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For Sale: House that Makes an Income!

As followers of this blog will know, we at Endeavour have spent a lot of time on our Canada’s Greenest Home project. Our goal was to make the greenest home possible on an urban infill lot in Peterborough, and then to sell it on the open market to show that there is an appetite for “deep green” amongst home buyers. For instance you’re planning to sell your house, we buy houses with cash anywhere in Charlotte, and at any price we’re ready to give You a fair offer for your house. On other related news checkout this blog about sell house fast.

When you are finding for a realtor, you obviously want the best. I know this person named Lorin McLachlan, a proven and tested real estate agent. You can visit her at Whether you’re a buyer or seller, you must find out more about an agent before you hire.

The final phase of the project is now underway, with the house going on the market this week. Here is the Listing for 136-1/2 James Street.

The most interesting part of selling this home is how to put forward the unique value proposition we are attempting to make, you can take a look at this excellent resource for Canadian real estate. Most home buyers look within a set price range for their new home, and do this with an implicit understanding that they will be assuming utility costs (heat, electricity, water) that are within a similar range to all other homes. This house radically alters that outlook: There are no utility costs and the home provides an income.

Energy production vs Use

Energy production vs Use

This means that the higher up front cost of buying a super-insulated and completely non-toxic home has a very compelling overall financial picture. The solar income from the house averages about $3300 annually. The annual utility costs are around $1800 or $150/month (inclusive of heat, electricity and water, plus services charges and delivery fees). This means that for the remaining 18 years of the Micro-FIT contract, there is a $1500 annual income from the home after all utility costs have been covered!

Considering that an average home of a similar size in Peterborough will have total utilities bills in the $250-600/month range (from census data, 2011), this means that there will be an annual savings of $3,000-8,700 for this homeowner. Putting that extra money against the mortgage for the home can result in the mortgage being paid off 5-6 years earlier. And all that while enjoying a healthy and efficient home. View website to sell your San Bernardino home today!

Mortgage calculator

Mortgage calculator

But can this case be made effectively in the current real estate in wisconsin market? There is no way to show this information in a quick and easy-to-digest form… the listing for the house shows the asking price, and a curious buyer would have to read the listing and inquire about more details in order to learn the whole story.

We hope that there are buyers out there who will be interested enough to find out the details. Visit this website, for people who also hope that this helps to set a precedent for builders who want to make healthy houses that earn money and real estate agents who want to sell this kind of home! Visit Phill Grove website to get real estate investor training.

There are some simple things you can do to speed up the sale of your home without having significant effect on the profit. Selling you property to Companies That Buy Houses is a good idea.

If you’d like to help us set this precedent, please share this listing with your networks.

Getting Rid of Radon

Those of you who follow Endeavour’s work will know that we take indoor environment quality very seriously. Every material that comes into one of our buildings is carefully vetted for its chemical content, and all of our finishes are chosen to be non-toxic. We pride ourselves on making buildings that have the best possible indoor air and water quality for the occupants. This is an aspect of sustainable building that is all too often forgotten, or given minor consideration via the use of low-VOC paints or other small steps.

Radon concentrations in Southern Ontario

We have long been aware of the issue of radon gas; the presence of radon gas is an important consideration when trying to create excellent indoor environment quality. Health Canada says: “Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas formed by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rocks and water. It seeps from the ground, and small amounts of radon are always present in the air. If radon gas enters a closed space like a home, it can build to higher concentrations. Radon is radioactive, and potentially carcinogenic if enough of the gas builds up. It is estimated that radon exposure is responsible for about 10 per cent of lung cancer cases in Canada, second only to smoking. Health Canada estimates that 1,900 Canadians died in 2006 from lung cancer resulting from radon exposure.”

Radon measurement table

Table from

When building our Canada’s Greenest Home project, we certainly considered the issue of radon, but after consulting some radon concentration maps and the Peterborough City-County Health Unit’s radon measurements in area homes, we didn’t think that radon would be an issue for this home. Especially considering the heavy duty vapour barrier and careful air sealing we knew we’d be doing, we thought the risk was extremely low. Clinics like at the Glasgold Group, they are the best surgeons in the area and they implement eco-friendly facilities installed on their hospitals.

However, a radon test of the basement – an integral part of getting our LEED Platinum certification – showed that we had very high levels. A long term (3-month) test gave results of 485 Bq/m3 (Becquerel per cubic metre), well above the Canadian acceptable limit of 200 Bq/m3, which itself is above the World Health Organization‘s recommended limit of 100 Bq/m3.

Despite the dangers of long-term exposure to radon gas, it is not so difficult to remedy a high reading, especially in a well-built home with a good basement.

We bought a testing device ($150) and an extraction fan ($250) from Radon Detect. The testing device can give short term (48 hour) and long term readings of radon levels. When we first plugged it in, we had readings in the 370 Bq/m3 range.

The process for lowering the radon level is to drill a hole in the basement slab to extend a 4-inch pipe down into the gravel below. This pipe is then directed out of the building through the basement wall to exhaust outside. We chose to use a fan mounted outdoors, but there are indoor options as well.

Our readings on the meter dropped by over 100 Bq/m3 to 223 Bq/m3 by just installing the 4-inch pipe, prior to hooking the fan up to the power source! Within 48 hours of turning on the fan, the meter was reading just 5 Bq/m3, well below any level of concern.

