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How you can help save the whales (not exactly) without blowing your budget.

I remember lining up at the drinking fountain in elementary school waiting my turn. We used to give each other a hard time for taking to long and drinking too much and we used to say, “Hey! Save some for the whales!”

In most areas of the world the amount of water we drink is not very directly linked to the health of whales in the ocean; It is however linked to the availability of freshwater in the areas we live in, some of which can experience droughts occasionally or even regularly. In most parts of North America we also pay for the water we use. While it is often not that expensive, it is often also linked to the amount we pay for sewage treatment, thus using less water in and around our home will often reduce the amount of our water and sewage bills.  

So what can we do to save water around our home?

The good news is that the vast majority of things you can do to save water around your home are a few hundred dollars or less…. Unless you are replacing fixtures and have very expensive tastes.

You can even save some water by simply changing a couple of your daily habits.

I am going to start off by listing a few habits you can change, and then move on to maintenance and other things that you can do to save water around your home.

I have prepared a brief PDF download of the items listed below.

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Habits to Change to Save Water
  1. Turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth.
    This is a habit that has been advocated for for decades. Just wet your toothbrush and then turn off the water until you are done brushing your teeth and are ready to rinse out your mouth.
  2. Turn off the water while you are washing your hands. 
    I haven’t heard this one advocated for much but it is something that I have been doing for several years myself.
    Simply wet your hands, turn the water off, and then turn the water back on to rinse after you have soaped and scrubbed your hands.
    This does result in getting a bit of soap on your tap handles which in my opinion would slightly counteract any germs that may be on the handles from turning the tap on with your dirty hands.
  3. Have “military showers”
    A military shower is when you turn off the water once you are wet and then turning the water back on once you have finished washing your hair and body. Depending on the shower faucet you have though, it may be a bit of a hassle to get the water back to your preferred temperature.
Maintain Your Fixtures

Fix or replace any leaky taps or leaky toilets. Sometimes a repair to stop a leak can be very simple and cheap to complete. Even if a leak appears pretty small, the amount of water wasted can become a significant amount over the course of an entire year. 

Use More Efficient Fixtures
  1. Install a more efficient toilet that uses 6 litres or less per flush. You can also look at getting dual flush toilets that allow you to only use 1-4 litres per flush (depending on the model) when a full flush is not needed.
  2. Use a low flow shower head which will reduce your overall water use in the shower. Research different shower heads and if possible (if you know someone that has one and it isn’t too awkward) try out different low flow shower heads before you buy one.
    We learned from personal experience that using some low-flow shower heads may result in taking longer to rinse off.
  3. Get a shower head with a trickle button.
    Once you get adequately wet you push the button on the shower head which reduces the flow to just a bit more than a trickle while you soap up. Then you release the button and have full flow right away. You don’t even have to set the temperature again as would happen if you just turned the water off as discussed above for military showers.
       
  4. Get a shower faucet that allows you to set the flow and temperature separately. Most shower faucets currently installed in homes only allow you to adjust the mix of hot and cold water to get your desired temperature, which results in the hot and cold water being on full flow in the center of the temperature range. I do not have extensive personal experience with any of these products but have included a couple links below for reference.

Closure

When it comes to reducing your water use the best place to start is to change a couple habits and ensure all of your plumbing fixtures are in good repair. Once you have covered those bases you can look at installing more efficient faucets, toilets, or shower heads.

There is a lot you can do… including replacing some basic fixtures without having to spend too much money.

If you have any ideas that I have not listed, leave a comment below.

I have prepared a PDF with a brief list of all of these items.

Get the PDF of 7 Simple and Cheap Ways to Save Water Around Your Home
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If you have found this post valuable and if you know someone who you think would also benefit from it please share it with them.

Thank you so much for reading and until next time… Go do something to make your home a little more sustainable.

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Improving Sustainability in Existing Homes

I really enjoy dreaming about renovating my existing home to make it much more efficient and also someday building my own sustainable home. For me (and most others) building a new home or completing a major renovation is way out of reach for financial or other reasons. While it may make me feel warm and fuzzy when I have these sustainable dreams, I want to be able to do something now to make my home more sustainable. I want to reduce my costs and also increase my comfort and enjoyment in my house as it is now….without incurring high costs.

Luckily, there are quite a few things that can be done in an existing home to make it more sustainable, many of which are relatively cheap or even free.  I want to focus on these over a couple of posts to give you solutions that you can use without blowing your budget.

First, I would like to address a couple of potential questions:

What Do I Mean By Cheap?

I haven’t set a hard line as to what I consider cheap.

Over these next posts about cheap things you can do in your existing home I am looking at things that can be done easily and quickly and are much more cost effective than paying thousands of dollars for a major renovation. Generally I am looking for solutions that are as cheap as possible but not more than a couple hundred dollars. The goal is to improve the sustainability of your existing home on a budget…. a very small budget.

What is So Great About Energy Efficiency?

Reducing your energy use will not only be more sustainable to the environment but will also reduce the operating costs of your home and, when it comes to heating and cooling, can also increase your comfort.

In this post I will be focusing on energy efficiency in existing homes and cheap (or free) things that you can do to reduce energy use in your home. (I will save water efficiency for my next post.)

