Posts Tagged ‘green construction methods’

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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New Ottawa Home is aiming for LEED Platinum. Oh, and it’s Earthquake Resilient Too.

August 24th, 2011

Steel Frame starts

Given the earthquake that happened on August 23, 2011, how appropriate that I was sent this information about a new earthquake resilient residential complex being built in the Glebe area of Ottawa. Not only is the residence aiming for LEED Platinum certification, it will also be only the second residential building in Ottawa to have the same earthquake rating as commercial buildings. It turns out that Ottawa sits on a known fault line and recently had its seismic building standards increased. In fact, Ottawa is ranked third in Canada on the earthquake list amongst urban centres.

The residence will be a 4000 square foot duplex with four units. The structure sits on a 25 x 100′ lot and perhaps most importantly, it is a steel-framed building constructed in such a way that it still allows for plenty of large windows, and open floor plans.

In order to qualify for LEED Platinum, in addition to building a tight thermal envelope, many of the materials had to consist of high recycled content. A local Ottawa building supplies company, Morin Brothers, is supplying steel with 80% recycled content, Roxul mineral wool exterior slabs which are made from waste rock from the mining industry and provide a firewall as well as insulation, and CertainTeed 84% recycled content fiberglass insulation that is also formaldehyde free.

In addition to the building envelope materials, the units will contain LED lighting, Energy Star Appliances and low flow toilets. Being located in the Glebe close to walking and biking paths, Bus routes, shops, services and schools, will help it achieve LEED Platinum certification.

While the steel framing and additional green features mean that the construction costs will come in somewhere between 20-30% higher than a traditionally built building, Rolf Baumann, CEO of RBG Group, the builder, says that during construction there will be less waste produced due to better use of building materials and fewer trips to the dump which saves on tipping fees. Once constructed, the building will have lower operating and maintenance costs and increased lifespan versus a similar building built strictly to code.

If you’re in the Ottawa area, you can see it being constructed at 101B Third Avenue.

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3 Bedroom “Green” Chicago Home for sale: $129,900 (and you thought a green home had to be expensive)

June 27th, 2011

Green House For Sale in Chicago, $129,900

Chris McAuliffe is the owner of CM Real Estate Developments, a Chicago-based company. I had the opportunity to speak with him about an interesting project he’s just finished: Instead of demolishing this home in Cicero IL, a suburb of Chicago, and starting from scratch, Chris not only renovated it, but did it in such a fashion that it qualified for the NAHB (National Association of  Home Builders) “bronze” level green home. Best of all, he’s able to sell it and still make a profit, for $129,900 (US) — blowing away the myth that “green” is expensive.

We talked about two different aspects of the home: 1. What features it had that made it “green” and 2. How he is able to sell it for such an affordable price.

The house is a 1928 bungalow that’s been completely renovated and consists of about 3300 square feet of living space and includes three bedrooms, one bathroom, a brand new garage, and is fully detached.

The green features of this home include:

  • Reuse of most wood doors, trim, floors and windows. The exterior back door had to be replaced, and it was replaced with an Energy Star-rated door. The attic windows were replaced with Energy Star-rated windows.
  • Soy-based all natural paint-removers were used to strip the floors, windows and trim,
  • Zero VOC paints (Eco Spec by Benjamin Moore),
  • Low VOC floor varnish,
  • Insulation to R-30 in attic, additional insulation in walls, improved caulking and sealing of air leaks,
  • Tankless Hot Water System is used for both hot water and heating the home,
  • New Kitchen uses FSC-certified Wood kitchen cabinets, Energy-Star rated appliances,
  • Bathroom uses low-flow Kohler faucets, and tub is made from 93% recycled material, also by Kohler,
  • New garage uses roofing shingles containing recycled material and siding containing recycled material,
  • Dimmable lighting and CFL bulbs were used throughout the home,
  • Materials were sourced locally when possible.

All of these features add up to a low-maintenance, low-energy consuming home that not only is it affordable, but on-going utility costs will also be low.

Exterior, "before"

Exterior "before"

view to dining room "work in progress"

View to Living Room "work in progress"

bedroom "before"

Attic. Note old windows.

Basement "work in progress"

So what were the secrets to being able to renovate and resell this home affordably? Chris told me that there were a few key decisions to making the home affordable.

1. Heating: like many older homes, this one is heated with radiators. The plumbing system was in good condition when Chris bought the home so it remains intact. The boiler, on the other hand, has been replaced by a gas-powered tankless hot water system. That means it only fires up when necessary and it was a lot cheaper to buy and install than a new boiler. Although a tankless system isn’t a practical method for heating larger homes, for something as modest as this bungalow, it works well and kept Chris’ renovating costs down while saving the future homeowners heating costs.