What is of concern, however, is that all the available information indicated to us that the Peterborough area is considered quite safe from radon, with the Health Unit reporting that only 8% of homes tested higher than 200 Bq/m3. However, the operator of Radon Detect told us that every home he’s ever seen tested in Peterborough has been higher than that, and certainly our readings were very high. Since radon comes from radioactive decomposition of rock and soil, this would indicated that at least our closest neighbours likely have high radon levels, and that high levels may exist in many more homes than we were led to believe. We were double the already-high allowable limit from Health Canada. At least now we own the testing equipment to help others see if they have high levels of radon.



Final “Report Card” for Canada’s Greenest Home

In 2012, we had a vision of creating a spec-home on an urban infill lot in central Peterborough, a home that would aspire to the very highest standards of sustainable building while also achieving a modern aesthetic that would appeal to a wide range of potential homeowners. We also wanted to build the home in a way that could be easily reproduced by any conventional contractor.

One of our key goals was to ensure that we weren’t just promising improved environmental performance, but that we were achieving measurable results. Having occupied the home for just over a year, we have now had a chance to monitor its performance and calculate a variety of metrics, comparing these to the more conventional homes that share the marketplace. We couldn’t be more pleased with the results, as summarized in the graphic above.

Performance statistics for Canada's Greenest Home

While the performance of the house marks a vast improvement over current practices, perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that this level of performance was not difficult to achieve. Any builder can hit this standard of performance, and do so within the cost range that is currently acceptable in the market. While this project made some more costly investments in PV, rainwater harvesting, composting toilets and solar hot water, a home built to the same level of performance without these “add-ons” would be entirely cost-competitive. And other than the solar income, most of the metrics above would not change if we didn’t invest in these technologies.

Literally anybody can do this type of building, and do it affordably. We intentionally chose to buy off-the-shelf or easily accessible materials and products, from Durisol foundation blocks to prefabricated straw bale wall panels to ready-made clay and lime paints. Everything in this home is available to builders, and every builder already has the skills to create something like this.

This feels like good news when we’re faced with an onslaught of doom-and-gloom news about the environment. Not that this home will save the planet, but when it comes to easily achieved results that have dramatic reductions in impact, the reproduction of homes like this could be a remarkable step in the right direction. Government forecasts show that the US expects about 1,000,000 new home starts per month in 2015, and Canada expects about 190,000. If all of those homes reduced their energy use by the same amount as this project, that would be 89,250,000 gigajoules of energy savings, 189,210,000 liters of water saved, and 156,017,330 gigajoules of saved embodied energy. Those are meaningful numbers (the equivalent of the output of many nuclear generating stations!), and they are immediately achievable.

When we called this project “Canada’s Greenest Home” we were not trying to set an example that would set an untouchable record for green performance. Instead, we were trying to set a standard that would be inspirational in its final performance and entirely reproducible, so that every new home could easily be this green. We feel we’ve achieved this goal. The rest is now up to home owners, home builders and governments to take this example and adopt and improve it.

Paperstone countertops at Canada’s Greenest Home

We spent a lot of time considering our countertop choices for Canada’s Greenest Home. It’s an area with many options, and many factors to weigh when trying to make an environmentally sound choice. Ideally, the countertop material must be durable, aesthetically pleasing, stable, renewable and/or recyclable and not off gas any chemicals into the home.

After much deliberation, we chose to go with a material called Paperstone. This type of countertop is made from 100% recycled paper fibers (complete with FSC certification), bound with a phenolic resin to create a solid, dense material that is certified food safe by NSF and resistant to high temperatures and abrasion/scratching.

One of the main attractions to Paperstone is its workability. It can be cut with typical woodworking tools, allowing us to do our own installation. We were able to shape the pieces we needed, make the sink cut-outs and bevel the edges of the material easily.

Paperstone came in a range of attractive colours, and can be finished with natural sealants and waxes.

The phenolic resin binder gave us some cause for concern. While the material does not contain any petro chemicals or off gas in the home, the resin ingredients are not environmentally benign. However, the company documents its handling practices very convincingly and has received numerous awards for its sustainability initiatives. We would like to see the company apply for Greenguard certification to ensure its claims of zero off gassing are confirmed by a trusted third party.

We obtained our Paperstone from Living Rooms in Kingston, Ontario, allowing us to work with a supplier we know and trust. This is always an important part of any product decision. The material comes in large slabs, and we bought a 5×12 foot slab from which we cut the pieces we needed.

After a lot of use (and abuse), we have been extremely pleased with the performance of the Paperstone. We gave it an initial waxing prior to use, and have not refinished it after 10 months. It is impervious to water, easy to clean, and very scratch and dent resistant. The dark charcoal colour we chose has a nice depth to it, and doesn’t show any signs of staining or wear. Areas around the sink, where many countertops begin to show signs of failure quite quickly, don’t seem vulnerable to deterioration at this point.

The countertop draws compliments from almost everybody who sees it. It looks and feels unique and attractive. While it is not inexpensive, the initial workability of the Paperstone allowed us to do the installation ourselves, saving money. And its apparent durability means that its an investment that will last a very long time. If you can afford it, we would recommend it as a good choice.


Finding LED lightbulbs that work

Since my first days of living off grid with a tiny PV system in the late 1990s, I have been somewhat obsessed with finding lighting that combines low electrical draw with a nice quality of light. In the off grid home, we moved from dim, incandescent 12-volt car lights to brighter 12-volt halogens to the first generation of 12-volt compact fluorescents (CFLs). None of these combined low electrical consumption with a good light quality. The addition of an inverter in that home opened up the potential for newer generation CFL bulbs, which over time developed a better quality of light, but never really satisfied me. The inclusion of mercury in the CFLs always made me uncomfortable, as did the flickering quality of the light.

