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SNC Class of 2016

Endeavour’s full time Sustainable New Construction program always attracts a diverse group of students, and 2016 is certainly no exception! People come from all across Canada and around the world to spend six months focused on the theory and the practice of building as sustainably as possible. Together we spend time in the classroom, on the job site, on field trips and with guest instructors.

We’d like to introduce you to the class by letting them introduce themselves to you:

 

Claire Clements

Claire Clements

Claire Clements – Claire is a wildlife film maker from Australia/New Zealand/Ireland.. who finds it hard to just pick one country to be from. She loves animals more than people, dogs more than cats and mountains more than beaches. Her current favorite food is Canadian wild rice even though its not rice and takes a ridiculous amount of time to cook. Claire’s hobbies include buying random pieces of land around the world, collecting earrings and any type of game or sport she is likely to win because she is unfortunately not gracious in defeat.

Her past times (for which she usually gets paid for – yay!) include filming incredible wildlife such as Asian otters and colugos (look them up!), narrowly avoiding death by natural disasters – 1 volcano, 2 earthquakes, and counting and dreaming up ideas for new films.

Claire believes strongly in changing the way we live – becoming more sustainable (climate change is real!) and not destroying any more of the planet or animal species. She plans to build a sustainable house in New Zealand, make a documentary about it and then see what happens next…

 

Alan Cundall

Alan Cundall

Alan Cundall

Hometown: Anywhere, Earth
Ambitions: Architect, Book Illustrator, Peace Activist
Favorite foods: Salmon, Chicken Roti, Cranberry Sauce.

Philosophy of life: Let your vision be world-embracing
Favorite pastimes: Running through hills and valleys, Watching “Manufactured Landscapes”, doodling in class since grade one.
Hobbies: Running, Biking, Swimming, Gardening, Drawing, Singing, Using hand drills
Favourite quote about sustainability: “Think globally, act locally”

Funny quirk: Has an awesome, seldom heard Scottish accent

2016 SNC AlastairAlastair Day – On reaching 30, Alastair felt like a change. He left the comfort of the boat yard in Gloucester docks and landed a job on a 100m super yacht. It soon became apparent that the title of carpenter didn’t involve any woodwork and consisted of hours of cleaning. Undeterred and two fun filled years later he decided to leave the yachting world and seek some adventure in the form of sailboat Benguela. Leaky and the bilges filled with diesel she headed out into the Atlantic. Three months later with a large, surprisingly, red beard Alastair and the crew sailed into Cape Town. After climbing Tabletop Mountain and visiting a Franschhoeks’ he quickly fell in love with another 1980s road bike and flew back to the British Isles. Greeted by a bale of hay and a herd of long horn cattle in need of feeding it was time for another challenge. A seed had been planted through prior periods of volunteering on straw bale / timber frame projects and a desire to become more knowledgeable in these areas arose. An interest in tiny homes, timber frame and semi subsistent living was explored whilst running a pop up yurt making business. On selling his last yurt he ventured to Canada to study with Endeavour. Thoroughly enjoying both the practical and theoretical side to the course Alastair looks forward to more sustainable building projects in the future.

2016 SNC AntoineAntoine DesRochers – Sup everyone, my name is Antoine DesRochers and I was born and raised in l’Acadie, a small town in Quebec, Canada. I came to the Endeavour Centre to develop an important project for me; building a village only from the material of the land where it will rise with my friends and family. Coming here was an important step for me that this quote from Terence Mckenna illustrates well:

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”

Peace!

Oh and I love my mom’s food.

 

2016 SNC ErinErin McLaine – Growing up on PEI Erin had lots of experience building houses out of twigs and snow banks, but these days you can find her trying to figure out how to make them last a little bit longer.

She’s a travel junkie who wouldn’t want to live without brownies or pizza, and fantasizes about owning a menagerie of primates and canines where she can use her creepy animal voice all day long.

She’ll never understand any of your pop culture references but will make any kind of art or food with you and will be pretty competitive if you challenge her to a sports duel.