2. Preserving and restoring all wood work: The floors were stripped and refinished, as was all the trim, woodwork, and doors (except for the back exterior door which was had deteriorated too much). Less material used, less material going to landfill, more local labour employed. All of these factors lowered the cost of the renovation.

3. Windows: The windows were stripped and refinished instead of being replaced. This decision also lowered costs. There are trade-offs to this decision of course, while new windows would have offered a tighter building envelope, old windows (if the wood frame is well-preserved), along with additional storm windows for winter, some more caulking and insulation around the frames, not only preserve the historical nature of the home, but also aren’t as leaky as you might think.

4. Caulking: The all important sealing of leaks around door and window frames. This is one of the most effective methods for tightening up a building envelope as well as one of the most cost effective.

"After" Dining Room and view into Living Room

New Kitchen

Living Room

Finished Attic -- "Recreation Room"

Completed Basement

Master Bedroom

Finished Rear Exterior

New Garage

I asked Chris what the feedback had been like on the home so far and he told me there are four interested potential buyers at the moment.

By reusing and restoring as much as possible in the home, it allowed Chris to keep the cost of reselling the house to an affordable price. Think “greening” a home has to be expensive? It’s all about making smart, creative decisions as Chris has done with this home.

To view the complete listing for the house, click here.

For more information on CM Real Estate Development, click here.

Blu Homes Prefab Home Manufacturer Comes to Canada

May 6th, 2011

Last Saturday I was invited to a seminar hosted by Blu Homes. I first read about Blu Homes on Treehugger when it was announced that the company had bought Michelle Kaufmann Designs. Michelle Kaufmann is a renowned architect who had her own design/build prefab green modular home site. With the stock market crash of 2008, which decimated the housing market in the US, Kaufmann’s firm was one of its many victims.

Blu Cutaway

Blu Homes designs and builds modern, green, modular home manufacturers. There are a few significant differences between Blu Homes and other modular home manufacturers: The frames are made out of steel and an entire module can be folded into a more compact form for easier transport. This ‘folding ability’ has several advantages over the traditional modular home.  For instance, fewer transport trucks are needed to ship modules (two can fit on one flat bed) which also significantly cuts down on the cost of shipping. In fact, one of their models can be shipped to a building site on just one truck.  Using fewer trucks means lower costs and less pollution from transportation. Because the shipments are smaller, they can travel up narrow, windy roads and can be installed in more challenging spaces.

Because of the folding technique, homes are all finished within the factory, meaning they can be reassembled on-site in significantly less time. In fact, Blu Homes sends in their trained assemblers to put the home in place and finish it. Maura told us that usually a house can be delivered, assembled and finished on site in about 10 days.

Another advantage to the folding technique is that modules can be up to 21 feet wide and 18 feet high once unfolded. A traditional modular home tends to have modules that are no wider than 8 or 9 feet with ceiling heights of the same measurement. The steel framed structure also gives the homes durability to withstand severe weather events including high wind areas, flood zones and even earthquake zones.

The Blu Home philosophy is all about providing a green prefabricated home with excellent design features. They have a team of architects (including Michelle Kaufmann) who have designed the current and upcoming model homes in their inventory.

There are many “standard” green features to these houses, in other words, features that are included in the cost of building the home.


Element Model

Smart Design: Homes are designed to feel big without being big, with open plans and high ceilings. They are also designed so that they can “grow with you.” In other words, if you only have the budget for a smaller unit, but anticipate the need for more space in the future (ie., a growing family, running your business from home, etc.), homes can be designed so that more pods (units) can be added later. Rooms are often designed with multiple uses in mind. Libraries can also be extra bedrooms, office spaces, play rooms, etc.

Orientation: Like any good green home design, Blu Homes will help you site the house so that passive solar gains are maximized and wind patterns are taken into account. In addition, included in their overall fees are basic deck designs and some landscaping design.

HVAC: Maura told us that they spent significant time perfecting the installation of radiant heat flooring so that it was a standard feature in all models. Standard are 93% efficient Viessman boilers in larger models and Embassey boilers in smaller models. HRVs or ERVs (heat/energy recovery ventilator) are also built in to every model. Note, central air conditioning is not included in homes because they are built for the most part without forced air (ducted) furnaces. However, Blu Homes will design a ducted home for you. In general though, the theory of a green home is that central air conditioning should not be necessary if the building envelope and positioning are done properly, particularly in a northern climate. Homes can come with mini-split (ductless) air conditioning units.


Origin Model, Interior

Building Envelope: The tighter the building envelope the smaller the heating and cooling system that’s needed, the less money you will spend heating your home. In this case, the building envelope consists of a combination of rigid foam insulation and eco fiberglass insulation in the walls. Walls are built with an R value of 24.5, Basement with R-19 or r-29 depending on if the basement or crawl space is conditioned. The roof is put together using SIPs for an R value of 38 or 45, depending on the model.