LED lighting that works

The LED bulbs that really work!

When the first LED bulbs started to become available a decade ago, I was all over them. I bought bulbs at outrageous prices that gave ridiculously poor light, and have continued to buy examples of each new generation of LED bulb for the past ten years.

Having decided to outfit Canada’s Greenest Home with LED lighting in every fixture, I have taken the opportunity to buy just about every brand and type of LED bulb that are available through major retailers. It is exciting to find that there are, finally, LED bulbs that combine low wattage with excellent light quality!

The sampling we’ve done has been for general purpose overhead fixtures and lamps, and also spots for over the cooktop.

Here are the ones we really like:

Philips 11 watt, 830 lumen, 2700K, dimmable

This bulb has a nice warm light. The shape of the bulb seems like it would cast a fairly narrow spot of light, but it actually does a good job of spreading light in 360 degrees. We use this one as overhead lights in the kitchen and in a couple of the hallways. A really good general bulb.

Cree 9.5 watt, 800 lumen, 2700K

This round bulb has the best general light distribution of those we tried, with a shape most resembling the traditional incandescent bulb. The light is definitely at the warm end of the spectrum, but slightly less warm than the Philips. This is also a really good general use bulb. The glass is coated in a rubbery material that makes it easy to handle and twist the bulb, and should protect it well against breakage.

Sylvania 8 watt, 470 lumen, no spectrum data on bulb or package, dimmable

This bulb is less bright than most of the others, with a lumen output of only 470. We found it to be a very warm and pleasant light. We currently have some exposed bulbs in the house, awaiting actual fixtures, and this bulb casts a good, wide light without being too bright and glaring. The light from this bulb feels “calmer” than any other, good for background lighting.

Philips 10.5 watt, 800 lumen, 3000K

If you’re under the impression that LED bulbs can’t cast a good, bright light, this bulb will alter that perception. It is surprisingly bright, with a light that is close to daylight spectrum without feeling “cold”. In any fixture where you desire an intense, 360-degree light, this one is perfect. It also the least expensive bulb, with prices under $10 at several retailers.

Feit 2 watt, 160 lumen, no spectrum data on bulb or package

We put these bulbs in a few sconce fixtures in stairways and hallways where we wanted a low but useful amount of light in a neutral spectrum range. These little bulbs work very well in this scenario, drawing only a small amount of current while producing a surprising amount of light.

Philips 7 watt, 280 lumen, 2700K spot

We haven’t sampled as many spots as regular bulbs, but of those we’ve tried this one combines a good quantity and quality of light and does not have as narrow a focus as many of the other brands. A pair of them shine down on the stove from the hood vent.

This is far from a scientific and complete sampling of LED bulbs, and I’ll continue to be a bulb addict and buy new models as they come out. However, this range and selection of models would allow anybody to outfit a home with LEDs and feel confident that their money is being spent on quality bulbs with good light output. Prices for these bulbs range from $9-15 dollars. In Ontario right now, there are government rebates of $5 on a wide range of LED bulbs, including most of those listed here. It’s a great time to invest in energy saving bulbs that are long-lasting and do not contain mercury!

Natural Finishes for Canada’s Greenest Home

Natural paint, milk paint, natural oil paint, lime paint, clay paint

A wide range of natural, non-toxic finishes were used in Canada’s Greenest Home

One of the goals of the Canada’s Greenest Home project is to show that a very green home can be built by any contractor with the desire to do so. As part of that goal, we made sure that we used no products that contained toxic chemicals or off gassing compounds, and sourced all of those products from accessible manufacturers. While we love and support the use of homemade paints and finishes, we did not want to make building a non-toxic home appear to rely on kitchen chemistry.

Fortunately, the past few years have seen a wide range of non-toxic paints and finishes introduced by reputable manufacturers. While most of these are not available through regular building supply outlets, they are easily available to anybody with an interest in finding and using them.

Kreidezeit Clay, Lime and Casein Paint

Kreidezeit clay paint in foyer

Kreidezeit natural clay paint gives a beautiful texture and lustre

Kreidezeit is a German company that has formulated some excellent natural finishing products, containing no VOCs and no petrochemicals. Their products are available in Canada through Tockay Distribution. We used three of Kreidezeit’s products: clay paint, lime paint and vegetable casein paint. We found each of them easy to use and very well formulated. Application was straightforward and coverage was complete with two coats. The lime paint was rolled onto the walls, while the clay and casein paint were brushed on. All three give rich, lively finishes, with just enough texture to distinguish themselves from more conventional paints.

The paints apply to most common interior materials, including drywall and plaster. The paints all require the use of Kreidezeit’s vegetable casein primer, which can be brushed or rolled onto raw surfaces, or over existing paints and finishes. The clay and casein paints come in powdered form and require mixing with water. The lime paint comes in liquid form. A range of standard colours are available, or the paints can be custom tinted with natural pigments available from Kreidezeit.

We were very impressed by these products, especially the clay paint (pictured). It gives a finish that closely resembles the warmth of clay plaster, but with the simplicity of a paint.

Auro Lime Paint

Auro natural lime paint

The white Auro lime paint has a lightly textured surface that works well with natural light

Auro lime paint is a completely natural, non-toxic finish that comes in several different texture options, from a fine and highly polished “tadelakt” version up to a fairly grainy and textured version. We chose a lightly grainy texture, and mixed the white base paint with a natural pigment supplied by Auro (in Canada from Tockay). While a primer is available for this paint, we brushed it directly to raw drywall in two coats with excellent results.

