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.
When we first moved into this house three years ago, it was with location in mind. We moved from a beautiful four bedroom home in a pretty neighbourhood just outside the city core, to a smaller, semi-detached home with three bedrooms in an excellent school district, walking distance to the subway. I knew that the boys sharing a room was going to be an issue one day, but it’s only been in the last year that they’ve been bugging me about to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Fortunately it’s a big room with two windows evenly spaced. Initially, we put up a curtain to divide the area, but we used a wire and hook system, which wasn’t all that sturdy so it came down on a regular basis. We looked at putting IKEA bookcases down the middle of the room, but for many reasons, it wasn’t going to work. So it seemed to me that there were two possible courses of action. Either, leave it alone and let the boys work it out, OR, use this as a perfect excuse to test out my new-found building skills and build a wall! Guess which one I chose?
I developed my materials list and sent it to Ian Burns at the BiY Learning Center to make sure I had everything down and the correct amounts of each (I did, hooray! Off to a great start!). I called in an electrician to have him move the one centered light in the middle of the room to two lights and two switches. It was then that he told me I had wet insulation above one of my son’s bed, which meant a leak in the roof above. Figures.
After having a temper tantrum and then dealing with the leak and the resultant damage caused by water pooling in insulation and the vapor barrier, we were back on track to building the wall (the leak is a whole ‘nother blog post).
Lumber: I located FSC-certified 2x4s at my local (Leaside) Home Depot. What I forgot to check was how straight the pieces were — which, it turns out, weren’t very. Last week when I was at the Green Building Festival, I remarked to Mark Kidd of Tembec on the fact that 4 of the 9 pieces of timber I’d bought (and cut before I could return them) were significantly warped. Tembec is the main supplier of FSC-certified lumber to Home Depot and he told me that that’s unusual because Home Depot orders tier 1 lumber, which is the highest grade lumber you can get. I put it down to beginner’s inexperience of forgetting to check the lumber before buying.
cutting away the baseboard
Initial Frame Construction
Framing is complete!
We measured and constructed the wall frame and I based the measurements on the drywall sheet size so there’d be as little waste as possible. We cut the baseboard out of the wall so we could mount the wall completely flush to vertical wall, nailed in the ceiling and floor beams, measured between each beam at 16″ intervals and cut studs to match. This is the part my husband, Kevin, and neighbour, Victor, helped me with. Victor kindly cut the pieces of wood with his skill saw (way faster than manually, although we did about half of them by hand), and Kevin hammered in the pieces — also faster than me.
First side of drywall
Oops! First insulation, THEN second side of drywall!
Drywall: I located CertainTeed drywall at Rona, Sheppard and Willowdale, which is synthetic, recycled drywall made in the west end of Toronto. We screwed the drywall to one side of the wood frame. The ceiling is lower than a regular ceiling, so we had to cut the second piece of drywall down to 3.5′, again measuring at different intervals because the ceiling height varies as you go towards the middle of the room.
Ultra Touch Cotton Insulation
Insulation. We used Ultra Touch insulation. Although there won’t be a door of any kind between the two sections, the insulation adds sound dampening and sturdiness to the wall. Ultra Touch Insulation is a great product; no gloves or masks required to use, it fit snuggly into the wall section and it’s made from scrap denim fabric.
Drywall assembly complete!
Next, we sealed up the wall with the second two sheets of drywall. It turns out you do have to measure again on the other side of the wall. Logic would dictate that the wall would be the same height on both sides of the frame but then, logic would be wrong! We goofed a little on the cutting the second upper piece of drywall so there is a bit of a bump up at the ceiling/wall joint that just screams “DIYer!” — oh well. You have to make a mistake here and there.
Mudding and taping -- arghh
Mudding and Taping and Sanding, Oh My. Oh my, oh my oh my. I still suck at this part of the job. While I’m improving, it certainly is a skill that takes practice. I can see my mistakes pretty easily, and as much as I tried to apply as little mud as possible, this was easier said than done. I’m sure if I did a few hundred more walls, I’d have the technique down pretty thoroughly. I don’t think I’ll ever get that far though.
