Thursday, December 23, 2010

Renovation/Blog Hiatus

Sorry thought the blog deserved an explanation for the hiatus.  The main reason we have not blogged much about our renovations the last couple months was because we haven't done much renovating the last couple months.  At the end of September we welcomed a new addition to our family. And yes for those of you looking back at our posts, Jody was 9 months pregnant before she got her kitchen back.  I am amazed she puts up with me.

We will be back at it in a big way in early January.  Thanks for your patience

Monday, October 25, 2010

Energy Star Dishwashers - Better than you

Appliances are resource pigs.  In a typical house they consume 60% of all our electricity (assuming non-electrical heating).  It is not surprising then that LEED recognizes homes with more efficient appliances (EA9.1).

LEED provides credits for the installation of Energy Star certified Refrigerators (1 point), dishwashers (0.5 points), and washing machines (0.5 points).  For those of you not familiar with EnergyStar, it is the international rating system to designate energy efficient products.   

In renovating the kitchen we removed the circa 1970s dishwasher and replaced it with a new Bosch Evolution 300 model.  First off, we love the new dishwasher: quiet, efficient and effective.  This is our seventh dishwasher in as many years (we move way too much...) and I would say probably our favourite. 

The 259 kWh annual energy consumption is enough to get the energy star rating and LEED points.  It also officially makes the dishwasher better than me.

In the debate over hand washing vs. dishwasher, this machine has us beat comfortably.  A really interesting study was performed at the University of Bonn in 2004 comparing in detail the dish washing practices of 113 individuals from 7 countries.  What they found was a huge range in washing techniques and styles. In the end though they discovered that to hand wash 12 settings, individuals used an average of 103 litres of water. Our dishwasher uses 14L. 

Overall energy consumption wasn't quite as obvious a difference.  While the dishwasher requires energy to operate, you save energy in the reduction of hot water consumed.  Here the study found dishwashers used 1 to 2 kWh where the hand washers typically used between 1 and 5.5 KWh (one washer actually used 447L of water and 16.6 kWh of energy).  

The end cleanliness of the dishwasher's cleaning was on par with that of the best hand washers as well, leading the closing comments of the study to be "If you can afford a n automatic dishwasher, use one - preferably a new one. A full energy-efficient dishwasher cleans best and has the lowest environmental impact of any method". 

Factor that in with the 500 hours a year they say the dishwasher will save you and I am more than happy to hang up my dishtowel and sponge.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New Kitchen Smell?

New primer and paint on the walls and ceiling, new flooring, new cabinets, and our kitchen smells like... food?  If any have you have moved into a new home or done a full kitchen renovation before, often this is not the case and I must admit it is a nice byproduct of having a green kitchen.

The main reason: VOCs.  Back in our cabinet post we discussed VOCs: basically nasty off-gassing pollution bad for you and the environment.  They also smell.  Some people love the smell of fresh paint, or that new house or new car smell but unfortunately that is pretty much all VOCs.

With our "EVO" low VOC cabinets from Aya, the only thing we could smell in them was wood.  Apart from the cabinets, we were also really pleased with the other low VOC products we came across:

- Lepage Green Series Acoustical Seal.  Has ultra-low VOC rating.  If you noticed that our acoustical seal was white and not the traditional black in our insulation pictures that is why. Works really well though.  The only difference we found was while it seems to remain permanently flexible it doesn't stay malleable as long. So if you put a bead behind a vapour box or barrier set it in place immediately.  There was a couple places where we may not have pressed it flat until the next day when we came back to drywall and it left a bit of a raised bead compared to traditional sealant.

- Avanti paint and primer.  Again very pleased with the performance.  The primer is no VOC and the paint was low-VOC.  The primer claimed to be odour-free as well that must only apply once dry because there was still an odour during application.   But both products applied well and will probably be used throughout the house.  As an added bonus they are manufactured in Quebec so we are buying local as well.

Kitchen: primed and ready for paint

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why our kitchen does NOT have CFLs

When we began designing our kitchen, one of the steps was to plan lighting.  Where were we going to position the fixtures? Should we have under cabinet lights? What bulbs/technology were we going to use?  Being a green home, we wanted to have the best lights for the environment and contrary to popular opinion, those are not Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs).

Before this post starts to sound like a lot of CFL bashing, I want to make it clear that I jumped on the CFL bandwagon early.  I still remember 8 years ago, shelling out $30 for the 10" long bulbs than took 5 minutes to get to full brightness.  And we have a lot of the bulbs in the house. 

CFLs became the poster child of the green consumer revolution and for good reason: they kick traditional incadescents' butt.  They use 25% of the energy and last 10 times longer.  Less energy consumed and less waste generated.  But if you want the best technology for the environment (and maybe even your health) that is (or will be) LEDs.

Why? For starter's they are even more energy efficient.  The most efficient LEDs can use 1/2 the energy of CFLs.  LED light bulbs also last three times longer than CFLs.  CFLs boast on average a lifespan of around 8,000 to 15,000 hours, LEDs are closer to 50,000.