The paint is quite thick, and adding water changes the texture on the wall. Brush marks are quite visible in the final finish, and we used a patterned brush stroke to highlight the texture. Coverage is excellent and the final finish is beautiful in natural or artificial light.

AFM Safecoat Naturals

AFM Safecoat Naturals paint

AFM Safecoat Naturals can replace conventional latex paints in every way

AFM Safecoat has been manufacturing a range of non-toxic finishes for many years. Their recent “Naturals” line of organic, plant-based finishes are completely bio-degradable. These natural oil paints were a very exciting discovery, as they represent the most accessible and affordable replacement for conventional latex paints. They can be colour matched in non-toxic tints to any colour available in conventional paints, come in ready-to-use cans just like regular paints, and are virtually indistinguishable from regular paints in terms of use and application. They are only fractionally more expensive than conventional paints. We obtained our AFM paint from Living Rooms.

As a natural oil paint, there is a slight amount of odour with the Naturals, though not nearly as strong as we were expecting from an oil paint. Drying times match that of latex paints, with surfaces dry to the touch with an hour or two and able to be re-coated same day or next day. A flat or a pearl lustre are available.

Unlike conventional latex paints, there are absolutely no toxins in these paints, and while the finish is highly durable and washable, it also remains permeable to moisture migration, making it suitable for use on vapour-open wall systems like our straw bale walls.

The range of products from AFM is proof positive that it is possible to make products that meet all the expectations of conventional, petrochemical-based and toxic products in a healthy, planet-friendly version. There is no reason that anybody building or remodelling shouldn’t abandon the tins of chemical soup for AFM Naturals.

Mythic Paint

Mythic non-toxic paint

Mythic Paint is just like conventional acrylic/latex paints, minus the toxic ingredients.

For those who wish to take a step in a greener direction but don’t want to “go too far” (though with all the options available, I’m not sure why), Mythic Paint offers non-toxic acrylic (latex) paints that are just like all the conventional paint options but minus the toxic contents. We obtained our Mythic Paints from The Healthiest Home.

Nobody using Mythic paints would realize that they weren’t using a normal, widely-available, no-VOC paint. Coverage, application, drying time and coloration are all indistinguishable from conventional paints. While these paints still use a petrochemical base, the company claims that there are absolutely no toxins and no off gassing. They can be used in any situation where conventional acrylic/latex paints are suitable.

The cost is only fractionally higher than standard paints, and less than high-end acrylics. The paints come in all lustres.

Allback Linseed Oil Paint

Allback linseed oil paint is from Sweden, and the company has a special process by which they purify linseed oil to make a highly stable and durable paint. This type of paint has been used for hundreds of years, with Allback’s purification process updating the traditional recipe into something that is predictable and long-lasting.

We used the Allback paint as an exterior wood finish. As a straight linseed oil paint, it has a very strong odour. While this odour is not considered a dangerous VOC, it is unpleasant enough and long-lasting enough to discourage us from using it indoors. As an outdoor finish, however, it works well on raw wood (and the company claims it can also be used on metal, plastics, plasters and masonry).

Our Allback products come from Living Rooms. There is a limited colour palette available, though the existing colours are very attractive.

The paint was easy to apply, but takes a relatively long time to dry (up to 2-3 days). We have been happy with the results, but this is definitely a product that takes some patience and understanding. If you want to have an extremely natural and durable exterior finish, this comes highly recommended, but be aware that it is not as easy to work with as its petrochemical counterparts.

Switching to Natural Finishes

All of the natural finishes we used meet remarkably high standards for non-toxicity, which alone should be recommendation enough for everybody to start using them. The fact that they are also relatively easy to apply and create attractive, durable finishes make them well worth sourcing for any builder looking to make an environmental difference in a project.

So far, all of these finishes have been holding up to the rigours of daily use, and the bumps and thumps of moving day left few traces behind. We will continue to report on the durability of these finishes, but to date we have nothing but positive feedback to report.

Using an Induction Range

Induction cooktop at Canada's Greenest Home

The induction stove simmers a pot of turkey soup, still sporting its EnerGuide sticker!

When it came to choosing a cooking appliance for Canada’s Greenest Home, we were faced with a conflict in approach. Most homes that aim for net zero energy consumption will choose to use natural gas ranges and ovens, and take the cooking loads away from the electrical load calculations. However, the Living Building Challenge dictates that no combustion-style devices may be used to get the Energy Petal in their certification, requiring us to use an electric device of some kind.

We’d heard about induction ranges for a while, but had never had a chance to use one or even meet anybody who had used one. But it was clear that from an energy consumption point of view, induction ranges (especially in combination with convection ovens) have significantly lower electrical draws than conventional ranges.

how-induction-cooking-worksThe lower electrical consumption comes from the way heat is generated. Rather than using electrical resistance heating, in which a metal element is heated and that element transfers heat to the cookware, induction ranges generate a magnetic field under the cookware, and if the cookware is ferrous (ie, a magnet will stick to it) the strong magnetic field causes the atoms in the cookware to get excited and generate heat. Therefore, an even amount of heat is distributed across the bottom of the cookware, and no heat is generated anywhere other than the cookware.

Energy saving induction cooktop

The EnerGuide sticker shows the appliance uses substantially less energy than resistance cooktops.

Canada’s EnerGuide rating system shows that most freestanding, 30-inch ranges use between 470-515 kilowatt hours per year of average use. In comparison, the Frigidaire induction range we chose has an EnerGuide rating of 293 kilowatt hours per year, representing a savings of 177-222 kilowatt hours per year. This is a substantial decrease, probably the single biggest savings that an appliance choice can make. With our 5 kilowatt photovoltaic array, that represents between 35-44 hours of peak production from the panels that can be used of offset other uses in the home!

