“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
Like many others out there I am suffering from climate anxiety, and yes, it’s a thing. In fact, there is even a 9 step program for it available in some cities.
I sometimes feel like there is very little I can do to help reverse the fairly dire situation we have gotten ourselves into. Right now, people on the front line, such as scientists, politicians, and civil servants, are working on developing adaptations to climate change. There are small island countries, such as the Maldives, in the Pacific Ocean whose governments have bought land on nearby mainland for the inevitable time that their homeland is under water; officials from cities along the shores of the east coast of the United States are regularly visiting Holland to take lessons on how they have adapted to living below sea level. » Read more: Drawdown – A Playbook for the Climate Anxious
This past week I was fortunate to be able to attend the Green Building Fest, an annual event, hosted this year by Sustainable Buildings Canada and the International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment (IISBE). Watching the presentations was like being on an emotional roller coaster. When the various government officials presented (Glen Murray (minister of the Environment and Climate Change), Alex Woods (policy writer presenting Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan) and Dianne Saxe, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario), I felt depressed and hopeless based on their honest and somewhat depressing view of where we are headed. The news is not good.
I was uplifted, however, by the brilliant and well-prepared presentations from the extraordinarily talented people invited to speak to us about projects in which they are involved that are helping us adapt to climate change. The theme this year was resiliency — because we can no longer prevent climate change, it’s here, so we must prepare ourselves and our communities for the effects of extreme weather events. The presenters gave me hope that we will be able to adjust and adapt, although, make no mistake, it’s going to be messy and ugly and expensive in the beginning, but the cost of inaction is uglier, messier and even more expensive. We are at the point of no return. We need to act now and put ideas into action or future generations will pay dearly for our inaction. » Read more: Reflections on a Successful Green Building Festival 2016
Please join us on Wednesday May 18, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. in the Steam Whistle Gallery for an exciting series of presentations and informal discussions featuring Ontario-based products and solutions. This forum will feature innovative approaches to radon control, energy storage, heat recovery, wall systems, and water re-use. The presentations will be followed by a cocktail and networking reception catered by Steam Whistle Brewing and Daniel et Daniel.
The featured products include: Vertical Indoor Garden (VIGA), SolarWall, Greyter Water Systems, RadonGuard, and Quad Lock Insulated Concrete Formwork technologies.
We look forward to welcoming our expert presenters Mr. Phil Fung, Mr. Todd Marron, Mr. John Bell, Mr. Richard Baumgartner, and Mr. Shawn Eldebs
Please visit our Eventbrite page to register – Cost is $47.46 to attend.
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.
Francis Ching is a well-known author and illustrator of books on design and construction, perhaps within the building sector his most well-known book is Building Construction Illustrated. Collaborating with Ian Shapiro on this latest book, the pair have developed a good introduction to green building for those just becoming familiar with the field, but it also serves as a good reference guide to green building for those of us with more experience.
“What is green building?”
The point of the question is to highlight the reality that it is really an evolving definition. Some buildings built to a high standard, have, upon evaluation, turned out to be less green than their standard counterparts because they use more energy than the comparative standard, whereas some net-zero or close to net zero buildings aren’t classified as green because the owner has decided not to go through the hoops necessary to become classified.
Further, the authors address why building greener buildings is important, referring to climate change effects as well as resource depletion. They also delve into the different green classification systems that are available.What I like about this book is that after reading it you gain a basic understanding of all the elements involved in building a better, more resilient, lower impact building.
Hosting a Design Charette
Shapiro and Ching emphasize that with the development, design and construction of any building, there are thousands of decisions that are made. One decision affects another, so it means that there are trade-offs for every decision. Getting the design done right at the beginning can save time and money down the road and one of the best ways to do that is to have a design charette. A charette is like a round table discussion where every involved party can have a say in how the design will affect their portion of the building from plumbing, electrical, HVAC concerns, material selection, and occupant use post construction. Ideally charettes include the architect, general contractor, sub-trades, building owner and manager, in other words, all stakeholders.
The book is clearly illustrated and dedicates a good section to design and design issues. Getting the design right is one of the best ways to have the most significant impact on constructing a lower impact building. Again the book is thought-provoking: the authors ask “green buildings are lower impact than what?” In fact Shapiro gently takes LEED to task because the system fails to give points for designing a building that has a smaller surface area (therefore less exposure to the elements), than its standard counterpart. In other words, no points are given for designing a more efficiently shaped building than might otherwise be built. The authors explain the differences between the different green building rating systems out there, including LEED, Passivhaus, Living Building Challenge, and Green Globes.
Another perspective of the book is that it teaches readers to design buildings from the outside in, in layers. So, it looks at landscaping, site and orientation and how those factors affect the design of the building. Further, Shapiro and Ching highlight with detailed drawings, the importance of surface area on the energy efficiency of a building. In general terms, the smaller the surface area, the greater the energy efficiency of the building.
It takes only one brief glance at the chapter on windows to confirm that all those glass condos going up all over Toronto and Montreal are an energy efficiency nightmare. Windows, in addition to having terrible insulation values, also pose potential leak problems between their frames and the building. If not sealed properly there is an extra source of potential drafts and water infiltration.
The chapter on building materials emphasizes the need to consider local, recycled and other materials with a low embodied energy. There is a handy table that shows the different embodied energy of different types of wall constructions.
One of the best features of this book is that it is an all in one reference guide for looking at how to build better buildings from design through to commissioning (evaluating a building’s systems to make sure they are all functioning properly). Once read cover to cover, it can be used as a reference guide to greener building and the different factors that need to be taken into account. While the book does not delve deep into any one area, it does provide a readable and approachable overview that’s easily understood by laypersons as well as professionals familiarizing themselves with green building practices. If I have one complaint, it is that for old people like myself, the spidery, handwritten style font is difficult to read.
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.