But more importantly they have no mercury.  All CFLs contain at least 1mg of mercury and most have 3 to 5 mg. May not sound like a lot but last year there was over 100 tons of mercury put into CFL bulbs in the United States alone. So don't throw them in the trash, otherwise all that mercury ends up in the landfill and ultimately the groundwater.  CFLs need to be recycled and you can often return them to the store they were purchased at.

To ensure a fair and balanced blog, I will now point out though that in lots of areas the use of a CFL will still result in a net reduction of mercury emissions.  Coal power plants have mercury emissions of varying degrees but on average the use of a incandescent bulb for 8000 hours will cause 6mg of mercury emissions. So if you live in an area where the power is generated by coal, a low mercury CFL will reduce our power consumption and could result in a net emission of only 3 or 4mg.

If all of that wasn't enough this week I also came across the following video:  "Dirty Electricity". The CBC report by Geeta Nadkarni was part of the "Be Green"  series.  The report highlights the fact that CFLs induce pulses of high frequency electromagnetic energy in your home electrical system.  The concern is that these Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are getting linked to a wide range of health problems. I am sure there are experts on both sides of that debate but it provides one more advantage in LEDs favour.

Efficiency, lifespan, no hazardous chemicals, and potential health benefits. Sounds like a clear victory for LEDs over CFLs.  So our green kitchen is obviously lit purely by LEDs.... right? 



..... we did just order LED lights for under the cabinets....

This is the part where our optimism and ideologies met the harsh realities of dealing with emerging technologies.  Just like CFLs were bulky, flickered and slow to turn on a half decade ago, the majority of LED bulbs on the market aren't quite performing quite like they should.    LEDs turn on instantly but they vary significantly in terms of light output and efficiency.  Light output is measure in terms of Lumens, so when buying bulbs try to compare lumen output not the advertized "Wattage Equivalent".  I was very diappointed when looking at LED bulbs to find that many said they were 40W equivalents but produced only 50% or 70% of the lumens.  Lots of LED bulbs do not even list their lumen output on the package (not very reassuring). 

When we finally found the bulbs that had the efficiency and output we required the price tag for just the bulbs in our track lighting came to $700.  A bit more than we had budgeted.  As with any new technology, the products will get better and the price will get lower. So we decided on using halogens on a temporary basis with the plan to upgrade to LEDs in a couple years.

Is it the ideal solution?  No, but it seemed like the right call for now.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ahhh, a working kitchen

Often during renovations, I find myself thinking about the 80s movie the "Money Pit".  There are little moments in it that capture the essence of renovating to me.  In particular this past week, I was remembering the scene where Tom Hanks finally had stairs and Shelley Long got her running water. They were ecstatic over the return of the simple conveniences that we take for granted every day.  We can relate.

17 weeks after we started deconstructing our kitchen and 15 after we lost the sink and the dishwasher... we have a functioning kitchen again.  After nearly 4 months of washing dishes in the bathtub the sound of running water in the kitchen was very exciting. Especially as the water was flowing out of the faucet and into the sink (trust me that is not always the case with plumbing projects).

You will have to forgive the short hiatus in the blog but the reality was between my day job, the renovations and preparing for our new baby (due at the end of the month) there just wasn't time.   I will go back and post details on what happened over the last three weeks but where we are today:

- Ceiling: vapour barrier, drywall, mudded and tapped and primed (will stipple later on)
- Walls: drywalled, mudded and tapped, primed and painted
- All electrical completed (except for microwave plug) and functional
I like the organic look of our temporary counters

- All plumbing completed and functional
- All appliances installed including new dishwasher
- Cabinets 70% installed - rest waiting on the counters
- Counters: using plywood counters temporarily,  To be honest the good-one-side FSC plywood with water based Varathane coating (low VOC) is proving to be a very functional (and green) $110 counter top.  And I generally like how it looks.  Probably some long term durability concerns though. When the permanent counter come in these will work wonderfully in my workshop.
- Flooring: sub-floor repaired and levelled and cork flooring installed

What's left: permanent counters, rest of the cabinets, window trim, baseboards, floor thresholds, heating ducts, hood fan, painting touch ups.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

"Buying Local" also works for home renovations

There has been a growing movement to "Buy Local; Think Global". For most people this applies to what is in their grocery cart. This is a great initiative: supports local farmers, reduces packaging and shipping, fresher fruits and vegetables etc. A lot of that applies to building materials as well. While I do not really worry about the freshness of my vapour barrier, if it had to travel across the country to get to me it has an increased ecological footprint and cost.

When you think that a typical bungalow weighs 350,000 lbs, if all of your material was transported 100km less by truck that would be a fuel savings of approximately 1200L (I like how I mix metric and imperial units... that made the math even more fun) or 3 tonnes of green house gas emissions. Unfortunatey, for a lot of products 100km is a very small fraction of their trip.

Products, especially specialty ones, can travel some long distances. We are looking at cork flooring for the kitchen: a very green product in a lot of ways (will blog about that later). But, cork is harvested in Spain or Portugal. Luckily it is light, the same can not be said for granite. Granite is harvested rock, and the colours and patterns will be determined by the location they were mined. So that perfect colour combination might mean that a 800lb counter top had to travel from Brazil or South Africa or China.