So from an energy use point of view, the induction range is great. But how about in daily use?

We’ve been extremely impressed with the induction cooktop, enough so that I would definitely install one in another home. Cookware heats up very quickly. A kettle of water boils in a remarkably short amount of time (no more getting a little chore done while the kettle comes to boil!), and in general temperature is imparted to the cookware in a surprisingly short amount of time. Heat in the cookware is completely even, with no hot spots in the middle of the pan and cooler spots around the edges. Changing the temperature setting causes an immediate change in the pan (which is usually touted as the advantage of cooking with gas). Simmers are easily achieved and work well. No heat is lost around the edges of pots or pans, and the cooking surface is not directly heated, so the surface is quite safe to work on. When a pot or pan is lifted from the surface or the dial turned off, there is no more heat.

We haven’t experienced any major drawbacks. There is a slight buzzing noise that accompanies turning on an element, and it’s loudest at the “Power Boil” or high setting. Under all but the very quietest conditions, this is barely noticeable, about on par with a “buzzing” lightbulb. If our tankless hot water heater is on at the same time, the noise is louder (not sure why). I wouldn’t consider this a drawback, just something we’ve noticed.

Dr. Magda Havas from Trent University (and who does a session with Endeavour’s full time students) warns of some potential issues from exposure to the magnetic fields generated by the cooktop. This is not an issue that has received much attention or testing, but the small amount of testing available seems to indicate that keeping a reasonable distance between the body and the element (the Swiss government suggests 5-10 cm) minimizes exposures. While this exposure does not concern me greatly (wireless internet is a much more pervasive and problematic threat, and we wired this home with ethernet cable to every room to avoid the need for wireless), I would not install an induction stove in a home for someone with electrical sensitivity.

Some of our cookware is not usable on the induction range (anything with an aluminum base), but all of our favourite pots and pans work just fine. The heavier/thicker the bottom of the pot or pan, the better it seems to work.

Changing the appliance we cook with was not something I expected to notice much or appreciate, but it turns out to be a rare case of an energy saving device also being a better functioning device.

Open house at Canada’s Greenest Home Sunday, May 26

Front door of Canada's Greenest Home

Welcome to Canada’s Greenest Home!

Join us for an open house at Canada’s Greenest Home on Sunday, May 26 from 1-4pm! It will be more fun than playing video games and getting a lot of lol wins and LOLboosting services!

Explore all the features of the home, talk to the builders and ask “Why?” and “How?”

136 1/2 James Street, Peterborough ON K9H 1C8

Did We Build Canada’s Greenest Home?

Exterior of Canada's Greenest Home

Canada’s Greenest Home at 136 1/2 James Street, Peterborough

Canada’s Greenest Home is about to go on the market, and as we switch out of construction mode and into the process of selling the home on its merits we figured this is a good time to reflect on whether or not we’ve met our goals.

Not a Competition

We were initially quite hesitant to brand this project as “Canada’s Greenest.” The claim was not made to be boastful or to dismiss the work of other designers and builders who have made remarkably green homes. The sustainable building community is very “open source” and cooperative, and definitely not competitive. But we were very interested in pushing as many boundaries as possible with this project, to challenge ourselves as designers and builders to make the very best house possible, going beyond what has been done previously.

Our Goals

We had a very well defined set of goals going into this project, and the sum of these goals, we felt, would result in the greenest home in the country. Here is our self-graded report card:

Extremely high energy efficiency

  • The annual heating bill for the home, as determined by energy auditor Ross Elliott of Homesol Building Solutions, will be around $325 annually.
  • The home will have net zero energy use if the occupants have “average” power usage habits, and the photovoltaic panels will provide an income for the homeowners.
  • We achieved a very high degree of air tightness, with the final test showing 0.63 ACH/50 (air changes per hour at a 50 Pascal pressure differential).
  • An Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) supplies fresh, filtered air with minimal losses of heat and moisture from the building.
  • A complete energy monitoring system with central touch-screen display will assist the owners in meeting their own energy consumption targets. A smart phone can monitor the system from anywhere in the world.

Extremely high indoor air quality

  • Every finish and surface in the home meets the highest standards for being chemical free and non-toxic. Achieving this level of non-toxicity was a great challenge, and one we’re proud to have met.
  • The air handling system has the best filtration system available, and the owner can control fresh air exchange with simple controls.
  • Occupants with chemical sensitivities should find the home to be a very welcoming environment.

    The interior of Canada's Greenest Home

    Living room with south-facing windows and clay plaster walls

All materials manufactured and sourced as locally as possible

  • There are many green building products available in other markets (Europe, in particular, leads Canada in this way), but we wanted to avoid importing solutions and meet our targets using only materials from within a 250km radius. For all the major components of the building, we were able to achieve this goal. This keeps transportation energy costs and impacts minimal.
  • The market makes achieving this goal very difficult. Outsourcing to less expensive labour markets means that some categories of products are no longer manufactured in Canada, or even in North America.

Very low embodied energy materials

  • We chose materials with the lowest possible harvesting and manufacturing impacts. By choosing materials like straw bale walls from NatureBuilt Walls and recycled cellulose instead of petrochemical foam insulation, we are able to greatly reduce environmental impacts to a fraction of a conventionally-built home’s footprint.

