rapidly renewable material

January 12th, 2011

I came across this counter top/flooring product last month that looks interesting. Its product, Polytrazzo is similar to the other recycled-glass products like Vertrazzo and IceStone, but it’s made in Canada. At the moment it’s made in Vancouver, but following an email exchange with Dan Stubbs, the Director of Sales and Marketing for Polytrazzo, their ultimate goal is to be able to manufacture this product in various locations across Canada.

Polytrazzo’s originated from eurocrete(.com), a similar product designed for industrial flooring in the food manufacturing business, so you know, that if it’s good enough for an industrial food manufacturing facility, it has to be a pretty resilient material.  It was a simple switch to to recycled material when developing this new product that made it perfect for the commercial/residential market.

Polytrazzo is a product that consists of 80% recycled glass, 12% “not feedstock competing, non petroleum-based” vegetable oil and 8% white cement. Regarding the 8% cement in the product, Dan says: And yes, we know that white cement is frowned upon in the ‘green’ world; but we feel a product that is 92% environmentally friendly is step in the right direction. We have done a significant amount of testing and 8% is what is optimal right now.” The finished product is twice as hard as concrete and has a long lifespan. In fact it will outlast the concrete it sits on.

It is available in a variety of colours and thicknesses depending on if it’s going to be used as paneling, flooring or counter tops. It is scratch and chip resistant, non-porous, food grade, chemical resistant, waterproof membrane, zero VOC and it doesn’t need sealing. It’s one of the lowest maintenance products I’ve come across.

Polytrazzo is available in a variety of natural resin colours including: blue, red, yellow, green (several shades) and grey (several shades), mixed with two different aggregates.

The product is available two ways: it is either pre-cast in the factory to order and sent to its final destination for installation by a traditional tile installer, or it is ready to be cast in situ, meaning that it is poured on site and left to cure and can be done by a professional terrazzo installer.

The cost: Locally in Vancouver, the product cost ranges from $7-8.50/square foot, in Toronto and outside of Vancouver, it’s about $8-9.50/square foot. Installation will cost $2-5/square foot, depending on the type of installation being done. The company has recommended installers they work with in the Toronto area.

The company’s goal is to set up more centres across Canada in order to manufacture the product in the area in which it’s used. At the moment, however, it’s manufactured in Vancouver and shipped across North America.

For more information contact Polytrazzo directly:


Concrete Elegance — concrete countertops with 88% recycled content

October 7th, 2010

I always hesitate to write about concrete as a green building material. Concrete manufacturing is one of the most energy and water intensive processes around with an average CO2 output of one kilogram per kilogram of concrete produced! So, when I was at the Green Building Festival a few weeks ago, I passed by the booth for Concrete Elegance and spoke with Alla Linetsky about her product. I had written about Concrete Elegance before, but it was purely from a decor perspective, its green attributes at that time were ignored. As it turns out, concrete from Concrete Elegance is a pretty ‘green’ product after all.

Concrete Elegance was established in 2004 and since 2006 the company has been continuously improving the environmental footprint of its product. Some of the improvements it has made include:

  • Replacing 80% of Portland Cement — the energy intensive part of concrete — with recycled cementing materials, mostly with steel mill slag from Ontario smelters
  • replacing all of the sand and gravel with the broken, multi-coloured glass shards left at the bottom of our recycling boxes that would otherwise go to landfill
  • producing a product that is less than half the thickness (and therefore weight) than traditional concrete but just as durable
  • sourcing up to 88% of all ingredients from Ontario
  • replacing steel reenforcement with glass fiber filaments which use less energy and are lighter and stronger than steel
  • casting on permanent table surfaces, eliminating disposable formwork material using VOC free ingredients and sealer.

In addition to its environmental qualities, concrete offers a lot of flexibility in design. Because it’s a poured substance, it can be made into unusual, thin-walled three dimensional shapes that would be impossible to fit with solid sheet material. It can be polished or honed and needs sealing only occasionally.

Curved sink and counter top

The cost is similar to stone surfaces and largely depends on what your needs are. For instance, concrete can be made into fireplace surrounds, floor tiles, counter tops, backsplashes, and even complete counter tops with sinks (although not recommended for your primary sink). It can be used in interior and exterior locations.

Concrete, like all surfaces, does chip so you need to pay attention — although chips can be repaired, you will see them. A knife will scratch the finish so use a cutting board, and while the food-safe sealer applied is non-porous it develops its resistance over time, so it’s best to clean up spills quickly in the first few weeks.

For more information on Concrete Elegance, visit their website.

Concrete Elegance

610 Bowes Road, Unit 14, Concord, ON, L4K 4A4

Phone 416-567-5529
Fax 416-913-2462

(note: please call before you visit as they may be at a customer site).

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Eco by Cosentino Countertops contain 75% recycled material

August 11th, 2010
Eco by Cosentino Countertop

Eco by Cosentino Counter top

Whenever people ask me about what is the greenest stone counter top for a kitchen renovation, I suggest quartz as an alternative to granite, marble or soapstone. I’ve pointed out in a previous post the advantages of quartz over the other stone types, but now there’s an alternative material from Cosentino, the maker of Silestone quartz, that looks like quartz but is made from recycled materials. Eco by Cosentino is a counter top collection that was introduced in 2009 across the US through Home Depot and Lowe’s locations. In Canada, it’s harder to find, in fact I’ve only found two dealers in the Toronto area, but the material’s purported benefits warranted further investigation.

Eco is made from 75% crushed post consumer and post manufactured glass, mirror, ceramic tiles, porcelain, stone chips and crystallized ash. It’s bound together with a resin, part of which is derived from corn oil (my preference would have been a soy-based resin, but I might be being a bit picky…). Using recycled materials to make products has several benefits:

  • Less energy is used in the production of the product therefore fewer CO2 emissions are produced.
  • Material that was once destined for landfill now has another life left in it.
  • Fewer raw materials are extracted from the earth.

These eco counter tops also have many of the same advantages as their quartz counterparts:

  • They are as durable as quartz.
  • They are non-porous which mean they won’t stain or carry bacteria in the counter top.
  • They need very little maintenance and no sealing.

Price point:

I spoke with Steve at The Creative Kitchen Gallery about the product. He told me it’s hard to price out exactly until an actual product is chosen, but it’s fair to say that it’s in the same price range as a mid-priced SileStone product (Cosentino’s quartz line of products).

Eco by Cosentino is available in giant slabs (63″x123″) or regular tile sizes, 10 colours, and two finishes — polished or leather. It’s been certified by Greenguard Cradle to Cradle NSF, and carries a 10 year limited warranty.


Right now the two dealers in the Toronto area are:

Creative Kitchen Gallery Inc.

6061 Hwy #7, Unit C

Markham, ON, L3P 3B2

Tel: 905-471-3500; Fax: 905-471-1300 Email:



Georgina Kitchens
4077 Highway 48
Sutton, ON L0E 1R0
(905) 722-85552
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