Saturday, April 27, 2013

A little press...

Our project was featured in the Montreal Gazette this morning.
Overall a very nice article, even mentions the upcoming open house that will happen on May 5th.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

How far we made it - Our Home's Green features

When we started out on this project, we knew we were in it for the long haul.  After 3 years, we are proud of what we have accomplished and probably have another couple years worth of work to achieve LEED status. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we will have an opportunity to finish the project; I had an excellent opportunity with work that I accepted and we will be moving back to Winnipeg.  It will be hard to leave the house after all the time and effort we put into it but at least we know we'll be leaving a healthy and efficient home for someone else to enjoy.

So how far did we make it? The blog has done a poor job of keeping up with the recent renos so below is a summary:

Energy Efficiency
- Overall EnerGuide rating of 81 (equivalent to a new energy efficient home)
- Navien tankless hot water heater
- Mitsubishi Zuba Central four season air to air heat pump
- Renewair Energy Recovery Ventilator
- R24 insulation including rigid insulation in kitchen, bathrooms and basement bedroom
- LED lights in bathrooms, basement bedroom and under the kitchen cabinets
- Energy star appliances

Water Conservation
- Estimated 76% reduction in water consumption
- Proficiency 3L per flush Ultra-Low flow toilets
- Bricor 1.35 gpm low flow shower head
- Bricor 0.35 gpm low flow bathroom sink aerators
- Energy star washing machine and dishwasher

Sustainable Products
- Zodiaq recycled glass counter tops
- Bamboo and cork flooring
- 80% to 100% recycled wood fibers in cabinets, baseboards and doors
- Reclaimed or FSC certified wood throughout

Indoor Air Quality
- No or Low VOC paint and adhesives throughout
- Formaldehyde free cabinets, baseboards, doors and plywood
- All natural gas appliances are closed combustion

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guest Blog: Asbestos and Contaminant Control

A critical part of any renovation or construction project is ensuring that workers and occupants are not exposed to exposed to dangerous contaminants.  LEED for homes recognizes this in section EQ 8: "Contaminant Control".  However, when the project involves a gut / rehab it can introduce exposure to products currently banned such asbestos.  Below is a guest post written by Brian Turner from the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance on the dangers and proper handling of asbestos.

Dangers of Home Renovations and Exposure to Asbestos

Homeowners can save thousands of dollars on their home renovations if they decide to do the work themselves.  If you are planning to complete a do-it-yourself renovation project, you have to consider the scope of the project and plan accordingly.  If you are lucky, you may have friends and family members that are willing to lend a hand for larger weekend projects that require heavy lifting or more hands.  But what many homeowners do not prepare for when they are doing their own renovations is coming into contact with asbestos.  Many older homes, especially those between 1930 and 1950, were built with the mineral material asbestos.  As you may know, the material has been banned and may no longer be used in homes, schools, or commercial buildings.  Before you start tearing out walls or remodeling the kitchen, find out where asbestos can be found and how to dispose of it properly by reading on.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that was used in the construction industry quite frequently in older homes.  The only way to properly identify asbestos fiber is to use a microscope to look at the fiber pores.  While this material was very popular in the industry, it has since been banned because it is a very serious health hazard.  If you have asbestos in your home, you need to take the proper steps to remove it or it could be dangerous to your health.  

How Can Asbestos Harm You?

Breathing in asbestos fibers can lead to forms of cancer, including mesothelioma.  Because the fibers are carcinogens, when fibers are inhaled it can lead to respiratory infections and an increased risk of lung cancer.  It has been found that when left undisturbed, asbestos is not very harmful in small doses.  It is when the material is disturbed and the fibers are released into the air that there is a cause for concern.  

Where You Should Look Out for Asbestos When You Are Renovating?

You might assume that the only time you need to worry about asbestos in the home is when you are removing walls and refacing the exterior of your home.  In actuality, asbestos has been used for a number of different home applications.  Here are just some of the areas asbestos has been used in older homes:

*  Furnace ducts
*  Floor tiles such as vinyl
*  Soundproofing materials
*  Cement roofing
*  Insulation
*  Joint compounds

How to Properly Dispose of Asbestos

If you know what steps to take, you can handle the removal of asbestos properly.  Make sure to take the following steps to ensure fibers are not released into the air:

*  Wear goggles, disposable gloves, disposable shoes, disposable clothes, and a respirator.
*  Spray down the material you are removing with water to prevent the fibers from entering the air when they are being removed.  
*  Dispose of the asbestos in the proper bags.
*  Keep the areas and bags wet.
*  Store bags in storage bins that are sealed and labeled.
*  Take bags to a landfill that accepts asbestos.