She believes that without gorilla, there will be no hope for man

2016 SNC HughHugh Cunningham – Hi, my name is Hugh Cunningham. I am from the small town of Gananoque Ontario but Peterborough has been my home for the last seven years. I have spent a lot of my adult life as a canoe trip guide and outdoor educator. I love being in the outdoors in any way – especially canoeing, hiking, and cross country skiing. I have a deep appreciation of the natural world and I think that it is vital that we do what we can to keep it healthy.   I have been thinking of a career in building for the past couple of years but I wanted to work with sustainable materials and techniques. I first heard about the Endeavour Centre from a friend who had taken the Sustainable New Construction course in the past and it sounded like exactly what I had been searching for. Now that I am in the middle of a build with the Endeavour Centre I know that I will get the knowledge and skills that I need to become a sustainable builder.   If you want to capture my philosophy through a quote, I like this one: “What is the use of a house if you don’t have a decent planet to put it on?” – Henry David Thoreau

2016 SNC JubeJubokafloka , aka Jube-Jube, aka Julia Cicciarella – My name is Julia Cicciarella and i was born and raised in Newtonville ON, Canada. I am currently enrolled in the SNC ’16 class and i’m having an amazing experience. One of my favorite quotes about sustainability is: live simply so others can simply live. My philosophy of life is to keep learning, exploring and experiencing, my mother always told me be a moving target.

You can often see me folding pieces of paper, bending paper clips or tapping my foot when seated; i have a hard time staying still. I love to travel and meet new people anywhere i go. I also like to long board and play soccer with any free time i can find. I do not have a specific food i like, but rather focus on enjoying the company that gathers around to eat.

My ambitions are in a constant flux, changing almost every week, however two concrete ones I have had for some time now are to build my own house and to travel to every continent…at least once!

2016 SNC julesJulia Schubert – Hey! My name is Julia, or Jules, as there is more than one Julia in the program this year 😉 I am from a small town in Germany, but I have a big heart. Whenever we talk about sustainable building materials that are from Germany, I wave my little imaginary German flag (I get to wave it a lot).

The best thing in the world is eating mangoes and solving the world’s problems in a hammock, or maybe just reading.

I  jumped right into the program without any prior experience, and it has been great! Learning to use power tools and designing beautiful natural homes, and not just houses, working in a team and living in a community (20 people on a farm! Sometimes crazy but the pingpong tournaments and smores on the bonfire are amazing!)

“Logic will bring you from a to b. Imagination will take you everywhere”- Albert Einstein

Let’s save the world and build sustainably!

2016 SNC kristofKristof Wittstock
Hometown: Vienna, Austria
Ambitions: make an impact, live life as full as possible and let go of shit that holds me back.
Favorite foods: Everything Indian, Everything…almost.

Philosophy of life:  We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.

Favorite pastimes: Yes

Hobbies: Hiking, Playing Guitar, Motorbikes, Axe throwing lately, Origami, Flower arrangements, Knitting, Dwarf throwing, Poetry, Line Dancing, Mud Wrestling, Public cuddling
Favourite quote about sustainability: ” Treat the earth well, it wasn’t given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.”

Funny quirk: Yes

2016 SNC Mike

Mike O’Reilly – My name is Michael O’Reilly. I was born and raised in Stratford Ontario and currently live in London, not far from there, with my wife and our two children. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to learn at Endeavour from Chris, Jen, and Shane for this year’s Sustainable New Construction (SNC) program.

The reason I am here is to learn about sustainable building and to obtain some practical experience with the intention of, one day, providing a place where older adults can live their lives with dignity—in a comfortable, affordable, and healthy environment.

While I am not participating in class and on the site, I thoroughly enjoy making human connections, seeking live music, learning how to drum, drawing, and dreaming!

As far as favourite foods are concerned, I have no enemies—I’ll try just about anything once, and a good ol’ Western sandwich is generally ace!

I have a few quirks—one of which I will share with you now. It has been brought to my attention by my family that I adopt an accent while speaking with telemarketers and bill collectors on the phone.

When it comes to a philosophy of life, I like to reflect on a piece titled Desiderata that is generally credited to Max Ehrmann (sp?); otherwise, I know, I don’t want to be the richest guy in the graveyard!

With regard to sustainability in every facet of my life, I like to consider the following quote from the great law of the Iroquois Nation:

“In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”

 

2016 SNC natalieNatalie Van Dreal

Hometown: Salem, Oregon

Ambitions: to be a more kind, helpful human; to be a part of a movement that helps us to earn more time on this beautiful planet; to help encourage, design and build thriving, regenerative communities — and most importantly, to make this accessible to and possible for everyone.

Favorite foods: pizza, popcorn, pickles, avocados, radishes and dark chocolate with salted caramel.

Philosophy of life: In regards to the human condition, I believe that humans need to unlearn a lot and instead focus on learning things like how to practice more compassion, humility, and simplicity. We need to reconnect with and understand the value of all the processes and organisms on which we rely to exist. I also believe that by realizing that we are not the pinnacle of evolution, we can find more purpose and meaning in our lives, and we can take bigger steps toward the kind of change that could benefit the earth and all its beings.