LEED recognizes this. I mentioned before that our cabinets were "Environmentally Preferable Products" (MR 2.2). LEED provides points for products that not only reduce environmental impact or are low emissions but also ones that are locally produced. Their definition of locally produced means it must be extracted, processed and manufactured within 800km or 2400km if transported by rail (yeah!). For each product category you get a 0.5 point for each locally sourced item.
Being in the Montreal area, we lucked out a lot here. There is enough natural resources and a big enough population that we have a lot of options for local production. Doing a quick audit of material sources for the products we are currently using the following qualify as locally produced:
  • Vapour barrier
  • Acoustical sealant
  • Drywall mud
  • Drywall
  • Rigid insulation
  • Floor leveller
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Roxul (depending on were the Basalt was mined)
To be perfectly honest , I was only aware of the locality of the rigid insulation, paint and drywall at the time of purchase.  So in the case we are accidentally awesome.  And added bonus for us as well, is that any reclaimed materials from our own Gut/Rehab count as locally sourced. So anything salvaged out of our deconstruction would qualify as locally sourced as well.

I anticipate that we will get the 8 point maximum for Environmentally Preferable Products but I will only show 5 right now on our scorecard to the right because that is where we would be if we stopped construction today.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


With the cabinets planning to be installed in the next week ,we are under the gun to have the kitchen ready. Having lost time to the fireplace, the last weeks have been pretty hectic.

Added to the regular workload was two procedural challenges. First, we had a non-structural wall that we were planning on knocking down. The city of Dollard-des-Ormeaux was willing to let us knock down anything that wasn't load bearing, but the oweness was on us to prove it wasn't a structural wall.

Once we had it all stripped down and could show that the 2x3 wall had no headers and was built parallel and between the ceiling joists it was an easy sell. The wall came down the same day.

The second step was LEED EA prereq 2.1: Insulation must be inspected by the green rater prior to the installation of drywall. Because the quality of the insulation and how it is installed is so critical to the overall project, they need to verify that there are not any issues. In particular they focus on ensuring the whole enevlope is sealed and insulated and there aren't any hidden gaps. It is this inspection where the fireplace would have been flagged.

But we passed with flying colours!! So we are on to drywalling.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Insulation: There is more than just the pink stuff

Insulation.... ahh the sexiest of home renovation topics. Alright, it can't compete with cabinets or flooring. Heck even faucets look exciting in comparison, but when it comes to a green renovation, insulation along with sealing your home envelope are the meat and potatoes.

With insulation, it all comes down to R-value. R-value is essentially the “Thermal Resistance” of a material. The higher the number the harder it is for heat to pass through. Seeing as this is the job of insulation, R-value along with price are usually the deciding factors in picking your insulation.

There was a period when fiberglass insulation was the beginning and the end of your home insulation choices. Nowadays, it is part of a subcategory. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but it covers what we felt were viable insulation options for our project. If you really want details there is a pretty good insulation guide put out by Natural Resources Canada.

Batt insulation: flexible insulation that fits between the wall studs. This includes traditional fiberglass but also the awesomeness of Roxul. Its easy to install and typically the least expensive.

Spray foam: A spray on insulation that provides not only some of the best insulating power per inch but also acts as an excellent air/vapor barrier. Can be expensive and for any significant job requires an outside contractor. Small jobs can be done by DIYers like we did behind the fireplace.

Rigid Insulation: Rigid foam panels. Again increased R-value and eliminates thermal bridging but can be expensive.

Now, if you didn’t catch it above, I am a fan of Roxul. So much so that it makes me wonder why you still see so much pink stuff in Home Depot’s aisles (Roxul is green). Roxul is made from stone wool: essentially rock and recycled slag spun into fibres. The result is a product that is:
  • Easy to handle, cut and install

  • Offers great R-value: R-14 vs. R-12 for fiberglass (although in writing this I have discovered both a new Roxul and new fibreglass rated to R-15)
  • FIREPROOF! (it is rock after all, and I guess officially it is only fire-resistant as it will melt at 2200 degrees F)

  • Made from 40% recycled material
  • Minimal additives, no off-gassing, etc

But for our project we needed more than just Roxul. For LEED certification we needed a minimum of R-20. Since our exterior walls are 2X4 construction we identified three options to get us over R-20:

Option 1: Spray insulation between the studs: R-24.5
Option 2: Build up the wall 2” and use 2x6 Roxul: R-22
Option 3: Use Roxul in between the 2x4s and add 2” of rigid insulation: R-24

While they all seem to be in the same ball park performance wise, the R-values above are just for the insulation and do not account for a phenomenon called “Thermal Bridging” . Say you build a beautiful 2x4 wall and have it all nicely insulated with R-24.5 spray foam. That is great but the wood studs conduct heat too and they only have an R-rating of 4. So they act as a “bridge” for the heat to pass through. If you take this into consideration then the R-value for the wall is: 17.1 (I will not bore you with the equations). Looking at the R-values for the wall, the revised numbers become:

Option 1: R-17.1
Option 2: R-19.5
Option 3: R-22.6

Option 3 has the rigid insulation that covers the studs and thereby eliminates part of the thermal bridging explaining why it performs better. The above calculations also are for standard framing (a stud every 16”), if you were to account for all the extra lumber around the windows and doors the performance gap between Option 3 and the others would get even bigger.