Finding out there is asbestos in your home can be scary.  The idea of living in a space where cancerous fibers dwell is not comforting.  Make sure that you take time to plan the abatement of your asbestos materials properly and get started on the fun work once it is gone.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Proficiency Toilets - 18 months later

It has been a while since my last post.  Between family, work, renovations and the blog, the blog often finished last. The good news is that the renovations kept moving forward with good progress on several fronts.  I am hoping to starting posting on a regular basis so that the blog can catch up and share all that news.  But to get back in the rhythm, I figured I would make this a quick and simple follow-up to my review on the Proficiency toilet (or Stealth as it is sold in the states).

One concern I had when writing my original post was that my initial impressions may not reflect long term performance.  Now that we have 18 months of use under our belt, I am much more confident stating that this toilet exceeded all my expectations.

As a reminder or for those that did not read the initial post, at 3L per flush this toilet is arguably the most efficient flush toilet on the market.  It uses 77% less water than our old toilet and 25% less than most other very high efficiency toilets.

Has it clogged? Yes.  But under conditions that would have stymied our old 13L as well.  We have a toddler in the house and it is amazing what ends up in our toilet bowl.  But under regular conditions it has performed virtually flawlessly.  We did have one issue early on when there was a significant reduction in performance.  For several flushes it seemed sluggish and struggled to clear the bowl.   Even though water was flowing, we plungered the bowl and the performance returned to normal.  I believe what happened was that there was an obstruction in the vacuum tube.  Without the vacuum assist is was just 3 litres of water trying to clear the bowl.

One of the most telling things about the toilet: we get no comments.  We have had numerous house guests and visitors filter through in the last year and a half and no one comes out of the bathroom perplexed: it looks like a conventional toilet (including the size of the water spot) and it performs like a conventional toilet . It just quietly and consistently does it job, which to be honest is all we were asking of it..

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Where Deconstruction Pays Off - Literally

First off, those of you following the blog probably noticed a drop off in the number of posts over the last 6 months.  This is a result of three months of time away from renovations where I had less to write about followed by three months of going hard on renovations where I had less time to write.  Trying to get back into the routine again and I have lots I can comment on, but going to start with a short and sweet post today.

As part of our project (and a LEED requirement) we are trying to ensure most of our construction and deconstruction waste is diverted from the landfill. To date we have managed to divert 91% (by weight) of our "waste".  Due largely to Montreal eco-centres, there has been no costs for us to properly dispose / recycle our material.  In fact, we have even made money in the process.

Last week I did my first scrap metal run: old bathtub, old furnace, recovered nails, drywall corners, ducting, old copper pipes, etc.  Took the material to Metaux Depot on the East side.  Easy and friendly and I managed to get $128 for my 560 lbs of scrap.

Full van on the way to scrap yard

That pail is full of old nails and screws from the deconstruction jobs.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Platinum Doors

  I have blogged before about whether or not a LEED reno is more expensive, and it is.  But there are returns as well: energy savings, reduced environmental impact, healthier home.etc.   For the most part when it came down to deciding when we were willing to invest more the decisions were pretty cut and dried.  At least until it came to interior doors.

As with most of the building materials. there is a half point award if you choose an "environmentally preferable product" for 80% of the application. So if 80% of our doors are "green" that half point is ours.   For the most part the doors we have are staying so they count towards it as they are now "reclaimed" (the greenest product is the one you don't buy).  With enlarging the main bathroom doors (up from 24") and finishing the basement, we fell short of the 80% unless the new doors qualified.

So the mission was now to find a door that qualified:
 - the wood needed to be recycled, reclaimed or FSC certified
 - no added urea-formaldehyde

I didn't have much luck finding a pair of matching reclaimed doors the right size and style so we started looking at new.  Masonite, distributed in Canada through Mouldings and Millwork, has exactly the product we were after: the Emerald series doors.  Doors with a recycled wheat straw core, FSC wood shell and no added UF.   Sounds perfect.

Each door comes with this tag.  I guess because there is no other way to tell that your door is "green"

In hindsight, I am not sure how I found that door.  Even going back now to the website, I struggled to find the reference.  The product isn't listed in the product catalogue and when I called the Quebec distribution centre the response was "Wow, I have never seen one of those doors yet."  Knowing these were rare and special order products did not instil a lot of confidence that I would be able to haggle on the price.