Priming and Painting and Caulking. I used a low VOC caulk from Adbond, a Montreal company that makes a lot of eco-friendly sealants and finishes. I primed with Behr water-based primer and painted the ceiling after patching the holes made by the light being moved and the roof leak. I painted the peninsula wall (the divider wall), Cloud Blue from low VOC Pittsburgh Paints….then then I gave up. Yes, that’s right, I threw in the towel, I called “uncle!” I raised the white flag! I called my trusty painter Terry MacKenzie to finish the painting. By this time I’d been working on the darn thing (which was now known as “THE WALL” in any email correspondence I had with friends) for about 3 weeks in the spare time that I had and our house, my work, the family and my mood were all suffering for it. I’d already seen signs that I was cracking: I’d left little blue smudges of wall paint on the new white ceiling and I didn’t care. When you work that hard, you want the results to show it and a sloppy paint job is the first thing people will notice. Terry finished the job in 4 hours, it would have taken me 16.
The Wall -- Finished!
Voila! I feel pretty proud of myself now that I have this new set of skills to build a wall. Granted, it was a simple job, but still and all, it feels like an accomplishment. While I was building this wall, I had a thought: Building is a lot like cooking. You have a set list of ingredients, a certain amount of each is needed and they’re combined in a specific order. So I decided I’ll write a book all about construction skills to help women not be quite so intimidated by building projects and I’ll call it If You Can Cook, You Can Screw! What do you think?
Home Depot, 101 Wicksteed Ave., Toronto, ON. for FSC-certified lumber. Call your local Home Depot first to make sure they carry it.
Rona, 258 Sheppard Ave. East, Toronto, ON. for CertainTeed Drywall. CertainTeed Drywall: Synthetic drywall manufactured in the west end of Toronto. Even the face and back paper are 100% recycled.
Eco-Building Resource: 136 Wellington Street East, Aurora, ON. Ultratouch Cotton Insulation, AdBond caulk.
Terry MacKenzie (painter extraordinaire): 416-254-3090
BiY Learning Centre : 358 Dufferin Street, Toronto, ON. For home improvement classes.
The number of hardwood flooring suppliers out there is almost overwhelming. You can go to a big box store or a carpet store and find a large selection of wood flooring — and for the most part, because the flooring looks fairly similar (if you’re going for new), you’re probably going to buy your flooring material from whoever gives you the best price. But what about the behind the scenes actions in the hardwood industry? We see beautiful flooring samples in the store, but do we know where it was logged and whether it comes from environmentally sensitive areas? Whether it’s milled here or overseas? Sometimes logs cut in Canada are shipped to China, milled there and shipped back here to sell. Do you know what kind of glues are used for prefinished or engineered floors? How much off-gassing is taking place? Whether or not labour and environmental practices are considered? Most likely not, and also most likely the salesman doesn’t either. But what if you could choose where your wood came from and how it was harvested, and know that you were providing jobs in mills in Ontario, Quebec and New England, all the while supporting responsibly managed, working forests — and getting beautiful flooring all at the same time? How good does that floor look now — pretty amazing, right? Knowledge is a powerful thing — and let’s face it, from the grocery store to the mall, we consumers don’t have a heck of a lot of information on how our stuff is made. Something that needs to be changed, and soon.
Nadurra Hardwood Flooring Selection
Ian Jackson of Nadurra Wood Corporation is a bright light in the fuzzy world of hardwood flooring. I spent a morning with him talking about responsible hardwood flooring and what that really means. Nadurra sells a variety of wood flooring from reclaimed hardwood to bamboo, FSC or not, low or zero VOC. And, believe me, Ian knows his wood. In fact, he selects the suppliers based on the mills and forestry practices and he is the only hardwood flooring retailer in Ontario to have the Forestry Stewardship Council’s Chain of Custody Certification. Ian admitted that when he was a young and enthusiastic university student studying Environmental Studies he was a certified treehugger. Yes, one of the ones who chained themselves to beautiful old growth forests so loggers wouldn’t cut them down. Twenty or so years later, Ian now sees the value of a well-managed working forest. He selects his hardwood from mills that practice selective cutting, retrain local populations in logging and milling practices and where possible, forests that have set aside a percentage of land protected from logging altogether. Because he travels to see these mills, he can make better judgement about whom to buy from and who not to.