3 Main Areas of Energy Efficiency

I am going to break these energy efficiency strategies into 3 main areas:

  1. Saving Electricity
  2. Reducing Heating and Cooling Requirements
  3. Saving Hot Water

I am going to be covering a lot of solutions in these sections and am not going to go very deep into each of them. If you would like more information about specific solutions or have some that you would like to add (my list is not meant to be exhaustive by any means), leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

When I am talking about specific products, I have tried to include links to the products in the show notes so you can get more information about them or even buy them if you wish. Most of the items I have listed below are items that I have used myself. Some of these links (to Amazon or Homedepot.ca) are affiliate links which means if you choose to make a purchase through them I will earn a small commission, which helps me be able to produce more great content like this. Only buy items that you feel will help you on your journey to a more sustainable home.

I have prepared a PDF with a brief list of all of the items listed below.

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Are you ready to dive in?

1 – Saving Electricity
  1. Become aware of the electricity that you are using in your home. One easy way to do this is through using an energy meter. These are devices that you plug into an outlet and then plug any device into. The energy meter then displays the energy that you are using and can be programmed with your electricity cost to display the cost of using the device. There are many energy meters out there. They are carried in some hardware and retail stores but are easily found on Amazon. I got the energy meter that I am using off of Amazon.

        When performance is measured performance improves – Thomas S. Monson

    Simply by measuring your energy use you can understand and improve it.
    Getting an energy meter in my opinion, is one of the first steps that people should take to save energy in their home.

  2. Unplug laptop, tablet, and cell phone chargers or any other electronics when they are not in use. Even when they are off, many electronic devices still use a small amount of electricity when they are plugged in. This is know as a phantom load. You can find out what the phantom load of different devices are by using an energy meter.
  3. Ensure you have LED bulbs installed in the light fixtures that you use most.
  4. Ensure any night lights you have are LED and not incandescent. Night lights don’t use much electricity but they are often on 10 or more hours every night and sometimes they are on 24/7. Any savings can add up over the course of the year…. Especially if you have several nightlights around your home.
    Now let me tell you of some awesome products that can be used as nightlights.

    Snap Power is a company that has developed a couple of awesome products that have LED lights built into cover plates that can be installed around your electrical plugs or light switches.
    The beauty of them is that all you have to do is change the original cover plate with their Guidelight plate (for plug receptacles) or Switchlight plate (for light switches) and the light functions instantly and even has a light sensor built-in to keep the light off when the room is bright enough. It is nice to be able to install a nightlight without losing a place to plug something else in.
    I have the switchlights in my home and love them. (As of the time of writing I do not receive any commissions for promoting these products but think they are amazing and everyone should get them.)

  5. Consider how you are cooking your meals. Are you heating your entire oven when just a small toaster oven will suffice?  What about possible energy savings by using an Instant Pot instead of a standard slow cooker?
    Green Energy Futures had a recent episode where they featured Ron Kube (The Energy Detective) who compared the energy used by different cooking methods.
  6. Finally, probably one of the easiest ways you can save electricity is to turn your lights off in rooms you are not using. When you have kids at home though this is not so easy and may require creative threats and consequences for when lights are left on.
    If you are willing to invest a bit of money, however, you can get a motion sensing switch which will usually cost $20 or more per switch. Here is one that is available from Home Depot in Canada.

    One thing I plan on looking into is a comparison of the electricity it takes to run a motion sensor switch 24/7 to the electricity it saves by keeping the lights off when no one is in the room.
2 – Reducing Heating and Cooling Requirements

According to a residential energy consumption survey completed in 2009 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, space heating accounts for 42% of a home’s energy use and air conditioning accounts for 6%.

Any step to reduce our heating requirements has the potential to make a large difference due to the large amount of energy used in heating our homes. In warmer climates, reducing cooling requirements can also result in significant energy savings. Reducing your cooling requirements can also significantly increase your comfort during hot seasons.

So what can you do to reduce your heating and cooling requirements and get some of those savings?

  1. Use a programmable thermostat to turn down the temperature in your home (or do it manually yourself) a few degrees at night or when you are away. (You can also turn up the temperature when you are away in the summer or in warmer climates to reduce your air conditioning load).
    **Never let the interior temperature get below +15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) in weather below -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit). There may be locations within your exterior walls or other parts of your home that will be much colder than this during cold weather and if the set temperature is below this your chances of freezing a pipe increase.**
  2. When you don’t need light through a window in cold weather keep the curtains or blinds closed. This will provide a small area of still air next to the window which provides a small insulating function. **Keep an eye out for condensation on these windows though.** In very cold weather on low quality windows this can even result in ice build-up. This is because the temperature on the inside face of the glass will get lower when the curtains or blinds are closed. If you see condensation on the windows lower the relative humidity in your home and keep the curtains or blinds open a bit at the bottom of the window to allow a small amount of air flow onto the window to keep it from getting too cold.