Very low water use, with the potential to be water self-sufficient

  • The rainwater collection and filtration system is designed to allow the homeowner to be water-independent. Connection to the municipal water service gives the homeowner the choice to use rainwater for all or just selected uses.
  • All plumbing fixtures in the home have the lowest possible water usage rates.
  • Composting toilets use 0.1 liters per flush, rather than the industry best 4.0 liters per flush.

No sewage output

  • A complete composting toilet system is one of the most distinguishing features of this home. By eliminating sewage output, the home dramatically lowers its environmental impacts, and by creating useful compost the toilet actually becomes a generative rather than a destructive feature.
  • The foam flush toilets provide the homeowner with a very low maintenance and “normal” toilet experience.
  • The home sends its grey water to the municipal waste water system rather than dealing with it on site. This was our one major area of “compromise,” with regulations, cost and practicality leading us to decide that the small amount of relatively clean water output would go to sewer.

Zero fossil fuel usage

  • An air source heat pump (ASHP) provides heating and cooling with no fossil fuel use.
  • Solar panels provide all of the home’s electricity needs. When the solar power is not available, a contract with Bullfrog Power ensures renewable energy is still meeting the home’s needs.

Very low construction waste

  • By choosing low-waste building materials and carefully re-using, re-purposing, sorting and weighing our leftovers, we were able to send only 852 lbs to landfill, versus 10,000 lbs for an average home of the same size!

Make a Reproducible Home

  • We did not want this home to be a “one-off” specialty home. Any contractor or homeowner can reproduce the results of this home with materials and products that are off-the-shelf.
  • We intentionally did not choose materials or systems that would require skills, sourcing or maintenance that are outside the scope of any builder or homeowner.

Make a Home with “Street Appeal”

  • While aesthetics are a highly personal matter, we wanted to create a home that fit into an existing neighbourhood. The exterior is intended to be attractive without being “showy.”
  • The interior finishes are intended to bring a natural building slant to contemporary design, mixing clean lines and open spaces with natural materials and surfaces. Retraining and retooling is not required to build a home like this.

    Canada's Greenest Home with clay paint on prefab bale wall

    Clay paint on a prefabricated straw bale wall

High educational value

  • Endeavour Centre students, who will hopefully take what they learned into the marketplace and assist with building more homes like this one, built the home.
  • Our construction blog has attempted to document the process of building the home, sharing our experiences, sources and lessons learned.
  • Open houses and post-construction documentation will make this home as open source as possible.

Prove that the market will support green building

  • The home was funded by a private investor as a “spec home,” with no government grants or other incentives.
  • Placing the house on the open market will hopefully show other builders that there is an appetite for homes of this type. We believe that the market is changing and that owners are willing to invest in a home that has very low operating costs and a high degree of resilience, and which makes their health and well being a priority.

Guidelines and Criteria

We used two green building rating programs to help guide us. LEED for Homes offers mainstream builders an excellent tool for measuring their environmental performance and reaching for higher targets. We aimed to exceed the requirements to meet the LEED Platinum standard, and are well on our way to being certified with a points score well in excess of the Platinum requirements.

The Living Building Challenge is the most stringent construction standard we were able to find, and within its guidelines we found plenty of inspiration. In following the Living Building Challenge we definitely stretched our abilities and understanding and elevated our practice. Certification under the LBC can only happen after one year of occupation, so it will be up to the homeowners to continue to meet the challenge.

No Prescribed Solutions

Despite following two great standards, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to building green. We deviated from some recommendations and requirements of both programs in order to pursue solutions we felt were more appropriate for this project.

We Think We Did It!

There is no reward or prize at the end of a process like this beyond the satisfaction of achieving a professional pinnacle and meeting one’s own very high standards. We anxiously await the buyer who will recognize this achievement and work with us to commission the home in a way that ensures it meets its substantial promise.

As designers and builders, we have learned a tremendous amount from this project, and look forward to applying those lessons to future builds. We also look forward to the day when a home like this is the norm, rather than far exceeding the norms. This type of home building on a large scale would have significant and measurable positive impacts on our environment.



Managing Job Site “Waste” a Sustainable Building Necessity

In the province of Ontario in 2002, “1.2 million tones of solid waste were generated from the construction and demolition sector” (Development of Construction and Demolition Waste Recycling in Ontario). A typical home construction project will generate about 8,000 pounds of solid waste per 2,000 square foot home according to the National Association of Home Builders.

The Canada’s Greenest Home project is attempting to seriously limit the amount of material sent to landfill from our construction site. Reuse, recycling and diversion are taken very seriously on this project. To date, we’ve only sent 852 pounds of waste to landfill, and have diverted 3537 pounds to reuse, recycling or other end uses. That is about 10% of the provincial average!

We’ve managed to reduce overall waste to the point where our largest quantity of material going to landfill is floor sweepings! Each time we sweep up inside the building, we pull out any fasteners or recyclable materials before bagging up what’s left. But that dust and debris can weigh a lot, especially after sanding the drywall taping. Our most recent trip to the landfill included 146 pounds of waste, most of which was accumulated floor sweepings. Sawdust, dirt and dust can really add up! We could conceivably bury this material on site, as it’s quite inert. But we wanted to keep an accurate measure of what we “produced” that couldn’t otherwise be reused or recycled.

Construction waste reduction efforts at Canada's Greenest Home

All material leaving the site was weighed and tracked.

With landfill tipping costs still artificially low (that is, taxpayers subsidize landfill costs for builders), there is little incentive to reduce job site waste. If municipal governments were to charge appropriately for access to landfill, builders would save money by diverting waste to other streams. In the meantime, it’s not difficult to achieve the significant reductions we’ve managed on this project. Placing appropriate bins on site and labelling them well is the biggest step, followed by designating someone on site to manage waste. Buy-in from subcontractors is important too.