Favorite pastimes: playing with, petting and nurturing animals; spending time with my friends and family; hiking, swimming, singing, dancing, and laughing; cloud, star and moon gazing.

Hobbies: writing, drawing, painting, wood-burning, organizing, and decorating (transforming and enhancing spaces to be more beautiful, inviting and functional).

Favorite quote about sustainability: “These people, they all got white tiled toilets and take big dirty craps like bears in the mountains, but it’s all washed away to convenient supervised sewers and nobody thinks about crap anymore.. or realize that their origins are shit and civet and scum of the sea. They spend all day washing their hands with creamy soaps they secretly want to eat in the bathroom.” – Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums

2016 SNC DanielDaniel Deza – Hello, my name is Daniel Deza. 33 years of age. I was born in Toronto, Ontario. And raised mostly in the countryside.

Well, my life has been through some major changes within the last few years, my personal wants and needs have transformed.

Entering the Endeavour course was one of those amazing choices I made to forever change the outcome of my future and to be prepared for my journey ahead.

When I caught wind of “ Ecological Communities “ ( Eco Communities ) during my personal time of transformation, I knew instantly that there was something very special about this movement in our current cycle of life….It called to me on many different levels. For a few years now it has been a dream of mine to grow old in an ecologically sustainable community.

I began my research, doing what I could to find workshops and courses to learn as much as I could about ecological/sustainable building, and who might be teaching these courses ?. My mind was racing to get my hands on the right source of information from the right teacher……..And one night, through a random internet search, my friend and I found the Endeavour Centre, and we quickly booked our tickets ( early bird special : ) ,Saturday and Sunday lecture, we couldn’t wait.

That was my first Endeavour workshop, “ build your own sustainable home “, and at the time had only briefly read about Chris and the course he designed. The Workshop blew us away…. along with the amount of usable, up-to-date, easy to understand  knowledge was by far the biggest asset for us, the ball didn’t just get rolling for us, it was canon balled. We had an idea where to start.

A few months had passed since my first workshop and was very excited to know about the six month Endeavour course!, there was still space left for a few students , I had a very big decision to make, and my faith was being exercised. I quit my full time job, enrolled in the Endeavour course, did a dance like Christopher Walken and said to myself…what the hell have I done !.?…

Thank you so much to our very in touch teachers at the Endeavour Centre: Chris, Jen, Shane, their beautiful friends, and their love for the earth. I want to thank my Amazing Mom ( The keeper of the keys ), my big brother, my sister, and my awesome friends for believing in my leap of faith. I love you all very much.

2016 SNC thumbsWe’ve enjoyed working with this crew a great deal… they bring energy, enthusiasm and a good dose of humour to every day on the work site and in the classroom!

Building a roof on the ground

At Endeavour, we tackle some fairly large building projects with our Sustainable New Construction program. This means completing a entire building from the ground up in just 5-6 months, from breaking ground to final finishes. Time is always at a premium, as is the safety of our students. For both these reasons, we often choose to build our roof structures on the ground and lift them into place with a crane.

 

Building on the ground allows us to have a team working on the roof right from the beginning of the project, rather than only starting the roof once the foundation and walls are completed. This kind of “multi-tasking” shortens the entire build cycle, as the mostly-completed roof is set in place as soon as the walls are ready to receive it. The building receives immediate weather protection and the project moves into the finishing phases very quickly.

The process of building the roof is also appreciably faster when it’s done close to the ground. Much less time is spent going up and down ladders and scaffolding, and the accuracy of the work is improved because workers feel comfortable and safe and can take their time to do jobs properly.

And of course, doing the whole project at ground level is a much safer way to learn to how to measure, mark, layout and install all the components of a roof. Much of the work can be done with feet planted firmly on the ground, and even when working at the peak the heights are limited.

For our jumbo straw bale duplex this year, we are again employing this technique, and this time the process includes full construction of the soffits, fascia and gable end siding.

 

The more complex the roof and roof details, the more sense it makes to build this way. None of our roof lifts have required more than 4-8 hours of crane time, which makes it a very affordable process (ranging between $750-1200), especially considering the time savings during construction.

And the day of the lift is exciting, a bit nervous, and a great sense of accomplishment as the building goes from open walls to full enclosed structure.

Building a roof on the ground

Relaxing after the excitement of lift day!