  3. In warm weather keep the curtains or blinds closed on windows that the sun is shining directly through (Adobe Window Image) to help prevent the sun from warming the interior of your home.
  4. Ensure the exterior sides of your curtains are a light, reflective colour.
    In our first home we had a large living room window that faced east. The morning sun would shine directly into the living room and make it unbearably hot just a couple hours into the day. We had brown curtains that we would keep closed in an effort to keep the room from getting hot. It made a noticeable difference. We still weren’t comfortable though and tried pinning white sheets to the back of the curtains. This meant in theory that the heat from the sun would be reflected off the light coloured sheets instead of being absorbed into the brown curtains. This made an amazing difference. So if you have sun shining directly into a window and making your room unbearably hot make sure the sun-facing sides of your curtains are light coloured to reflect as much heat from the sun as possible.
  5. If you are looking for new blinds get cellular blinds which provide added insulation to your window when closed and can make a huge difference in the winter time at keeping you rooms warmer, especially if you have lower quality or older windows.  ***Due to the increased insulation value, any condensation issues will be amplified with cellular blinds***

  6. Experiment with closing or opening different doors or heat vents in your home particularly in rooms that you do not regularly use. Pay attention and see how it affects the temperature and air currents within your home. It is important to know that this may affect the balance of your heating system and possibly reduce it’s overall efficiency.
3 – Saving Hot Water

Every ounce of hot water you use in your home takes energy to heat. Thus, saving hot water saves energy.

So what are some basic strategies to reducing your hot water use?

  1. Use a low flow shower head which will reduce your overall water use in the shower. Research different shower heads and if possible (if you know someone that has one and it isn’t too awkward) try out different low flow shower heads before you buy one.
    We learned a logical fact from personal experience; a side effect of using a low-flow shower head is that if it uses half as much water it may take twice as long to rinse out your hair… particularly for those with really long hair.
  2. Get a shower head with a trickle button.
    When we bought our current house my shower would always run out of hot water before I was done (I must confess though that I like long hot showers…and our hot water tank is a bit on the small side, only 30 gallons, I believe) and the shower head appeared to be from the early 90’s. I went to Walmart and found a nice, cheap WaterPik shower head that had a “trickle button”. Once you got adequately wet you would push the button on the shower head which would reduce the flow to just a bit more than a trickle while you soaped up. Then you would release the button and have full flow right away. You wouldn’t even have to set the temperature again as would happen if you just turned the water off. I have been using my shower head for 5 years now, never run out of hot water (same size of tank still), and absolutely love my WaterPik shower head. The links below are for what appear to be the current model of the shower head that I am using.
       
  3. Get a shower faucet that allows you to set the flow and temperature separately. Most shower faucets currently installed in homes only allow you to adjust the mix of hot and cold water to get your desired temperature, which results in the hot and cold water being on full flow in the center of the temperature range. I do not have extensive personal experience with any of these products but have included a couple links below for reference.

  4. If you have an unfinished basement or other areas in your home that allow you to easily access your hot water pipes, install pipe insulation over them. As hot water travels from the tank to the point of use it loses small amounts of heat as it travels through the pipes. The longer the distance, the more heat is lost. Depending on the conditions in your home I would say that this strategy may not provide any noticeable difference if your sinks or shower are less than 15 or so feet from your tank. In my house I have over 30 feet of piping to get to my bathrooms and insulating the pipes before I finished my basement made a difference of 5 degrees or more.

Straying a bit from the cheap options we can also consider the energy it takes to keep hot water hot inside your hot water tank. Tankless water heaters address the issue of energy wasted heating water when you are not using it but there are 3 things to consider:

  1. If you have hard water in your area you will need to install a water softener so that the narrow channels in the tankless heater don’t get clogged with mineral deposits.
  2. Tankless heaters also generally require more regular maintenance than traditional heaters to ensure they are running optimally.
  3. If you are looking at replacing a perfectly good tank hot water heater just to get the energy savings from having a tankless hot water heater…. Reconsider. The payback period of the energy savings will not likely be worth the cost of the new hot water heater.

If you are in the market for a new hot water heater and have it in a room that is at least 100 square feet (10 square meters) consider getting a heat pump hot water heater… sometimes called a hybrid hot water heater. These tank hot water heaters operate with similar principles to those used in air conditioners and use the heat within the room to heat the water in the tank… which results in the room getting a bit cooler. This is achieved with just the use of a pump and there is only supplemental electric heat that kicks on when needed to meet demand. These use far less energy than traditional gas or electric tank hot water heaters.

One final note in regards to hot water heaters: from a financial feasibility standpoint, in order to get the most value, and savings out of my investment, I would only consider replacing a hot water heater if it was already 12-15 years old or older, or if I used tons of hot water and would be in the home for at least another 7-10 years.

Though not terribly expensive when compared to a major renovation, there is a great price range in these options to reduce your hot water usage. Remember that with these options you are reducing both energy and water usage which gives you double points in increasing the sustainability of your home.

Closure

Whether you are looking to save electricity, reduce your heating or cooling needs, or reduce you hot water usage, there are many options out there to reduce your energy use in your home without blowing your budget.

If you have any ideas that I have not listed, leave a comment below.

I have prepared a PDF with a brief list of all of these items.

Get the PDF of 16 Simple and Cheap Ways to Save Energy
* indicates required
Email Address *
First Name
Last Name


If you have found this post valuable and if you know someone who you think would also benefit from it please share it with them.

Thank you so much for reading and until next time… Go do something to make your home a little more sustainable.

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The Basics of Environmentally Sustainable Homes.