Even minimal improvements on conventional building sites could seriously reduce landfill use and because of this we are working closely with a number of demolition services to come up with better ways to reduce waste. We hope this project sets a high bar for what is possible when it comes to construction waste management.


Clay Finish Plasters

Natural clay plaster finish at Canada's Greenest Home

Red wall almost finished

Natural clay finish plasters add an unparalleled beauty to any home, and it was exciting to apply these plasters to Canada’s Greenest Home this weekend.

These skim coat plasters can be applied over any wall surface. In this project, we used them over clay base coat plasters and over drywall.

The plasters are mixed on site using widely available and affordable materials. Clay, sand, calcium carbonate, pigment, flour paste and water are mixed together and applied to the wall by trowel in a single, thin coat (~1/8 inch).

Our typical formula is 10 parts clay, 4 parts sifted sand, 1 part calcium carbonate, 1 part flour paste (a natural glue/hardener) and ~3.5 parts water. Natural pigments are added to this mix by weight, based on trial samples made in advance. As with baking, the dry ingredients are mixed together and then added into the water, flour paster and pigment that have been blended.

The clay in this case is Tile 6 Kaolin, from a pottery supply store. We’ve used other kaolins and ball clays with similar results. Calcium carbonate is finely ground limestone, from Omya in Perth, Ontario. Flour paste is cooked by boiling 4 parts water and adding a mixture of 2 parts cold water and 1 part flour and boiling until thick. Our natural pigments come from Kama Pigments.

Helping us with the mixing and application was our good friend Mike Henry, a plasterer with Camel’s Back Construction. His attention to detail helps bring out the best in the clay plaster.

There is nothing like the depth, richness of colour, sound attenuation and warmth of a natural clay finish plaster!

Open House for Canada’s Greenest Home

Join us on Saturday, March 9, 10am – 4pm!

Canada's Greenest Home nears completion

Canada’s Greenest Home nears completion


We have attempted to build the most sustainable home possible, and want to share the results with you! Since April, 2012, the students and faculty of The Endeavour Centre have been working on creating a home that showcases the best in sustainable new construction, and we’re excited to open the doors and show you what we’ve created. Come and see a wide range of sustainable materials and systems, including straw bale walls, clay plasters, Durisol foundation, triple glazed windows, composting toilets, rainwater harvesting and treatment, air source heat pump, ERV, comprehensive energy monitoring, solar hot water, non-toxic finishes and much, much more
Progress Gallery
We hope you’ll come and take a tour at 136 1/2 James Street, Peterborough, Ontario
You can follow the progress of the entire project on our blog

FSC Hardwood Flooring

One of the great difficulties of building a sustainable home is figuring out what products are really “green” and which are just greenwashed versions of less-than-sustainable products.

FSC certified hardwood flooring at Canada's Greenest Home

Installing the FSC maple flooring

The hardwood flooring we’ve installed at Canada’s Greenest Home comes from The Nadurra Wood Corporation in Toronto, and Nadurra is one of those companies that we know we can trust to sell only products that meet the highest standards. The company was formed by people with long involvement with sustainable forestry initiatives, and they take an active interest in ensuring that all their products come from well-managed forests.

Their line of hardwood flooring is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the most widely respected third party certification in the world. Their hardwood collection is also harvested regionally, with forests in the northeastern US, Ontario and Quebec.

The finish on the floor is a factory-applied, UV-cured urethane that is VOC-free.

FSC certified hardwood flooring installation

Bedroom finished with FSC maple flooring

We chose a “rustic grade” of maple in natural colour (no stain). This grade makes use of wood that would not normally be chosen for flooring due to variation in colour and the presence of some knots. This ensures that more of the available wood from the tree is used, and brings a natural variation and beauty to the floor.

The installation of the flooring is the first step in the final finishing of the home’s interior.

Composting Toilet Installation

Composting toilet system

Clivus Multrum composting toilet tank

The Clivus Multrum composting toilet is one of the most important systems in Canada’s Greenest Home, and moving companies houston came up to Peterborough recently to help us with the fine points of the installation.

As mentioned in a previous post, treating human “waste” as a valuable and important resource instead of allowing it to become a sewage problem is an important step in the move toward more sustainable housing.

Now that our composting toilets are ready to be commissioned, it’s a good time to look at how this particular system works, and why we chose this type of toilet system over others.

There are three basic categories of indoor composting toilets. The first – and by far most simple and affordable – is the bucket toilet. We at Endeavour love the bucket toilet, and recommend it highly for its low cost and effectiveness, but it was not a choice for a spec home! A step up from the bucket toilet (in price and acceptability, if not performance) is the self-contained composter. These toilets feature toilet and compost tray together in one unit. These can be effective in situations where usage is light, but do not have the capacity to handle the daily use of a whole household. In order to try to “speed up” the composting process in these systems, heat is often used to evaporate urine and accelerate the decomposition of the solids. But by getting rid of the urine and making the solids dry and warm, a great deal of the valuable nutrients are wasted.

The final type of composter is the remote chamber style. These toilets have a large storage bin able to accept input from multiple toilets. The Clivus Multrum system is designed to make sure that composting takes place in the best possible environment, resulting in the recycling of the maximum amount of nutrient value.

Composting toilet system

Illustration of the Clivus Multrum composting system

The main tank for the Clivus Multrum system features a sloped base, with fresh deposits entering at the rear end of the tank and pushing older material forward. Once the system is established, there is a large bed of material in the tank. It is a mixture of solids, toilet paper and wood shavings. In this way, the Clivus system is like many others.