Wow…that was a very long lead into to explain that we are using R-14 Roxul with 2” Styrofoam on top:

First step was to cut and fit Roxul into all stud openings. It cuts great with any serrated knife (just don't tell Jody that I used one of our good kitchen knifes).

Electrical boxes neede to offset 2" to account for rigid installation. They also need vapour boxes around them with electrical connections taped off. This prevents air and moisture from passing through the box. It is also the reason most older homes have drafts through the outlets in the winter time.

The rigid insuation is then intalled.
It is screwed on to the studs using recessed washers. Then all the vapour boxes are sealed and taped flush with the styrofoam.

So what does the mean for our LEED points: nothing really yet… First off we have only insulated 10% of our house so we haven’t met any criteria yet. And we do not get points for the insulation itself but rather the overall efficiency rating of the house (which is big points: up to 28 but we are hoping for 10). When complete, we are also hoping to get a half point for recycled content in the insulation.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Our Blog Logo

If you have been to the blog before, I am guessing you picked up on the change to the layout.

The new logo at the top of the page is courtesy of our 5 year old son. He had fun going through the deconstruction leftovers looking for materials. If being used in crafts qualifies as waste diversion, he has certainly being doing his part.

I need to try to find a better background to put in on but right now we are two weeks behind schedule (&%$# fireplace) so I am off to insulate.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Fireplace: Round 2

Some of you may remember our fireplace dilemma. There were two issues with our existing fireplace:

- You lose out on 2 LEED points for having a traditional wood burning fireplace

- We need to ensure that the wall between the fireplace is properly insulated and sealed

In the end we decided to keep the fireplace but we will upgrade to an EnerChoice certified natural gas insert. We viewed it as a good compromise between the charm and appeal of a fire while reducing the air pollution caused by a wood burning fireplace. Montreal city and some of the surrounding towns have banned the installation of wood burning fireplaces and stoves based on studies that show 50% of the city's winter smog is generated by residential wood burning. It didn't feel right to build a green home that contributed to that stat.

That decision though didn't help us with challenge two: the insulation. And that was the one that had the potential to derail the project. A couple of exploratory holes revealed both good and bad news:

The bad news:
  • no insulation
  • no air barrier
  • no vapour barrier
  • and the wall cavity was filled with bricks.

The good news:

  • The wall cavity behind the fireplace was framed like a door with a header beam so we were dealing with one large space instead of three or four little ones.
  • The fireplace was not physically connected to the outside wall
  • the bricks within were not structural (no overhead load). The space actually seemed like there dumping ground for excess bricks and mortar.
So we decided to start removing bricks. This started off fairly simply with the top layer installed with little to no mortar. It is probably a good thing this started off well otherwise it may have ended there. I was able to easily create an opening 8" wide and began working my way down.
It went pretty well until I got about half way down the wall and ran in to a section that was well mortared. If you have never taken anything brick apart it is fairly straight forward. I just had a cold chisel, 3lb sledge and a crowbar. You find the brick you want to remove, you put the chisel between it and the neighbouring brick give it a couple knocks with the mini-sledge and pry it off. No problem.
Where it becomes a problem is when you are trying to remove bricks in a space that is 40" deep and only 8" wide. As reference my arms are only 30" long.

When I had to remove the far bricks I couldn't use the chisel but had to have the crow bar take over chiseling duties. This worked well when it was loose but was a nightmare when the bricks were well set. To further complicate things the wall is to my left while I was working which meant after the half way mark I could only use my left hand for swinging the hammer.

It was a challenge but several hours and two blood blisters later, the wall was empty and I had a giant pile of bricks.

Just like the rest of our Kitchen Deconstruction, I wanted to ensure that as much of that material wasn't ending up in a landfill. So after seveal more hours of work we had:

  • 120 re-usable bricks
  • 242lbs of mortar (re-usable as in-fill)
  • 98lbs of partial or damaged brick (to be re-used as decorative mulch)

But we also still had a large empty wall cavity. Because of the shape and size, we would be challenged to get both traditional insulation and vapour barrier installed and properly sealed. So we opted for spray foam.

There will be times during the renovations that we bring in professionals to apply spray foam. But we weren't calling in the pros for 30 square feet. Instead I picked up the Touch n' Foam professional series kit at Rona. I will admit that I felt very hypocritical buying this one-use-wonder after my "Great Stuff" post.

But it worked. It needed to be applied in two inch layers and allowed 20 minutes to set. But it actually worked really smoothly. It didn't take long to have a well insulated wall with built in vapour and air barrier.