In this post we will be discussing these questions:

  • What makes homes or the materials used in them damaging to the environment?
  • How you can know if materials used in your home are environmentally friendly?
  • How can you reduce energy use in your home?
  • How can you make your home more environmentally friendly?
How Can Your Home be Damaging to the Environment?

There are many ways that your home can be damaging to the environment and I will discuss a few of the major ones here:

  1. Energy Use
  2. Depletion of Natural Resources
  3. Damage to Natural Habitats
1. Energy Use

One of the main ways (and sometimes the largest contributor) to your home being damaging to the environment is through energy consumption.

In many parts of North America… or the world for that matter, energy is produced by burning fossil fuels which create emissions and deplete nonrenewable resources.

If we are able to use less energy than we reduce the amount of pollution going into the atmosphere from producing that electricity.

When you are thinking about how much energy you are using or trying to save in your home it is useful to know that saving a little bit of energy in your home results in saving a lot of energy at the production source. This comparison is known as source vs. site energy.

Source vs. Site Energy

Source Energy = Energy going into electricity production at power plants or whatever source is putting it onto the power grid.

Energy is then lost through:

  • Heat losses in combustion (For sources such as coal or natural gas)
  • Traveling long distances through power lines.
  • Every time the voltage gets stepped up or down through a transformer.

Site Energy = Energy consumed at your home that you pay for and use.

Having a knowledge of source vs. site energy can help you feel a little bit better about the small wins you are making in reducing your electricity usage.

Electricity used to light up a room or brew your coffee isn’t the only way that energy is used in your home though. Your home’s energy use actually starts long before you move in.

How does your home use energy?

Energy is used and carbon emissions result from harvesting/manufacturing materials used in your home

Energy from gas, electricity, or other sources is used during the life of your home to heat your home, your water, and power appliances

Finally, energy is used to recycle or dispose of old materials when they have reached the end of their useful life. This applies to items and appliances within your home and your home itself.

While it is great to save energy, energy use is not the only way that your home can be harmful to the environment. Many natural resources are used in homes and some of these cannot easily be replenished.

2. Depletion of natural resources

Think for a minute about what materials are in your home? Are they renewable?

The most common materials in your home are:

  • Concrete
  • Wood
  • Glass
  • Metals
  • Plastics
  • Paints

Of this list, wood is the only renewable one…. When forests are managed well.

The other items take a lot to produce and use a lot of natural resources that cannot be replenished.

Glass, Metals, plastics, and concrete (to an extent) have a bit of a saving grace in that they can be recycled to help reduce further natural resource depletion.

Depletion of natural resources is also one of the ways that your home can be damaging to natural habitats.

3. Damage to natural habitats

Habitats are affected in several ways through the construction and use of your home:

  1. The destruction of habitats where you build your home.
  2. Habitats destroyed by construction materials being harvested
  3. Emission pollution from material and product manufacturing processes can be bad for habitats and the world in general.
  4. Habits can be damaged and polluted by harmful construction waste.

Whether it be through energy use, depletion of natural resources, or damage to natural habitats, your home can affect the environment negatively in many ways. Thankfully, by taking some thought you can have an impact in reducing your homes adverse effect on the environment. One way of doing this is by selecting environmentally friendly materials.

How Can You Determine if a Material is Environmentally Friendly?

When you are designing  new home or planning for a major renovation there are many materials to consider and evaluate as to what will work best.

But how do you determine what materials are the most environmentally friendly?

First consider the source of the material:

  • Is it sustainable?
  • Does it destroy natural habitats?

One way to determine if wood products are sourced to be as environmentally friendly as possible is to look for a Forest Stewardship Council certification. This ensures sustainable forest harvesting practices.

Next, consider how much energy goes into the material through its entire life extending from harvesting and manufacturing through the useful life of the material and finally to disposal or re-purposing of the material.

This can be found through a Life Cycle Assessment 

Life Cycle Assessments

Life Cycle Assesments are completed for many products and materials to determine the amount of energy that goes into a product through its entire life from cradle to grave.

A life cycle assessments gives really good insight into the amount of energy a product uses before and after it serves you in your home as well as how much it may use (or allow you to save) while it is in your home.

When looking into the energy that goes into a material there are two terms that you will often come across:

  • Embodied energy – Energy that goes into manufacturing and getting the material into your home.
  • Usage Energy – Energy consumed by a product during its use. In terms of homes this may also consider the amount of energy it may allow you to save.

Some products take much more energy to produce than other, less processed products.

This means you may end up deciding between an energy intense product or an alternate less processed product that may also have a lower life cycle energy use but also has a more negative impact on natural resources than the energy intense product.

Sometimes you need to decide between different environmental priorities. Do what you are comfortable with.

Other things to consider when determining if a material is environmentally friendly:

  • Are there harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde in the material?
  • Is it designed to minimize waste during manufacturing and construction?
  • Is the waste recyclable?
How Can You Reduce Energy Use In Your Home?

One of the easiest ways to reduce your home’s impact on the environment is through reducing the energy use in your home. This can be done easily during the design and construction of your home but there are still many things that you can do to reduce the energy use in an existing home.

 There are 3 basic strategies that can be used in the design of your home to reduce energy:

  1. Consider adding extra insulation and reducing the number of windows and doors to minimize your energy loss.
  2. Place windows strategically to minimize heat loss and maximize heat gain or the opposite depending on the season and climate.
  3. Place windows to maximize natural light in your home and reduce your need for electrical lighting.