Sustainable Building Essentials from Endeavour and New Society Publishers

The Endeavour Centre is partnering with New Society Publishers to bring natural building enthusiasts a new series of books intended to cover the full spectrum of materials, systems and approaches to natural building.

Sustainable Building Essentials books

Called the Sustainable Building Essentials series, the books cover the full range of natural and green building techniques with a focus on sustainable materials and methods and code compliance. Firmly rooted in sound building science and drawing on decades of experience, these large-format, highly-illustrated manuals deliver comprehensive, practical guidance from leading experts using a well-organized step-by-step approach. Whether your interest is foundations, walls, insulation, mechanical systems or final finishes, these unique books present the essential information on each topic.

The first three titles in the series are now available for pre-order from the publisher, with a 20% discount:

Essential Hempcrete Construction

Essential Building Science

Essential Prefab Strawbale Construction

Upcoming titles in the series include:

  • Essential Straw/Clay Construction
  • Essential Green Home Design
  • Essential Rainwater Harvesting
  • Essential Natural Plasters
  • Essential Cordwood Construction
  • Essential Composting Toilet Systems
  • Essential Green Roofs
  • and many more…

We hope that this series helps continue Endeavour’s mission to bring affordable, accessible and accurate sustainable building information to a wide audience!

Light clay straw insulation

On April 10, a workshop at Endeavour led participants through the theory and practice of making wall insulation from light clay straw (also known as straw/clay, slipstraw, or EcoNestTM).

This is an insulating technique we’ve used numerous times on building projects at Endeavour, and we appreciate the extremely low carbon footprint, simplicity, lack of toxicity and simple installation process of this insulation.

Here is an introductory slide show about light straw clay insulation:

Clay slip versus dry mixing
During our workshop, we used the typical mixing approach for light clay straw insulation: mixing our clay into water until we had a thick, “melted milkshake” consistency. This slip is then poured onto the straw and mixed in until the slip evenly coats all of the straw, so that a handful of straw can be squeezed into a shape that reasonably retains its shape. Whether mixed by hand, in a mortar mixer or in a purpose made straw/clay tumbler, this is how we and other straw/clay builders typically prepare the insulation.

 

For this workshop, we also tried a mixing technique more similar to that we use for hempcrete. When mixing hempcrete, the hemp hurd and the binder are added together when dry, mixed until the powdery binder coats all the hemp, and then lightly misted with water to make the binder sticky. So we tried sprinkling dry powdered clay over the straw, stirring, and then adding water. This didn’t work so well, as the clay powdered sifted down through the straw and ended up at the bottom.

Dry mixing, version 2
For our next batch, we reversed the process and gave the straw a light misting of water and then sprinkled in the clay powder and stirred. This seemed to work very well, as we ended up with a clay coating on the straw that was much stickier than slip mix and allowed the clay/straw to be packed into the forms easily. This process used 25-50% less clay, and more importantly 25-50% less water, which should reduce drying time in the wall dramatically. Having placed both slip-mix and dry-mix side-by-side in the same wall system, there was no appreciable difference in quality in the finished appearance of the insulation, but the dry-mix showed about 25% moisture content on our moisture meter, and the slip mix was up at 36%. Given that slow drying time is the main hang-up for straw/clay insulation, we will use this technique in the future to reduce the wait for the insulation to dry!

NEXT STRAW/CLAY WORKSHOP: OCTOBER 30, 2016

Hempcrete developments

On April 9, a workshop at Endeavour brought participants together to explore hempcrete insulation materials.

The workshop looked at well-used options for these materials, but also explored some interesting new approaches.

Endeavour has continued to develop the use of homemade hydraulic lime binders as a means to eliminate carbon-heavy cement from our building materials and to create locally-sourced binders for cement replacement. At this point, our homemade hydraulic lime binder is well-tested and we feel it works as well as any of the imported (European) hempcrete binders, at a fraction of the cost and with locally-sourced ingredients.

Hempcrete mix
Our hempcrete binder is composed of 50% hydrated lime (most easily accessible to us is Graymont’s Ivory Finish Lime) and 50% Metapor metakaolin from Poraver (created as a by-product of the company’s expanded glass bead production).

We mix our hempcrete at a ratio of 1 part chopped hemp hurd by weight, with 1.5 parts of the binder by weight. After translating these weights to volume measurements, it was 4 buckets or hemp hurd going into the mixer with 1 bucket of binder (1/2 lime, 1/2 metakaolin).