Take his experience with bamboo flooring. One of the first mills he visited had had many accolades about its responsible bamboo management, but when he arrived in China and visited the mill, he saw that while its was an FSC certified business, the boxes were stamped with the FSC logo, but the bamboo itself was not! He’s not using them as a supplier.
Bamboo: Nadurra’s FSC-certified bamboo flooring comes from a 50 year old plantation. The bamboo is harvested and milled in China and shipped to Canada. According to Ian, bamboo is best harvested when it is between 4 and 6 years old; any earlier and it will not be strong enough, any later and it will be too brittle for processing.
One of the criticisms of bamboo flooring is that it wears much faster than hardwood, and therefore has to be replaced more often. Nadurra has just introduced a new line of bamboo flooring called Composite Traffic. Hardwood durability is measured on the Janka Scale, with Maple measuring 700 and 1450 depending on the variety. This new composite bamboo measures 2600-3000 on the Janka scale. Made from bamboo pulp, it is compressed into a solid product (versus “engineered”), and is available in 4 colours: natural, carbonised (darkened through processing, no stain added), Riverbed Composite and Sand Dune Composite. The two latter colours are a mixture of the carbonized and natural colours. These new bamboo floorings are currently not FSC certified, but will be shortly. It can also be available in low or no VOC and formaldehyde-free and comes with a 30 year warranty.
The protective finish applied to this line of flooring is from Bona, a Swedish company that offers some of the most eco-friendly finishes on the market today.
Pricing: for FSC-certified bamboo, pricing ranges between $3.50-4.99/square foot.
Ian admits, however, that probably the “greenest” choices a person can make in terms of buying new flooring would be to choose one of his three Nadurra lines of hardwood flooring. They are classified into three categories of green: “Bronze,” “Silver” and “Gold.” The designations are based on the practices and transportation involved in getting the hardwood flooring from forest to Toronto.
Lower Canada Collection (Bronze): FSC hardwood varieties from Quebec, including Maple, Oak, Ash and Birch. Available in engineered (with Baltic birch backing), or solid wood, finished or unfinished. Price range: $4-8/square foot. This wood is logged in FSC certified forests in Quebec.
New England Collection (Silver): FSC hardwood selectively logged in New England forests. Forests are actually “gold” rated by Nadurra’s system for logging and milling practices. However, the wood is shipped to Quebec for finishing. Increased transportation therefore means that it qualifies for a “silver” level of “greeness.” Wood is available in engineered or solid, or “click.” Note: “Click” flooring is on HDF (High Density Fiberboard) backing. Click Flooring tends not to be as durable as either solid or engineered because of the HDF backing. Wood selection: Hickory, Black Cherry, Black Walnut (unfinished only), Birch, Maple and Oak all available finished or unfinished. Prices: Solid, unfinished: $5.50-8/square foot. Solid prefinished, $5.50-8/square foot.
Upper Canada Collection (Gold): FSC hardwood from central Ontario forest where 11% of forest is set aside for conservation. Forest itself is selectively logged and wood is milled on site. Mill retrains local native population in logging and milling jobs. Available in solid only, Maple, Oak, Ash and Birch. Price: $5-7.50/square foot.
Reclaimed Wood: Nadurra has a wide selection of reclaimed wood from local Ontario barns and factories. While reclaimed wood offers the “greenest” choice of wood floors, not to mention wide plank sizes because the wood was originally from first growth forests, it is more expensive, and obviously, one day this wood will also be used up. Varieties of wood are Elm, Hemlock, Noble Oak, Pine, Loyalist Maple and Birch. Available in solid or engineered. Price: $6.50-11/square foot.
Ian also carries Logs End flooring, milled from logs that have been submerged in the Ottawa River for awhile (50+ years), and Eco Timber, an eco-forestry company based in Colorado that practices responsible forestry and milling.
Please note the new address for Nadurra Flooring (updated as of August 14, 2013).
During March Break our family was skiing in Collingwood, ON in the most spectacular weather I’ve ever skied in in my life, even if it was a bit weird and scary being in Collingwood in March in almost 20 degree weather — the same as it was in Florida, according to the weather map.