The way windows and doors are used in the design of your home can have a huge impact of the energy use and comfort in your home particularly in very warm and very cold climates.

Most large volume home builders (which are responsible for most of the homes built in North America over the past few decades) are getting this all wrong though!

They are not designing the layout of their homes for their orientation. This is resulting in window layouts that are compromising the comfort and energy efficiency of these homes by making these mistakes:

  • Large windows on the north which will lose tons of heat in the winter in cold climates.
  • Large windows without summer shading on the south resulting in hot rooms in the summer in both warm and cold climates.

These builders have many sets of house plans that they build over and over again with only minor tweaks at the request of home buyers.

The standard process for building these homes is to have the buyer pick a plan and then pick a plot and then build the home. No thought is given to the home’s orientation and solar heat loss or gain.

So the next time you are speaking with a home builder…

Ask them if they can design house plans that are maximized for certain orientations.

For Example:

  • If your plot faces a north street with a south yard, have a design maximized for that with fewer strategically placed windows on the north and more windows with shading for the summer on the south.
  • If the plot faces east to west don’t have the eating area in front of  large west windows that will blast the occupants with the hot evening sun during dinner.

Whether they design specific plans for each orientation or have different versions of the same plan depending on the plot orientation… it can be done and they should start doing it. It’s not that hard and it can make a huge difference to energy usage and occupant comfort.

If you are a builder or know of one that has sets of house plans optimized for orientation, leave a comment at the bottom of this post and tell me about it.

I have not seen this being done except for a few custom homes. This should be done everywhere!

So back to our scheduled programming of reducing your home’s energy use…..

Additional options that can be considered to reduce the energy use of your home are renewable sources of heat or electricity. It is much more cost effective though to first look at how you can reduce the energy your home will need.

Window and door placement and installing renewable energy sources are great options to reduce energy use in new home or if you want to spend a lot of money on an existing home but what can be done in existing homes?

Saving Energy in Existing Homes

Window placement and designing your home for it’s specific orientation are great to take into account when you are building a new home or doing a major renovations. But what about things you can do with your existing home to reduce energy usage?

Consider replacing your existing lighting or appliances.

Look at what you use the most and see how you can improve it. For example, it is not worth the cost to replace an old light bulb that you only use for a few hours each year. Look at replacing the lights that you use for several hours each day.

To evaluate how cost effective replacing lights will be, take into consideration the cost savings indicated on the packaging but keep in mind how those calculations are made:

Energy savings calculations on LED light bulb packages usually account for the bulb being used for 3 hours each day at $0.12 per kWh and often also account for the cost of replacing the comparison incandescent bulb over the life of the LED bulb.

Using a programmable thermostat or adjusting your current thermostat to reduce your heating or cooling loads at night or when no one is home is also a great way to save energy.

There are many more simple solutions to save energy in your existing home but I am saving them for my next post… I can’t use them all up now.

How Can You Make Your Home More Environmentally Friendly?

So what are some things you can do to make your home more environmentally friendly?

  1. Use sustainable materials that have:
    • low embodied energy
    • no harmful contents
    • Minimal and recyclable waste
  2. Design your home to use standard material sizes to reduce waste (4’ x 8’ for plywood or drywall)
  3. Consider a manufactured home built in a factory which has fewer waste materials from construction. Some building systems are available which are fabricated in a factory to be assembled on site with minimal factory waste and no site waste.
  4. Lower your energy use:
    • If you are designing a new home or major renovation, look for ways to reduce your energy requirements.
    • Spending a bit more on insulation and energy efficiency during the construction of your home is often much more cost effective than to attempt to improve the energy efficiency of an existing home.
    • Consider renewable sources of heat or electricity but first look at how you can reduce the energy you will need as this will be much more cost effective.
    • In an existing home look at the things that you use the most, and the largest energy consumers in your home. Determine ways to make those things more efficient.
    • Stay tuned for my next post where we will discuss many simple and cheap ways that you can improve the energy efficiency of your home.
Closing

I hope you have enjoyed this post and it has given you ideas as to how you can make your home more environmentally sustainable.

If you have found this information valuable and if you know someone who you think would also benefit from it please share this post with them.

Thank you so much for your time today and until next time… go do something to make your home a little more sustainable.

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What do I want to get from making my home and my life more sustainable? How do I plan on getting there?

I have always wanted to have a career that would allow me to support my family and still have time to be with them.

I have been interested in architecture and sustainable homes from a young age.

My first career was in in aircraft maintenance but I switched to architecture to have more time with my family and to hopefully one day design and build my own home.

I started the architectural technologies program at SAIT in 2011 and was able to get a position with the Green Building Technologies office starting in my first semester and continued working there for the duration of my program.

My Sustainable Goals I want to make my current home constructed in 1981 more sustainable.

I will start by monitoring the energy usage in comparison to the exterior temperature for at least a year. At some point after that I will complete renovations to drastically reduce the energy requirements of my home. After those renovations I will monitor the energy usage and temperature for at least a year following the renovations to confirm the exact energy improvements.