 

hempcrete insulation

Weight ratios are converted to bucket measurements: 1/2 bucket of lime, 1/2 bucket of metakaolin, 4 buckets of hemp hurd

 

The hemp hurd goes into the mortar mixer first and then we sprinkle in the binder and allow it dry mix until the hurd is well coated with binder powder.

hempcrete insulation

A horizontal shaft mortar mixer is used to dry-mix the lime binder and the hemp before water is misted into the mix

Water is then misted (not sprayed) into the mixer until the mix is just moist enough that if we pack it like a snowball in our gloved hands it keeps its shape, but is still fairly fragile (ie, can be broken with a bit of a squeeze). It is important to not over-wet the hempcrete, as this will greatly extend the drying time once the hempcrete has been packed into a wall. If too much water is added, the mix can’t be recovered by adding more dry ingredients as the hemp hurd will quickly absorb excess water and there won’t be any free water for the new dry ingredients. So, add water carefully and gradually!

hempcrete insulation

When packed like a snowball, the hempcrete should just hang together

Hempcrete is placed into formwork on a frame wall, using light hand-pressure to compact the mix just enough to ensure that the binder will stick all the individual pieces of hemp together.

hempcrete construction

Hempcrete is placed into forms and lightly pressed into place. The forms are leap-frogged up the wall.

Our workshop crew was able to mix and place enough hempcrete to fill a 4-1/4 inch deep wall cavity that was 4-feet wide and 13-feet high in just under 3 hours! That’s over 6 cubic feet of material per hour!

Hempcrete recycling
We have long touted the no-waste benefits of hempcrete. We’ve speculated that even when the insulation is being removed from a building during renovations or demolition, that the hempcrete can be broken up and recycled into a new mix with new binder added. We put that theory to the test at the workshop, as we demolished one of our small sample walls and added the broken up hempcrete into our new mixes at a ratio of 3 parts new hemp to 1 part recycled hempcrete. The resulting mixes were impossible to distinguish from the all-new mixes, and confirmed that hempcrete can easily be re-used!

hempcrete insulation

Hempcrete that had already been mixed into a wall was broken up and added into a new mix… Fully recyclable!

Hempcrete book forthcoming
If you are interested in hempcrete insulation, Endeavour’s Chris Magwood has just finished a book called Essential Hempcrete Construction that will be available in June, 2016. It contains recipes, sourcing, costing, design and installation instructions and will be very valuable to anybody considering a hempcrete project.

hempcrete insulation

New book includes everything you need to know about building with hempcrete

Hemp-clay shows lots of promise!
Hempcrete insulation is almost always done using a lime-based binder. But at the Natural Building Colloquium in Kingston, New Mexico last October, we were doing a hempcrete demonstration right next to a straw/clay demonstration, and we took the opportunity to mix up a block of hemp hurds with a clay binder.

hemp clay construction

A sample block of hemp-clay showed the potential for this material combination

The success of that demo block led us to try this combination on a slightly larger scale, and we machine mixed the clay and the hemp to fill one tall wall cavity with this hybrid material. Using the same mixing methodology as typical hempcrete, we added the hemp hurd and dry bagged clay to the mixer and allowed it to dry mix, before misting with water. Interestingly, we were able to use half the amount of clay binder compared to lime binder (1/2 bucket of clay to 4 buckets of hemp hurd) and the resulting mix was stickier and easy to form and pack than with the lime, and with the addition of noticeably less water.

hemp clay construction

The hemp-clay mix has great binding power, and keeps its shape with very little pressure required

The key difference between the two binders is in their manner of setting. Hydraulic lime binders cure chemically, and consume water to change the chemical structure of the mix as it solidifies. Clay binders simply dry out and get hard. So the lime-based versions should be drier and harder sooner. However, the smaller quantity of water required in the clay-hemp mix may mean that drying times end up being similar… we’ll report back when we know.

hemp clay construction

A close-up of the hemp-clay mix formed into the wall. It keeps its shape within seconds of being placed into the forms

Clay binder with hempcrete offers some advantages over lime-based options, including a significantly lower carbon footprint and none of the caustic nature of lime that can cause skin burns when handling. The clay-based binder creates a mix that is much stickier during installation, which means less packing/tamping to get the material to cohere in the forms. Less water means that it was almost impossible to over-compact the mixture. We will definitely be exploring this option in a serious way!

hempcrete insulation

Having placed 18.5 cubic feet of hempcrete in a few hours, the crew stands in front of their work. The lighter coloured hempcrete is our homemade hydraulic binder, the darker mix is Batichanvre, a binder imported from France.