So was all that work worth it? Actually it probably was. As much as I was cursing LEED throughout the process, they were right. Brick is a horrible insulator and had we gone and insulated our whole house and not bothered to fix the problem behind the fireplace 10% of our total heating bill would have been attributed to that 3 and a half feet of wall.

I stated early on that one of the reasons for doing LEED certification was to keep us honest and I think this is a prime example.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How our Kitchen will be Green: Vampire Energy

Want to knock 10% off your power bill? On average that is how much power your home consumes not using appliances.

I believe the official term is "standby power" but it also called phantom load or my preference: vampire energy. This is essentially the amount of electricity that is sucked in by appliances, adapters, etc. just from being plugged in. There are two big culprits here:

- Standby features: anything with a clock, a power light or a remote control needs electricity when it is off. The flat screen TV doesn't know your are asking it to turn on via the remote unless there is a powered sensor constantly checking for a signal.

- Adapters: anything that has an adapter on the power cord is consuming power even if nothing is plugged into the other end. Chargers for cell phones and other electronics is the big culprit here.

I took a quick tour of our house and the vampires added up

  • TV
  • DVD player
  • laptop
  • VCR (yes we realize it is 2010)
  • wii
  • stove (digital clock)
  • blender
  • phone chargers (x 2)
  • electric toothbrush
  • clock radio (x 2)
  • wireless modem
  • Dustbuster
  • vacuum cleaner charge station
  • bread maker
  • battery charger

We currently have no kitchen; so no microwave either but that is another common one.

So how do you stop it? unplug! .... but that can be easier said then done. Most people, including us, won't bother unplugging the TV every time they are done watching a show. Luckily, our house already has some switch controlled plugs. Our entire home entertainment system is on a power bar plugged into a socket that is controlled by a wall switch. When we leave the room we flip the switch: no more vampire energy.

Taking this into consideration for our new kitchen we realized that there are several appliances and chargers that we would like to leave plugged in for convenience sake but do not want to be drawing power. So the double outlet on the counter and the outlet by the desk with have switches built in.

Not a big change but hopefully it will help stop a little more of the energy drain and save us some money while we are at it. Or as this ad puts it, help us lose an excuse.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

hmmm, maybe "Great Stuff" isn't so green...

One of the interesting things about this project is that it forces you to take a hard look at everything you do. Most of the time I try to do that thoughtful review before I start working, this time it came afterwards...

I'll probably get into more detail on air leaks in another post, but for now lets just say that they are bad. One of the best ways to improve the efficiency of your home is to stop all your warm air from sneaking out. One highly recommended way of doing that is to fill all the voids between your windows and their frames.

So when all the kitchen walls were exposed, I grabbed a can of "Great Stuff - Window and Door" and started sealing. "Great Stuff" is an all purpose expanding polyurethane foam. It expands to fill the void and creates an airtight seal, insulating layer and repels water. The window and door version keeps the expansion in check so that it doesn't cause warping or cracking of your window.

I happily filled the cracks, emptying the whole can and then trimmed off the overfill. It was at this point that I took stock of the mess and waste I had generated

Keep in mind, we just finished our deconstruction efforts where we trying to ensure we created no garbage. So when I saw that one window's worth of insulation had generated a small pile of un-recyclable trimming and an empty aerosol can, I was disappointed.

I think what bugged me the most wasn't just the garbage, it was the fact that I had no idea how green the product was or if there were better alternatives.

I decided to do some after-the-fact investigation (I do have 12 more windows to seal) on the Internet. Below was what I managed to scrounge up for some environmental pros and cons of Dow's "Great Stuff":

- throw away packaging
- non-renewable product
- material is non-biodegradable and not easily recyclable
- may discharge VOCs during application but doesn't appear to off gas continually.
- potentially toxic to aquatic life

- no CFCs (non-ozone depleting, but I didn't think much was these days)
- no solvents
- contains no nuclear waste
- it works

The biggest advantage seems to be that last one. In an older house up to 17% of your heating bill is for energy lost through gaps around windows and doors. When I started looking into alternatives there didn't seem to be much that matched Great Stuff in effectiveness. The old school method was to jam fibreglass insulation in there which may slow a draft but isn't air tight and offers no insulation.

Modern alternatives tended to be non-expanding so they wouldn't provide a tight air seal or urethane or latex based which aren't as effective at controlling moisture. One alternative with a green twist was "Touch n Foam Max Fill", a "renewable resource" based expanding foam. Unfortunately though, the green version is not available in a "door and window" version.

So in the short term I am going to view it as a necessary evil. I will though convert to the Great Stuff pro series with the applicator gun. Bigger cans with control over the bead size should mean that I will have less overfill and generate a less waste from the aerosol cans.

But in the meant time I will keep searcher for something better. If anyone out there has found a greener solution, please let me know!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Life "Without" a Kitchen

One of the unique things about our LEED renovation, is that we are living in the house while we renovate. So, I wanted to share just how we are managing.

As crazy as it sounds, we wanted to do most of the renovations ourselves. The reasons being cost and we wanted firsthand experience with a LEED renovation. But, between work and family time, we don't have a lot left over to devote to the renovation. We estimated it would take us 3.5 months to complete the first phase of the project... a long time to be without a kitchen! To add to the typical difficulties of living without a kitchen, we have multiple food allergies in our family... so eating out/ordering in is a limited option for us.