Through my monitoring I will be able to record my energy usage in comparison to the actual exterior temperatures using a measurement known as heating degree days.

Heating degree days and cooling degree days are used to design heating and cooling systems and calculate expected energy usage. They are based on average climate data for a given location and measure how cold (below a baseline temperature – +18 degrees Celsius in Canada) it is and for how long over the course of a year.

I tried to explain heating degree days in the podcast episode at 6:25 and I apologize if it came out pretty confusing. I did find a great article explaining heating degree days at http://www.degreedays.net/introduction

You can also read the wikipedia entry about heating degree days… but it is a bit dense: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heating_degree_day

This end data will provide a comparison of energy usage per heating degree day before and after the renovation…. Not just “my bills are lower” which could also be attributed to a warmer winter….. Read the article at degreedays.net/introduction for another great illustration.

I will also possibly look at getting some sustainable certifications for my renovation.

My thoughts on certifications

Certifications are all slightly different and some have specific focuses. I think certifications are great to provide independent documentation and certification for what you have done to your home and can help increase the value of your home when selling. They can also help guide you on your path towards a sustainable home.

Some of the more known and used certifications are:

  1. Passive House (Passive House Canada, Passive House Institute US, Passive House Institute) – Passive House is focused on low whole home energy use. It is based on building a highly insulated and airtight building and having low electrical and fuel requirements.
  2. LEED for Homes (Canadian Green Building Council LEED for Homes, US Green Building Council LEED for Homes) – LEED for homes takes many different energy, health, and environmental concepts into account and gives you points based on the steps you take to make your home more sustainable.
  3. EnerGuide for Homes (Natural Resources Canada) – EnerGuide for Homes is a Government of Canada program and gives you a rating for your home based on energy usage.
  4. Energy Star for Homes (Natural Resources Canada, Energy Star US) – Energy Star for Homes is a program run both in Canada and the US. It is also based on home energy usage.

There are also many other standards available which offer certifications for meeting certain energy usage goals and using environmentally sustainable products and building practices.

I want to design and build my own sustainable home.

My biggest dream is to design from the ground up and build my own sustainable home with the goal for it to:

  1. Meet my families needs,
  2. Be comfortable,
  3. Have very low energy requirements.
  4. Obtain as many sustainable home certifications as possible to illustrate the fact that they aren’t all different.
  5. I would also like it to be on an acreage to have room for a large garden and a greenhouse so we can grow a lot of our own food….. And have lots of room for my kids to play.

Through this podcast and my website I want to help as many people as possible understand the benefits of having a sustainable home and to make their own homes more sustainable. I will fill you in on all of the details while I am planning my home renovation and then eventually designing and building my own home.

I want a more sustainable life for myself and my family

My final goal is towards that of a more sustainable life for myself and my family.

As I continue with this podcast and website I want to be able to provide you with valuable information that you can utilize to make your homes more sustainable.

Right now I am focusing on these blog posts and the accompanying podcast.

In the future I plan on providing value and education to you through courses, books, public speaking… and any other ways that I am able to provide you with extraordinary value in helping you be able to make your home more sustainable.

I hope to get into a position where I am able to support my family while doing these things without having to have any outside employment. This will allow me to work from home and have as much time with them as possible while I try to provide food and a roof over their heads.

What I Want to Learn

It is impossible to become an expert in every single aspect of sustainability.

I want to become an expert in the whole home application of sustainability. My quest to achieve this level of knowledge will include:

  1. Becoming an energy advisor under Canada’s Energuide for Homes rating system.
  2. Becoming a certified Passive House Designer.
  3. Becoming a LEED Accredited Professional for  the LEED for Homes rating system.
  4. Obtaining a Living Future Accreditation from the International Living Future Institute which administers the Living Building Challenge.
  5. Obtain, study, and understand the following standards to better understand home heating cooling and ventilation as they relate to home efficiency and comfort:
    1. ASHRAE Standard 55 – Thermal Comfort
    2. ASHRAE Standard 62.2 – Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality
    3. ASHRAE Standard 90.2 – Energy Efficient Design

By achieving these certifications and gaining a better understanding of these standards as well as completing research in other areas of sustainability I want to place myself in the best position possible to help you know the best method for you to make your home more sustainable within your budget and according to your needs…. And also to make my own home more sustainable.

What Do You Want to Learn?

So now you know a bit more of where I am coming from and what my aspirations are.

My main overarching goal is to help make homes in North America more sustainable and durable.

My question for you is what do you want to learn?

Let me know your questions about making your home:

  1. More energy efficient
  2. More environmentally friendly
  3. More comfortable for you and your family
  4. More healthy for you.

Enter your questions into the comments at the bottom of this post.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and it has given you a better understanding of why I have created Sustainable Home Catalyst and my goals for a more sustainable life.

If you would like to help support me on this journey you can go to shcatalyst.com/resources.

At the time of publishing, the resources page contains links to Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Homedepot.ca.

In the future I will be including links to other stores and also specific products that I feel can help you on your journey to a more sustainable home.

When it comes to specific products I will only be including products that I have used and evaluated myself which I feel are of the highest quality and can help make your home or life more sustainable.

Many of the links on that page are affiliate links which means that I will receive a small commission if you use those links to make purchases. By doing so you will not pay any more for what you are buying but it helps support me in preparing these resources for you.