NEXT HEMPCRETE WORKSHOP: OCTOBER 29, 2016

Building Officials as Environmental Champions

After almost a decade of working with the “objective based” building code (introduced nationally in 2006), we have had many opportunities to explore the alternative compliance pathways offered by the code. A big part of doing this work is becoming familiar with the over-arching objectives that frame the entire code. There are only seven objectives behind the code:

  • Safety (OS)
  • Health (OH)
  • Accessibility (OA)
  • Protection (OP)
  • Resource Conservation (OR)
  • Environmental Integrity (OE)
  • Conservation of Buildings (OC)

Given that OA-Accessibility has nothing to do with material choices, a full 50% of the code objectives look like they were written by a natural building enthusiast! Under OH-Health, buildings should not harm their occupants in any way, including by chemical content, mold, moisture issues and thermal discomfort. Under OR-Resource Conservation, no building should deplete natural resources or the infrastructure that supports them. Under OE-Environmental Integrity, no building should expose the natural environment to degradation. I couldn’t have said this better myself!

Last month, I had a chance to speak with a local chapter of the Ontario Building Official’s Association. I took the opportunity to thank them for their work in protecting public health and safety, and to call them to action in fulfilling the environmental and health aspects of the code that currently exist in writing but not in enforcement. Here is the slide show I presented:

 

I would love to see the objectives of Health, Resource Conservation and Environmental Integrity recognized as the key risks facing building occupants, and have these objectives of the code taken every bit as seriously as the “traditional” objectives. The framework exists for building departments to lead on these important fronts, and I would love to see the professional take up the mantle of environmental heroes with the same rigour they brought to fire and structural safety over the decades!

The Carbon Elephant in the Room, pt. 2

Since posting about the “Carbon Elephant in the Room” back in November, I was asked to present on the subject of fighting climate change by using natural building materials at the BuildWell conference, with co-presenter Jacob Deva Racusin. I modelled four different house shells to establish their embodied carbon levels, and Jacob performed energy modelling on each of the four buildings in two different climatic zones to establish what the operational carbon footprint would be for 35 years.

The following slides are from our presentation, and the results are extremely interesting!

There is no reason for us to collectively be building carbon monsters anymore. The carbon elephant in the room is clear to see, and it’s up to us to make the right choices to lead that elephant away from our future! Rushing to make new buildings and renovate old ones with high carbon materials like fiberglass, foam, concrete and plastics is not going to help fight climate change. We have to take embodied carbon seriously… it is entering the atmosphere now, when we really need to make deep cuts. Low carbon materials and renewable energy are by far the best tools to use, just like natural builders have been saying for a couple decades!

Make a Wooden Cutting Board workshop

Saturday, July 16, 2016
9.30 am to 4.30 pm
Endeavour Centre, Peterborough

Instructor: Annie Murphy

Learn the basics of woodworking during this 1-day introductory workshop. We’ll walk you through the basics of working with wood, hand and power tools and you’ll discover the joy of woodworking as you complete a take-home project. We’ll go over the major shop tools (jointer, planer, table-saw, chop-saw, router, bandsaw), show you how to use them safely and discuss what to consider when buying tools. Each participant will build a unique cutting board and we’ll go over wood finishing products and all the non-toxic, healthy options out there.

Entry Requirements
Open to all

Fee
Early Bird – $125
Regular – $150
Includes healthy lunch (vegetarian and vegan options available)

Maximum class size: 12

Ecological Building: From Fringe to Almost-Mainstream, 1996-2016

Maybe the Weirdoes Weren’t So Weird After All

2016 marks the 20th year since the idea of building houses with straw bales completely transformed my life. Back in 1996, I wanted to build a home for my family that would achieve two seemingly simple goals:

  1. The home would make our lives financially sustainable by being affordable to build and having very low operating costs
  2. We’d have a smaller impact on the environment than conventional practices

While these were not particularly radical or even new goals, they certainly weren’t ones that we shared with many other people at the time. Our decision to go ahead and build the first code-permitted straw bale home in Ontario was met with many more quizzical looks or outright expressions of derision than interest or congratulations. Almost all of our reasons for building a low-cost, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly home where met with the question, “Why?”

cooper straw installation

Straw bales almost tripled the code requirements for wall insulation in 1996.

You’re Using R-What?
Then: The notion of insulating a home was well accepted by that time (and even mandated by the building code), but the notion of using anything more than the low code minimum was largely seen as excessive. No insulation was required for basements or under slabs, and air tightness was only being discussed in whispers. The R-2000 program had been around for a while, but even many of its proponents thought the idea of a straw bale wall’s R-40 (or so was the number used at the time) and our plans for R-48 in the roof was kind of overkill. The most receptive audience for the kind of energy efficiency promised by straw bale building was among individual homeowners eager, like us, to greatly reduce or even eliminate heating bills from our monthly overhead, effectively “buying” us a degree of freedom from financial burden.