In any event, one day instead of skiing I decided to visit Ecoinhabit, a green products supplier, which lies just off Highway 26 between Meaford and Thornbury — a fun field trip for me, apparently an excruciatingly boring one for my 14 year old son — go figure.
Ecoinhabit is occupied in an old barn with exposed rafters as well as the metal roof peeking through the wood. It’s a beautiful environment and the store itself is worth a visit. EcoInhabit can help you with many of your green building and lifestyle needs. In addition to building materials, it also carries organic sheets, towels, mattresses, futons, etc. If you’re in the Georgian Triangle area, drop in to take a look. Kara, the store manager, is very knowledgeable and passionate about the products the carry, and like me, cares about whether or not a product is really as green as the manufacturer wants you to believe it is.
Ecoinhabit Store Entrance
Below is a list of some of the products Ecoinhabit carries.
Interface Flooring’s Flor carpet tiles: The residential line of Interface’s carpet selection is called Flor. It offers the ability to mix and match carpet tiles to create unique and interesting patterns similar to linoleum tiles, only with carpet. Carpet tiles made from recycled carpet: $8.99/19″x19″ tile. 100% wool carpet tile: $19.99/19″x19″ tile. Note: prices are approximate only. Please call Ecoinhabit for up-to-date pricing.
Eco-Timber: Engineered and reclaimed hardwood flooring products manufactured by Eco-Timber are made exclusively from Forest Stewardship Council Certified US managed forests. Milling and processing is done in Denver, CO. $10.25/ft sq. Bamboo flooring comes from FSC-certified forests in Asia. $5/ft. sq.
Ontario Reclaimed Flooring: Local reclaimed flooring made out of barnboard from barns that need to come down from around Ontario. $7 – 10/ft sq. Unfinished.
American Clay: An all natural clay product with natural pigments. Applied as plaster, zero VOC, it actually works to purify the air. For more information on American Clay, see my post on its benefits. 50lb bag of: Loma, $80; Meritimo,$120; Porcelina: $145.
IceStone: A surface material made of recycled glass and concrete. Available in many different colours and thicknesses. $46-102/ft. sq. For more information on IceStone, see my post on its benefits.
PaperStone: A surface material made of compressed recycled paper and eco-resins. Looks a bit like laminate, the darker ones have a stone-like appearance to them. $42.75-48.50/ft sq. For more information on PaperStone, see my post on its benefits.
I wrote a post about the Healthy Home a few days ago. But really, there’s SO MUCH information on the home to cover that I couldn’t capture it all in one post (well, I could, but your eyes would glaze over after awhile).
To recap, the Healthy Home is an example of how using smarter materials doesn’t have to look different. All of the products used in this home are easily obtainable in Toronto. In fact, what was surprising to me was how many products were supplied by Sears. I’ll be honest — I have never thought of Sears as a supplier of green materials — shows you what I know.
I thought for this post I’d focus on the kitchen, because, well, it’s my blog, and I love the kitchen! (I’m in one for most of the day — it feels like anyway — so functional and pretty kitchens are important to me).
A few of the features of the Healthy Home’s kitchen:
93% quartz and a polymer resin. Quartz is the second hardest substance and is excellent for kitchens. The surface is non-porous, durable, won’t scratch or stain.
Backsplash: Provided by Antica Tile and Stone. Onix Moonglass in Pearl. Mosaic tiles are made from 98% recycled glass.
Wall paint: provided by Homestead House, which is a local Toronto company, and the only Canadian company to produce a milk paint. The paint has a higher pigment concentration for fuller colour intensity, and is zero VOC.
Lighting: The kitchen chandalier is provided by Led-Linear, and uses linear LED lighting strips in a creative way for a central light. Undermount lighting for kitchen cabinetry was provided by Hafefle.
Appliances all supplied by Sears:
Wall Oven by Sears
Refigerator: Kenmore Elite. Energy Star. Annual energy cost: $47. Internal icemaker, external water dispenser.
Dishwasher: Kenmore Elite. Energy Star. Saves up to 42% water and 31% energy cost. Includes HE function, automatically measuring time water and energy for maximum efficiency. Annual energy cost: $30.
Cooktop: Kenmore Elite Induction Cooktop: cooks in half the time of gas or electric cooktops. Annual electricity cost of $23.
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.