Would you like to recieve announcements and updates?

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In this brief post I will tell you my content goals for 2019 and beyond.

In short, I am planning on giving you an overview of everything you need to know to prepare for and complete your next home renovation. Particularly if you are renovating your home to make it more sustainable.

I will not be going into the detail of how to complete electrical or plumbing modifications or specific work like that.

What I will be doing is walking you through the stages of preparation to determine what work you should do and what to consider to help determine if it is worth it financially. I will also discuss how to decide whether to do the work yourself or if you need to bring in a professional to help with the design and/or the actual completion of the work. Finally, I will cover how to help ensure the work stays on track and is completed properly.

So why am I doing this?

I think it’s great that more and more people are building new homes that are more and more sustainable. This does nothing however to improve existing homes which make up the bulk of homes around the world.

Many of these existing homes throughout the world and particularly in North America are actually in a condition where renovations and improvements are needed due to cladding, windows, doors, interior finishes, and other components being at the end of their useful life. This is an ideal time to not only replace the old materials but to improve the performance, quality, and comfort of the home.

I spent several years designing and overseeing repairs to many existing single and multi-family buildings, mainly covering cladding, window, door, attic, or roofing repairs or replacements.

This revealed to me the importance for proper thought, preparation and execution of a renovation project. This includes anticipating and planning for possible issues along the way.

I think it’s important when approaching any renovation or repair to determine what can be done to not only complete the work but also to make your home more efficient, more durable, more comfortable, and more sustainable to the environment.

I have spent a lot of time laying out what every homeowner. needs to know to renovate their home starting from the early planning stages and extending to the completion of the work and resolution of any outstanding defects.

Through 2019 and beyond I will be releasing at least one episode a month covering (in approximate order of events) everything the average homeowner should know about home renovations. I also have plans to bring on certain experts along the way to help me cover some of the topics so you won’t have to listen to me blabbing the entire time. As opportunities arise I may also insert an episode here or there outside of my home renovation outline.

I mentioned above that I have outlined everything I plan on covering. I have made an effort to cover everything that a homeowner would need to know but there is a chance that I may have missed something.

I need your help to make sure I don’t miss anything important. Please send me your questions about home renovations, what you want to know, and what your biggest worries are.

Also, please let me know if you are currently planning a home renovation and if you have any particular questions or struggles. Though it will take me some time to cover everything in the podcast I would love to have the opportunity to help you with your particular renovation to help it go as smoothly as possible.

You can contact me with any renovation questions by email to ben@shcatalyst.com or by commenting below

Thank you for reading and until next time, go do something to make your home more sustainable.

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For the past several decades a movement has been slowly growing. This movement is toward taking better care of our planet, toward not depleting its many natural resources and not poisoning its delicate ecosystem through the chemicals we use or garbage we produce. Efforts to protect earth by the way we live and work have often been called “being environmentally friendly.”  Another term often used is “being green.”

Many have applied this movement of being green to the homes we live in. They apply these green principles in 2 main areas:

  1. Using materials that do not deplete natural resources and are not harmful to the earth during their useful life or when they are disposed of.
  2. Designing a home that does not require as much energy to operate and be comfortable in and also utilizes the sun to provide energy through solar electricity and passive or active solar heating.

Homes that apply these principles to be more environmentally friendly are often referred to as green homes.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Due to the fact that green homes help preserve and sustain the earth’s ecosystem compared to standard homes they have also earned the title of being sustainable homes. Thus the term sustainable home is a reference to how the home sustains our planet as opposed to destroying it through it’s construction and use.

I personally like to take the term sustainable home a bit further though.

The definition of sustainability describes the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.

While the initial intent of referring to green homes as sustainable homes refers to the home being sustainable to the natural environment, green homes are sustainable in many more ways.

How are Green Homes Sustainable?

Green homes can be sustainable to your health, your finances, and your lifestyle.

Sustainable to Your Health

How often do you get sick or just not feel good when you are. at home?

Have you ever wondered if there might be something in the air or materials in your home that might be bad for your health?

Most older homes and even many new homes are not built very “airtight” which means that air can leak uncontrolled through the exterior walls, roof, and even the foundation. This most often occurs around windows, exterior doors, lights, switches, and plugs.

Many older homes were built to account for this air leakage as a source of fresh air into the home. This air however can pick up dust, chemicals, and even organisms that may be present in the materials it passes through and can bring those contaminants into your home.

In the past few decades homes have been built tighter and tighter to lesson this uncontrolled air leakage in an effort to reduce heating and cooling costs. This has reduced the amount of contaminated air entering into homes but a result of this in some cases is that there is insufficient fresh air brought into the home.

This fresh air is needed to account for pollutants that we create from activities such as breathing, cooking, using air fresheners (though they may smell nice they aren’t usually the best thing to breathe in), using cleaners, using cosmetics, and from other activities as well.

Other sources of fresh air in a home are from the fresh air intake of our furnace (which if you don’t have central air conditioning doesn’t run much in warmer months) or from opening windows (which most of us don’t do much in colder months).