Now: This is the one area in which conventional building has started to wholeheartedly adopt the strategies of the early green builders. The building code is on a planned pathway to ever-higher levels of insulation and energy efficiency, including targets for improved air tightness. There are numerous voluntary standards to encourage homeowners and builders to exceed code minimum efficiency (such as LEED for Homes and Energy Star), and software programs for modeling energy efficiency. The Passive House standard, nearly unthinkable back in 1996, is gaining traction and showing what’s possible when energy efficiency is taken really seriously. It won’t be long before straw bale walls at R-30 barely meet code requirements, and must already be exceeded to meet the higher standards. It has never been so easy to build a truly energy efficient home.

cooper frame

Recycling old barn timbers was just one strategy to lower the environmental impact.

Environmental Impact from Buildings?
Then: Even less understandable at the time was the urge to build with less of an “ecological footprint.” Even the term itself, which seems to have surfaced in 1992 (coined by Canadian ecologist and University of British Columbia professor William Rees), was unusual at the time, and the notion that choices regarding building materials could have a huge impact on the planet was just starting to be raised as an issue. The fledgling US Green Building Council, formed in 1993, was at the forefront of bringing this issue to light in North America… but nobody was really paying attention. And the idea that these environmental impacts could include climate change due to the high carbon output in the harvesting and production of building materials was nowhere on the public awareness radar.

Now: While there is still a long way to go to remedy the vast impacts that our building materials have on the environment, the problem is at least recognized and seems likely to start to be addressed seriously in the near future. An ever-growing body of data (ICE, EcoInvent, Green Footstep) can help to quantify environmental impacts, embodied energy and, of recent government and citizen concern, carbon footprint. I spent a year of my life writing a book called Making Better Buildings that presents data for a wide range of conventional and green building approaches. It is much easier now than ever before to have an understanding of the impact a building will have on the environment and make informed choices to minimize these impacts. Not many are making these choices, but the groundwork exists and government encouragement to make them seems likely. Advocates for materials like straw bale had a sound argument to make in 1996, and it finally seems to be catching the ear of the wider culture just now.

cooper solar gear

Home made solar thermal collectors and a cobbled PV system allowed for energy independence.

Renewable Energy?
Then: Our decision to go “off-grid” with our straw bale home wasn’t part of our original plan. But the high cost of hooking up to the grid mixed with a rapidly dwindling budget led us to live our first year or two in the home with no electricity other than a car battery hooked to the water pump. Surprised by the lack of discomfort (ample hot water came from solar collectors and a woodstove jacket), we were able to approach the idea of designing an off-grid electrical system as a way to provide “luxuries” like reading lights, a stereo and laptop computer use. Starting small, the system grew over time to include photovoltaic panels, wind and micro hydro. It was far from the slick systems that are readily available (and less expensive) today, but it met our needs and awakened my interest in examining conventional use of household energy and how high levels of personal comfort could come from vastly reduced consumption. From refrigerators that use cold air in the winter time to augment electric compressors to forays into early forms of LED lighting, the potential for minimizing needs without sacrificing amenities became a passion.

Now: The incredible drop in cost for photovoltaic panels has put renewables on a nearly even footing with fossil fuel energy… Incredible, considering the high levels of subsidies given to fossil fuels versus renewables. Here in Ontario, the MicroFIT program makes it financially prudent to put green energy onto the utility grid, and similar programs exist around North America. Energy storage is a top priority among researchers, with new battery technologies and systems beginning to make it to market. The distinction between being on- and off-grid could get blurry in the next decade as shared distribution of renewable energy on the grid combines with household storage capacity to re-shape household power solutions. This is one area where there are both improvements in the technology and more widespread adoption than twenty years ago. Codes, however, do not address these issues at all.

C&J's dining room

Non-toxic finishes were difficult to find, and often ended up being home made.

Sick Buildings and Healthy Materials?
Then: The World Health Organization coined the term “sick building syndrome” in 1984, as part of a study that found that over 30% of new or newly renovated buildings were the subject of health complaints by the occupants. The International Institute of Building Biologie and Ecology was formed in 1987. Not many people were listening. But this did not stop academic and lay researchers from questioning the ever-growing number of untested chemicals being combined in our building materials and wondering about the health impacts on building occupants. Those few who were concerned with this issue did not have a wide selection of commercially available products identified as being non-toxic to choose from. Homemade finishes were one important means of having control over what went into a building.