In the end, we special ordered them from Reno-Depot with a $50 mark-up over the non-emerald door (after a lot of convincing of the staff that such a product existed).  Was it worth it?  If it comes down to the half point that gets us certified: absolutely.  It also means that between the paint, mouldings, cabinets and doors we have kept VOCs to a minimum throughout our renovations and that is worth something to our health.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tankless vs. Tank: the water heater debate


Early on we realized that our home renovation would mean replacing our hot water heater.  Not only was it older and less efficient but it is a natural gas heater without closed combustion.  LEED requires that all combustion heaters have a sealed air supply and exhaust duct.  This is a safety / indoor air quality issue as open combustion appliances may result in combustion gases or exhaust entering our living space.

Knowing we had to replace it left us with the decision between a traditional water tank or a tankless water heater.  The difference?  A traditional water tank heats up water and stores it until you need it.  A tankless heats water as it passes through the heater.

There is a lot of debate about which is better and a lot of mixed reviews from tankless users. Looking through the complaints though I think a lot of the problems were false expectations about what a tankless can provide.

Tankless Advantages

Energy Savings
Realistically we probably only use hot water in the home a couple hours of the day for washing and showering. The rest of the time the tank is still expending energy to keep it hot for us.  Since tankless units aren't storing any hot water they have no standby losses which can typically account for a third of all energy loss.  Some studies have even shown over 50% energy savings by switching to a tankless unit from an older tank.

Again since you are not storing any hot water you don't need something that is 50 gallons in size. Tankless units mount on the wall and are only a couple feet square thereby freeing up potentially valuable floor space.

Endless Hot Water
No more running our of hot water in the shower. Since the tankless provides the hot water on demand it will never run out.  The tankless will however have a maximum capacity so make sure it is sized correctly.  If you get one designed to provide water to two showers don't be surprised when the water runs cooler when you have two showers and a washing macine and a dishwasher all going at the same time.

Cleaner Water
Anyone who has every drained an old hot water tank will tell you that the water in there is not pristine.  Over years there is a lot of rust and build-up down there. Not an issue with the tankless.

Longer Life
Most manufacturers list this as a benefit.  I am not sold on it but I suppose it could be true if you followed the US Department of Energy recommendation of replacing your water tank every 7-10 years.

Tankless Issues

Tankless units cost more because they are more complex requiring electronics not found in standard tanks. Some of these costs can be offset by government subsidies available most places.  In Quebec for example, there is a $450 rebate from Gaz Metro for switching to a tankless unit and the federal government's relaunched EcoEnergy program will kick in another $375.  This definitely brings the costs in line with traditional tanks.

In colder climates (like Canada) the incoming water temperature is low.  This means a higher temperature jump to heat the water up and virtually eliminates electric tankless units for whole home systems.  Natural gas units can provide much higher BTUs but will cost more to have installed.

It should be noted that the higher cost will be offset by the efficiency gains. Pay more up front but save on the gas bill.  There are endless discussion room threads however about whether you will ever make back your investment and a 2008 Consumer Reports article suggests you probably won't.

I suggest you take a look at the math for you and your situation taking into consideration any and all subsidies that may apply.

Time Delay
One of the biggest complaints about tankless units and what most sales people never prepare consumers for is the speed of delivery of hot water.  (it doesn't help either that tankless systems are often referred to as "instantaneous water heaters")

When you turn on your hot water tap, the water startes to move down the pipe and the tankless system detects the flow rate.  It then fires up the burners, heats up the heat exchangers and starts heating the water which still needs to flow through the pipe to your faucet.

That all takes time so it will take longer to get hot water to your faucet than with a tank.  Some people find this wait unacceptable.

To combat this some models have a small buffer tank built in, this allows for hot water to start flowing right away at minimal flow rates. So if wait time is important to you search out that option.

Water Sandwich
The buffer tank also resolves the other big issue with tankless heaters:  the Hot/Cold water sandwich.

Here is the scenario: get up in the morning and run some hot water in the sink.  Heater fires up. Water heats up. All is good.  Heater turns off.   You hop in the shower and there is still hot water in the pipes.  Meanwhile cold water flows through the tankless sytem while the minimum flow rate is detected and the system turns back on.  You end up with a short blast of cold water mid-shower.

Obviously, people whose system and habits makes this happen are not happy with their tankless systems.

As there is more complexity to the system there is more that can go wrong: circuit boards, flow detectors, control valves.

While you no longer need to drain and clean the tank you do need to clean the filters and possibly de-scale our unit every couples years

Our Decision
For a long time we were firmly on the fence about which way to go but it ended up being a relatively straight forward decision.  We have one luxury that we enjoy that doesn't quite mesh with a fully "green" lifestyle: a nice hot bath.  In remodeling our bathroom, we added a nice deep tub to soak in... an 80 gallon tub.  Running the first bath, the water went cold half way through.  We aren't about to install a giant water heater for a once a month luxury bath so we will be going tankless (and yes ours will have a mini-buffer tank).