The solution? Convert the dining room into a make shift kitchen. We bought a temporary pantry to house food and dishes, moved the refrigerator and stove into the dining room, and made the dining room table into more of a work space/eating area. We also packed up any non essential kitchen appliances (the popcorn popper is the one that has been missed the most) and many of our dishes.

Not too shabby, right? But wait, there is something missing... the kitchen sink and dishwasher! Yikes!

Not to worry! Being avid campers, we pulled out our plastic camp sinks and presto, luxury camping for the whole summer :) Who could ask for more!?!

Even the kids are enjoying washing dishes by hand in the camp sinks! Let's see how long their/our enthusiasm lasts! 4 weeks down, hopefully no more that 10.5 to go!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How our Kitchen will be Green: Cabinets

As we begin re-building our kitchen, our goal was to have something that was not just green but also liveable and affordable. As with most kitchen re-models a big part of the focus went into the cabinets. They determine the look and feel of the room but are also a huge factor in both how green and how healthy the room will be.

The big concern with cabinets is VOCs or Volatile Organic Compounds. These are chemicals that release in gas form at room temperature. So essentially air pollution that can have an impact on the environment and your health. And unfortunately in a typical home renovation (or construction) you are going to introduce a lot of them into your home. They are traditionally in your paint, glues, sealant, cabinets, flooring, cabinets, etc. In cabinets, they are caused by the formaldehyde in the melamine or the plywood glue.

Apart from the VOC issue, the green factor is impacted by the material and its source. Solid wood cabinets are the best choice for the VOC side but they wouldn't be very environmentally friendly if the wood came from hacking down swathes of the Amazon. (Solid wood cabinets also tend to be out of most peoples price range).

The best way to avoid introducing VOCs into a new kitchen is to not buy new cabinets. Re-facing or re-finishing existing cabinets is the greenest option: no new materials, no new chemicals. Our existing cabinets were in decent shape but with reconfiguring our kitchen space they didn't fit. So... we started shopping. To be honest it was a brutal to start. The first couple places we went that specialized in "green" cabinets gave us rough quotes of $40 to $50k, which was light years out of our budget.

Luckily though, with some late night surfing Jody found AyA kitchens ( A couple visits and we were sold. The cabinets were attractive, affordable, and green:

Green features:

  • "EVO" particleboard box has no added formaldehyde and is made from 100% recycled content
  • Wood doors are FSC certified (Forest Stewardship Council - which means how the wood was harvested was done so in a sustainable manner)
  • All adhesives are also formaldehyde free
  • Any plastics are lead free and non-VOC
  • AyA also has a long list of green processes involved in their manufacture

Not only was the product green, but the beautiful kitchen in the pictures is the hard work of Tobi, AyA's designer/customer rep. We gave her dimensions and really rough guidelines of what we were after and loved what she came up with. So now we just need to wait 6-8 weeks for delivery.

LEED points: (MR2.2) A half point for "environmentally preferable" cabinets.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Our Kitchen Deconstruction

So we are complete the first phase of the kitchen project: the deconstruction. You might be asking what is the difference between demolition and deconstruction? about 1700lbs of garbage!

In changing our kitchen from this:

to this:

... you have to get rid of a lot of material. In a traditional demo, you go in with a sledgehammer knock everything down and ship it off to a landfill.

Actually to be fair, I imagine most people would have saved the cabinets. But that probably would have been the extent of it. Our deconstruction meant carefully taking everything apart. Drywall came off and was bagged for recycling. Existing insulation was was cut out of the framing for future re-use. Lumber was salvaged and all the nails pulled out.

To most people reading this, I imagine the idea of slowly prying off 1/2" round trim and pulling out all the finishing nails seems fairly crazy and two years ago (when we did our last reno) the idea never even occurred to me. But it is probably the same way everyone felt back in the 80's when people started suggesting we wash and sort our garbage. Since that time recycling has become second nature to most of us.

So why bother? As mentioned at the start we tore 1713lbs of material out of our kitchen. This is what made it to the landfill:

one 42 pound bag of garbage. So over 97% of the waste was diverted. Where did it end up?

827 lbs of drywall: to be recycled
20 lbs of insulation: to be reused
487 lbs of cabinets/counters: to be sold
22 lbs of metal corner bead: to be recycled
5 lbs of nails / screws: 20% reusable, 80% recycling
111 lbs of lumber: to be reused
137 lbs of plywood: to be reused / given away
54 lbs of trim: to be reused
10 lbs of electrical: aluminum wiring to be recycled, boxes and face plates re-used
40 lbs hood fan: to be sold

When it comes down to it, some of the above material will end up being waste. As an example some of the lumber will need to be trimmed because of damage but a huge chunk will have been diverted. Apart from generating less garbage there are some financial benefits to deconstruction as well: no dump fees and for every piece of material I reuse whether its a electrical outlet or a 2x4 I am saving cash.