Now: Though an increasing volume and quality of research is showing the negative health effects of toxins in our buildings, this is an area has made very little headway into the mainstream. This despite the fact that we all have a vested interest in living and working in non-toxic buildings.

Small companies began to surface in the early 2000s dedicated to producing building materials free from proven or potentially toxic compounds. While few of these have mainstream distribution channels, it is entirely possible to build an entire house that has no or very little questionable chemical content. Programs like Declare and Cradle-to-Cradle ask manufacturers to fully disclose the ingredients for their building products, and the Living Building Challenge and other programs have chemical red lists to help homeowners and builders avoid potential toxins. There is no recognition of material toxicity in codes.

Low Cost Options
Then: A more regulated residential building sector was just a gleam in regulator’s eyes in 1996. The pathways for owner-builders to pursue innovative projects were less cluttered with requirements, and builders could operate much more informally, outside the scope of prescriptions, taxation and regulation. This meant that several layers of cost did not necessarily have to be borne by a project budget then. Building wasn’t exactly cheap twenty years ago, but the possibilities for building less expensively were there to be pursued.

Now: More regulations that are more strictly enforced have definitely raised building costs over the last two decades. And building material costs have risen at a rate that has exceeded general inflation. Many decades of treating real estate as short-term investment have raised land and building costs, making the cost of projects higher. Development charges, service fees, an increasing reliance on engineering approval and a more formalized scenario for builders have all put upward pressure on costs. It is more difficult than ever to build affordably, so even though the costs of building greener are well within the parameters of conventional costs, those conventional costs are increasingly out of the ability of a typical family to afford. There is no way my family and I could have acted on our 1996 dream if we were in the same position now in 2016. And that is saddening.

Everyone is Coming Down This Path
The forefront of ecological building is still a long way away from mainstream practice. But it’s not nearly as far away as it was twenty years ago; not a result of the leading edge practitioners being less adventurous or pushing less at the boundaries… rather, it’s the mainstream starting to pay attention. It may be a bit like watching a brontosaurus slowly turn its head to acknowledge an annoying bite on its tail, but it is starting to turning around.

Energy efficiency got the construction sector’s attention first. Material impacts on the environment (especially carbon) are increasingly gaining notice, and action on this front is likely in the near future. It won’t be long before occupant health likewise finds active proponents in government and industry, and the presence of toxins in the built environment begins to be treated as seriously as it should.

As I watch the behemoth slowly react, it seems worthwhile to acknowledge that, as with so much social change, the changes start on the fringe with creative thinkers and early adopters acting well outside the mainstream. It turns out that the weirdoes in 1996 were onto something, and that something is looking more and more like it makes “common” sense!

Green & Healthy Home Renovation series

Greening Your Kitchen & Bathroom
– Tuesday, November 1

Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency
– Tuesday, November 8

Choosing Healthy Paints, Finishes & Flooring
– Tuesday, November 15

All presentations 6 pm to 9 pm
Endeavour Centre, Peterborough

Instructor: Chris Magwood

Are you looking to renovate your home in a greener, healthier way? There is so much conflicting information out there it can be hard to know what to do.

Don’t get your information from a salesman!
This series of evening presentations gives you a chance to learn about a wide range of options from an unbiased source – long-time sustainable builder Chris Magwood. As the author of the book Making Better Buildings, Chris has made a name for himself for giving good, well-researched and honest advice to home owners about how to make the right green choices to meet their own unique goals.

 

See and experience a wide range of options
Not only will you learn about how to assess and choose green building options, the Endeavour Centre classroom is a living laboratory of green building and you will be able to see and experience samples of materials, systems and products.

Affordable and practical green solutions
Most people think that renovating in a green and healthy way will cost them a lot more money, but that’s not necessarily the case. The Green Renovation Series offers practical advice and a real focus on affordability to help you meet your goals on your budget.

Get answers to your questions
Each presentation will include a generous amount of question-and-answer time, allowing you to get specific advice on your own projects. A hand-out will be included to help you source all the materials and systems discussed during the workshop.

Put 20 years of green building knowledge to work for you
Finding out how to make choices that are healthy for you and your family and for the planet is a lot less difficult than you might think. Each of these 3-hour presentations is lively, engaging and informative. Come to any one of the presentations for just $25, or come to all three for just $60.

Entry requirements
Open to all

Fee
Each presentation – $25
Attend all three for just $60

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