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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!

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. 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 company representative Don Mills 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.