The flip side; deconstruction takes twice as long as a demolition and is half as fun. So you need to evaluate your own project and patience to determine how much effort you are willing to invest.

In this post you'll notice there has been no reference to LEED points. I am disappointed to say that is because there are none. There is a prerequisite to document my diversion rate for demolition but points are only awarded for diverting construction waste (packing materials, drywall waste, etc.).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Size Matters

If the goal of LEED Canada for homes is to make the push towards more sustainable housing they have to account for size, and bigger isn't better.

If you build a sprawling 8,000 square foot home it is literally going to have a bigger ecological footprint than your standard size house. The home is going to take more material to build, more energy to sustain and generate more waste when it is ultimately demolished. LEED accounts for this by adjusting your target number of points needed for certification .

Certified LEED (what we are shooting for) is normally 45 points. Build a bigger than average home and that number will be adjusted up. Likewise if you build a more compact home, your required points goes down.

Our home is a roughly 1400 square foot bungalow. When we first started consulting the adjustment table we were laughing. A 3 bedroom, 1425 sq.ft home is a 10 point reduction... it would knock off over 20% of the total points! Unfortunately that excitement was short lived. The calculation requires that you include all "conditioned" or heated living space. We have a mammoth basement which is heated and potentially livable (not currently finished).

Counting the basement doubles the size of our house to 2850 sq.ft. Assuming our basement project adds one bedroom then our new adjustment -1 point. Nothing spectacular but every bit counts.

For anyone interested in the nitty gritty details of the program the Rating System can be found on the LEED Canada for Homes page on the Canadian Green Building Council's website:

And now back to work, we have been busy ripping out the kitchen...

Monday, May 31, 2010

Location, Location, Location

So Jody thought the last post was a bit of a downer so I thought I would mention the positive outcome of your LEED meeting: we get every single point in the "Location & Linkages" category!

The idea behind this category is to encourage people to build at locations that minimize environmental impact and encourage a healthy lifestyle. If you choose to build your home in a swift fox breeding ground and need to helicopter in your groceries: you won't get any points. Incidentally you can still qualify for LEED; this is the only category with no prerequisites. I am guessing so that mountain top lodges in National Parks can still qualify.

We cleaned up in this category for two reasons:

#1 We're Renovating
- Our land was already developed so we are not consuming environmentally sensitive land: 2 points (LL2.1 - this is the category code for those of you following along at home with your own handy rating guide)
- We aren't causing any Urban Sprawl. We get 2 points for being bordered by existing developments on at least 75% of the property (LL3.2) and 1 point for being a previously developed lot ourselves (LL3.3)
- Infrastructure already exists so they don't need to run more sewers or power lines - 1 point (LL4.1)

#2 Where we bought
We had the luxury of when we were buying the house, we were buying it with the intention of trying to complete a LEED reno. So we were looking for the right kind of location. LEED encourages houses to be placed in locations where you have access to green space and don't need a car for your daily life. Unless you are buying a new place, not much you can control here as part of a reno project.

To see what points you would get just pull up Google Earth and draw a circle that is 800m away from your house. That's essentially the cutoff for what is considered a reasonable walk.

If a park 3/4 of an acre or bigger (think the size of a kid's baeeball diamond) is in your circle that's 1 point (LL6.1)

Now count how many services are in that range. The key here is you can't count more than two of the same type. So if you are by a strip mall consisting of 25 restaurants it only counts for two services. If you have 7 to 10 services that's one point, 11 to 13 is two points and 14 or more is three points (LL5.3)

Our count is:
• 1 movie theatre
• >2 Banks
• 2 Community or civic centres
• 2 Convenience stores
• 2 Daycare centres
• 0 Fire stations
• 0 Fitness centres or gyms
• 1 Laundry or dry cleaner
• 0 Libraries
• 2 Medical or dental offices
• 1 Pharmacy
• 0 Police stations
• 1 Post office
• 2 Places of worship
• >>>2 Restaurants (we are near that strip mall with 25 restaurants)
• 1 School
• 2 Supermarkets
• 2 other neighbourhood-serving retail
• 2 other office buildings or major employment centres

So we finish the count with 25! Comfortably putting us into the 3 point group.

If you have no services in your 800m circle it may not mean the end. You can count the number of times public transit stops within the circle instead. If there are 30, 60 or 125 buses per day than you can get the one, two or three points as well. You count the number of buses at each stop, so one bus stopping at 5 stops in your circle counts as 5 buses.

So just like that we have 10 points. 22% of the way to certification and we haven't even done anything yet!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

One Prereq Can Ruin Your Whole Day

Well that didn't take long.....

Every reno project has its stumbling blocks and surprises. We should have expected that trying to do one that meets rigorous international standards might introduce a few more obstacles. Well we hit our first one and it literally weighs a ton and a half.

LEED has 19 prerequisites that you have to meet. You can pick and choose on the points side where you want to focus but the prerequisites are all mandatory. And they cover a wide range of topics: invasive plants, air filtration, heated garage, etc. So far we have met one of the requirements which was to have a a preliminary meeting. Essentially sit down with the LEED rep and discuss our project.