Windows: The windows are Anderson 400 series, which are high quality windows. They are double-glazed, with a low-e coating and filled with insulating argon gas to give a U-value of 0.31 (which is the equivalent of an R value of 3.22).

Material Use: In general, to have as low an impact as possible when building these homes, thought has gone into the selection of all materials. There is extensive recycled content used within the construction of the homes, and because they are built within a factory, there is 50-75% less material waste per home than homes constructed on-site.

Water Use: All toilets, showers and faucets are low flow, and there is the option of including a living roof (or green roof), and rain water catchment systems (additional charges for these systems).

Fresh air: A typical new home can off-gas up to 22 pounds of harmful volatile organic compounds into the air, and the off-gassing can continue for years. All Blu Homes are made with products with no off-gassing potential or mould-generating potential. Indoor paints and stains are zero-VOC, flooring choices consist of wood, tile, and other hard surfaces. Note: Because the foundation is the owner’s responsibility, you should discuss different mould prevention options with your site contractor.


Origin Media Room

Energy Efficiency: With energy use in mind, provided lighting is CFL and some LED where appropriate. All included appliances are Energy Star.

Home Models: There are currently 7 different models to choose from. Many of the models are available in a “mix and match” scenario where one kind of design fits with another. The current trend on larger pieces of land is to develop different “pods”, such as a main house with a separate guest house or art studio or retreat all on the same property.

What the client is reponsible for: First, you need to have a plot of land. If you’re not sure whether it’s suitable, Blu Homes will advise you on whether one of their models can be built on it. Secondly, you are responsible for hiring a site contractor to build the foundation, as well as to get all the necessary permits. Blu Homes will send the home plans to the contractor, but the contractor is responsible for the design and construction of the foundation, whether it’s a crawl space or full basement is left up to you. You are also responsible for landscaping and deck construction, but Blu Homes will help guide you. They will do a complete landscape design for you for an additional fee.

For more information, visit the Blu Homes website, or contact them directly using their contact form.

Origin Model after a snowstorm

Ontario GreenSpec’s Home Sweet Home Award Winners!

April 20th, 2011

On April 12th, Ontario GreenSpec hosted the second annual Home Sweet Home awards — a competition dedicated to promoting green home building practices in Ontario.

It’s heartening to see a growing number of builders and homeowners taking significant steps towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their buildings. This year Ontario GreenSpec had several different categories in order to distinguish between large tract home builders, smaller builders and renovations. Winners in each category are below.

Affordable Green Home

Affordable Green Home of the Year: Built on behalf of Habitat for Humanity in Peterborough by students from Fleming College, this house not only has all the “green” features you could imagine, it was built for $210,000. Some of the features are:

  • R35 structurally insulated straw bale home
  • water conservation: low flow faucets/shower heads throughout the house
  • Solar hot water panels
  • HRV and condensing furnace
  • many building products sourced from Ontario

Greenbilt House

Custom Home of the Year: The GreenBilt House in Oakville, Ontario was built to blend in with the neighbourhood, and built in the style of the old farmhouses from the area. What’s different about this house, however, is that it is built with “green features” taken into account. The house is:

  • a “pre-fabricated” home — ie., built in a factory which minimizes waste
  • 20% smaller than its neighbours
  • designed for passive solar and thermal mass absorption
  • heated and cooled using a  ground source heat pump (geo-thermal system)
  • on a fully permeable lot (including the grassy driveway) minimizing water run-off to the street
  • located close to public transit

Eaton Production Home

Production Home of the Year: Eaton Production Home. The purpose of this category is to show that one “green” success can be replicated on a larger scale.  The most unique feature of this home was the installation of a “whole house fan” — installed in the ceiling of the upper-most floor, this fan is powerful enough to suck all of the hot air in a home out within 30 minutes, reducing the need for air conditioning. Other features include:

  • Foundation consists of insulated concrete forms reducing the amount of cement used while including insulation in one material,
  • Water-saving features such as a rainwater cistern to feed toilets and landscaping, low flow faucets and showerheads, 3L toilets,
  • Permeable landscaping and drought resistant sod promote lower outdoor water use and less rainwater run-off to street,
  • Close to public transit.

The Rosedale House

Renovated Home of the Year: The Rosedale House — a complete gut and remodel of a 90 year old home within the original footings of the building. The project’s primary focus was on sealing the home and increasing insulation levels, however there were other initiatives taken as well:

  • Significant energy reduction by 85% compared with pre-renovation energy consumption numbers.
  • Repurposing of many of the home’s materials. Kitchen cabinets were reused, windows were not replaced.
  • Significant HVAC upgrades were made including installation of an ERV (energy recovery ventilator), efficient boiler and hotwater tank.
  • New, energy efficient appliances replaced old, energy consuming ones.
  • Low flow water fixtures and toilets
  • Near public transit.
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