Two aspects really set the Clivus Multrum apart. First, the system captures all of the liquid and makes it accessible as a fertilizer. The urine that is collected has percolated through the composting bed, providing benefits to the solid compost as it passes through and changing in chemistry (to nitrites and nitrates) to become an excellent fertilizer with none of the potentially damaging effects of straight urine. This liquid is collected at the front of the tank and pumped into a separate holding tank. From here, it can be applied directly to gardens and lawns.

The vast majority of valuable nutrients that can be retrieved from human waste are found here, according to Don Mills. Simply diverting and/or evaporating urine is to waste a valuable resource.

The second unique feature of the Clivus toilet is the moistening system. The tank includes a sprayer and controls that mist the compost pile regularly with a small amount of water. This provides the ideal conditions for effective composting: not wet, not dry, but consistently moist. Having provided sufficient nutrients, aeration and moisture, the rich colonies of bacteria, protozoa, rotifers, actinomycetes, fungi, mold, yeast and earthworms can best go to work converting solid waste to useful compost. Dry compost material needs to be removed from the tank about once a year.

When fully functional, the toilet will require monthly attention, to mix in wood shavings. The liquid fertilizer can be pumped directly to gardens or transferred to containers to take it elsewhere.

In an upcoming post, we’ll look at the unique foam flush toilets that are the other unique feature of this system.

Natural Whitewash is the First Finish at CGH

One of the most important features of Canada’s Greenest Home will be the use of nothing but non-toxic finishes for every surface in the home. Many of these will be home-made from natural ingredients. These non-toxic finishes will go a long way in ensuring that the home has a high level of indoor air quality, rather than the polluted air of most conventional new homes.

Natural finishes are an exciting part of this project because they are the most easily reproducible sustainable building element that a homeowner can apply to any new housing or renovation project. We hope the ideas and recipes we’ll post here will encourage more people to use natural finishes.

The whitewash we have used on the pine ceilings on the main floor of this home are a great example of a natural finish that is simple to make, non-toxic, durable and beautiful. Whitewashes have been used for centuries on wood and masonry surfaces, and bring a clean brightness to a room without affecting the moisture storage capability of the material or introducing any VOCs or petrochemicals to the building.


The whitewash recipe we used to achieve a semi-opaque whitewash on bare pine wood is:

1 part Casein powder
12 parts water
16 parts powdered hydrated lime

The water and casein were mixed 2-12 hours in advance and allowed to sit. The lime powder is then slowly added while stirring in a bucket with a drill mixer. The mixture will have some tendency to settle, and should be stirred frequently during application to ensure an even opacity. 1 gallon covers approximately 500-750 square feet per coat. We apply two coats to ensure an even coloration.

The amount of water can be varied to make a thinner or thicker paint, and pigment can be added to give tints. Without pigment, the colour is a bright white.

If powdered casein can’t be obtained easily, a similar recipe that will give good results can be made by mixing:

1 cup skim milk
90-120 grams of powdered hydrated lime

A good quality whitewash brush or thick paint brush with natural bristles will do the best job for applying this paint. On flat surfaces a roller could be used, but our V-groove ceiling required a brush to get into all the grooves.

This paint works so well because the casein molecule contains a powerful glue that is released when it reacts with the base nature of the lime, cracking open the casein molecule and allowing the glue to become a binder that securely bonds to the wood and the lime.

More natural finishes will follow!…

Composting Toilets Are a Must

The Sierra Legal Defense Fund’s Sewage Report Card for Canada says “Over one trillion liters of primary or untreated sewage is collectively dumped into our waters every year by cities evaluated in this report (of 21 Canadian cities). This volume would cover the entire 7800 kilometer length of the TransCanada Highway to a depth of nearly 20 meters – six stories high.”

With this in mind (and remembering that this statistic is only counting large cities, not smaller cities, towns and individual homes), it is not possible to think about building a so-called “green” home if that home is contributing to this huge environmental problem.

However, unlike many other environmental issues that are complicated and difficult to address, this one can be handled quite simply: We need to compost our own human excrement. The process is not difficult, and there are solutions that range from the simple and inexpensive (see The Humanure Handbook for the $20 solution) to the more expensive – but still remarkably simple and affordable – chamber-style composting toilet as installed in our Canada’s Greenest Home project.

The bottom of the holding tank for the Clivus Multrum M10 composting toilet.

This is the only time you’ll catch me inside the composting toilet tank!

We started the installation of our Clivus Multrum M10 composting toilet unit today, and we’ll cover that installation in more detail as it progresses. But this is not just a “flashy” green addition to the home… we consider this one of the most important features of the home. Not only does it remove this home’s black waste from the atrocious statistic above, but proper composting of human waste creates useful and nutrient-rich soil amendment. At a time when we can ill afford to pollute more fresh water and when soil depletion is a real and growing problem, the composting of human waste provides a win-win solution.

When asked at website and public presentations what the one biggest “green” improvement somebody can make to their home, my response is always to move to composting toilets. It’s not a popular answer. We don’t like to think about our own excrement, let alone contemplate dealing with it.

But it’s not as yucky as most people would think. Dealing with a dog’s waste with your hand in a plastic bag is much more visceral and disturbing than dealing with a well-managed composting toilet system, and millions of people have been “trained” to pick up after their dogs. With that in mind, it’s not hard to imagine a future in which turning our own waste into useful compost is socially acceptable and expected.

This woman picks up her dog’s poo with her hand in a plastic bag! Can we be trained to deal with composting toilets?