Where we have run into trouble is the one reno specific criteria. In order for a renovation to be considered for LEED you have to open the entire building envelope. Essentially all the insulation and vapour/air barrier needs to be inspected or upgraded. Makes sense because when it really comes down to energy efficiency the insulation is where it is at.

So I understand the requirement but when you have a 4' by 6' fireplace on the inside of a wall and a brick exterior it makes seeing that stretch of wall a pain in the @$$. And its non-negotiable....

So where does that leave us?

Option 1: take down the brick exterior wall... seems like a lot of work or cost

Option 2: take out the fireplace... ditto, although this option would also fix a another headache as a traditional wood fireplace is also a prereq no no. If we keep it we would need a new wood or gas insert. But then how would Santa get in?

Option 3: Expanding foam insulation. Not sure if this would satisfy the kind folks at LEED but as we are only talking about 41", we might be able to drill into the exposed wall studs on both sides and inject a closed cell insulation. This would upgrade the insulation and provide an air/vapour barrier.. but will it fulfill the requirement to "expose" the building envelope? We'll see what LEED says.

Only two weeks in and already stumbling.... this might make for an interesting couple of years.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

LEED: What and Why?

Alright so what is LEED and why are me and my wife spending more time and money on our renovations to have our home "certified"?

In a nutshell: LEED or "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" is a set of international guidelines for green or sustainable buildings. The program looks at 7 key areas:
- Location and Linkages - where is it built and its accessibility
- Sustainable Sites - how green is your yard?
- Water Efficiency - is your home a water hog?
- Energy and Atmosphere - how efficiently does it use energy?
- Material and Resources - use of green products and minimize waste
- Indoor Environmental Quality - minimize indoor pollutants
- Awareness and Education - inform the world

In each category you have to earn a certain amount of points and/or meet a certain number of prerequisites. This means your project needs to be balanced to some degree. You could have a "net zero" solar powered house but if you install a circa 1950s 30L per flush toilet you're outta luck.

The more points you get the higher your classification: "Certified", "Silver", "Gold, or "Platinum". We are planning on Certified with a possible stretch to Silver.

So why bother?
So first off why bother with "green" renos? I think we'll answer that question in detail as we go along but basically it is important to us. If efficiency and reducing your footprint are not your cup of tea then LEED is not for you.

But why bother with LEED? Why not just do green renos and forget the hassle and cost of getting certified? The various LEED websites offer a long laundry list of benefits, for us it came down to a handful of reasons mainly associated with our last reno project. When we were in Winnipeg we completed significant renovations, most with a "eco" flavour: cork floors, recycled paint, extra insulation, etc. but looking back there was a lot we could have done better:

Keeps us Honest
In every renovation, there are trade-offs (cost vs. quality as an example). By certifying the project we need to ensure that none of the trade-offs that we make
compromise on the environmental footprint of our project. And not just on the product but the process.

As an example below is a picture of our Winnipeg basement after the demolition phase.

Now I won't lie. Spending two days with a sledge hammer destroying a place was a lot of fun. At the end the kind folks from 1-800-Got-Junk whisked away our debris and I started building. This time around I have to log construction debris and how much is going to a land fill. So instead of demolition it becomes deconstruction. Wood is salvaged (already used all second material for my work bench) and recycled. Looking back at that picture and thinking how much material went straight to the dump: it pisses me off. Not just from the green side of things but I threw out good quality lumber and went out a probably paid money for a poorer quality product.

Sometimes making the right environmental choices isn't that clear cut. For example I wouldn't have thought that installing a sprinkler system was very eco-friendly. But if you have a traditional lawn a sprinkler system that applies the optimal water at the optimal time will definitely reduce water usage over dragging the sprinkler out on a Sunday afternoon.

Having guidelines to follow and people to support you through the process will help both of us become more knowledgeable about green building.

I can't say whether or not a LEED home is worth more. I am sure there are studies out there that say it is. But when this building changes hands I want the next occupants to know that they have a green home. When we sold our Winnipeg home, the prospective owners may have heard about some of the improvements... do they still remember? Will the next owners know that the insulation was upgraded? I want future owners of this house to know and hopefully care that it meets higher standards.

Being a Leader
I care about the environment and it is not often that I really get to go above and beyond. LEED certification for existing homes is fairly new and so making it a DIY project while you are living in the home is pretty rare. It is nice to feel like you are breaking new ground and I hope others can learn from us.

Welcome to the Blog

Welcome to our blog!

If you have stumbled across this blog, there is a good chance you are interested in home renovations, energy efficiency, or sustainable development. We know we are. (Actually in all honesty, odds are if you are reading this it is because you are friends or family trying to figure out whether or not we are crazy.)

Either way, we have just started knocking out drywall in what will ultimately be an entire Gut - Rehab renovation - to LEED standards - while we live in the house - doing most of the work ourselves - in our spare time. Okay, now I am trying to figure out whether or not we are crazy.

Whether we pull it off or not, the blog will document our attempt and hopefully inspire others or at least help them learn from our mistakes.

Wish us luck!