The quality of air from your furnace and through your windows needs to be considered as well. Unless you have a high quality furnace filter that you change or clean regularly (whatever is required based on the filter manufacturers recommendations), it may not be doing much to reduce air contaminants from inside or outside your home. Air coming through your windows will be whatever quality the outdoor air is. If you are in an area with a large amount of industrial air pollution or near large forest fires (both of which can result in a very low air quality rating) this outdoor air coming in through your windows won’t be very good for you.

Poor air quality can affect your health regardless of the exact source of the pollutants.

So where have green, sustainable homes helped to improve air quality and thus health in your home?

Most green homes are deliberately made tight to minimize energy loss through air leaks. Because of this deliberate tightness, these homes are most often properly mechanically ventilated bringing adequate fresh, filtered air into the home.

The deliberate air tightness also eliminates most uncontrolled, contaminated airflow through the exterior walls, roof, and foundation.

The mechanical ventilation runs all of the time providing fresh, filtered air into your home and exhausting the used, contaminated air. While some newer homes that are not particularly designed to be green are built with a properly designed and installed mechanical ventilation system, these systems are much more prevalent in green homes.

Green homes also often incorporate materials and interior finishes which are more natural and thus emit fewer harmful contaminants into your air.

By not building or bringing toxins into your home and ensuring proper ventilation, most of the contaminants that would make you sick or irritate your asthma are eliminated from the air and your health can greatly improve.

Sustainable to Your Finances

When first discussing green homes many ask how much it will cost compared to a standard home. This is a very reasonable question and one that is difficult to get a straight answer on. It all depends on exactly how a home is to be made greener.

I suggest looking at it in a different way though.

When you decide to get a granite countertop in your kitchen you know it is going to cost more than a lower grade countertop but it will look great and last a long time (and don’t forget the extra cost sometimes to reinforce the floor structure to support the heavy granite).

Some green home improvements such as furniture and finishes are similar to granite countertops in that you pay for them and the result is something that you just use and look at for it’s life.

Also, green materials may have health benefits due to a lack of toxins. Those health benefits are difficult to put a dollar value on as a return on your investment.

Many green home improvements such as extra insulation, high efficiency heating and cooling, passive heating and cooling (using the design of your home to heat and cool through sun and shading instead of using mechanical systems), and high performance windows are done to reduce the amount of energy your home uses on a daily basis thus being environmentally friendly by requiring less energy to run.

By using less energy due to these improvements, your monthly utility bills will be lower. Thus, an increased upfront cost can result in a monthly savings in the cost to run your home leading to more dollars in your bank account, kind of an interest payment on your investment.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Let’s illustrate this in a renovation example:

If you were looking at spending $50,000 to replace the windows and siding on your home and decided to spend an extra $20,000 to add some exterior insulation and get higher efficiency windows your total cost would be $70,000. Most of us would get a loan for this work.

Let’s say you get it financed at 5%…..

Loan Interest Rate Amortization Monthly Payment Total Paid Interest
$50,000 5% 15 yrs $394.06 $70,931.14 $20,931.14
$50,000+20,000 5% 15 yrs $551.69 $99,303.60 $29,303.60

$28,372.46 more paid for the additional $20,000 of work. $157.63 more per month on the loan.

But what if it could save you $160 or more on your monthly utility bills?

I have 2 important points to make about this:

  1. You need an energy advisor/energy modeller to help you do an analysis of what you could save on energy costs by doing improvements like this.
  2. If you are adding insulation or drastically improving the air tightness of your existing home it will affect how your heating system performs and you will most likely need to install a smaller system that best meets the heating and cooling (and ventilation) loads of your home. Oversized systems do not work properly, wear out faster, and often result in comfort issues.

So when you are looking to make your home greener by decreasing your energy use whether it be electricity or natural gas, it is sustainable to your finances as it will reduce your utility costs in perpetuity. This can be especially noticeable if you are able to finance your improvements for less per month than you are saving on your utilities by making the improvements.

Sustainable to Your Lifestyle

Finally, how can a green home be sustainable to your lifestyle?

When designing a home or renovation to be green and as energy efficient as possible one of the main goals is to not waste space so that you can make your home or renovation as small as possible and thus save money to complete and require as little energy as possible to heat and cool. This requires being mindful of your needs and activities.

Instead of being designed to have a certain number of bedrooms and a kitchen, den, living, room, family room, office, study, theatre room or whatever other rooms are typically on a real estate listing, green homes are designed to have spaces for your daily activities, not just to have certain rooms.

For a revealing exercise make a list of every room in your home and beside each room note how many times you are in each room every week or month. It may surprise you how little you use some of the rooms in your home.

In European countries most homes are built much smaller than homes in North America and every space is utilized. When designing a home to have a space for each activity instead of a certain amount of rooms you can account for multiple activities within the same room and thus reduce the number of rooms in your home and thus the size of your home.  For more information on this read The Not So Big House (affiliate link)by Sarah Suzanka.

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

Have you ever wanted to curl up and read a book but your only options are to curl up in bed in your room or to sit on the couch with everyone else around? Would it be more satisfying to have a quiet corner in your home with a comfortable seat to curl up in and read a book with minimal chance of being disturbed? Having a space (not necessarily an entire room) designed for a specific activity can make it much more enjoyable and fulfilling.

When you design your home or home renovation to meet your needs and typical activities it can be a pleasure to live in and support and sustain your desired lifestyle.

Closure

Though they are often mainly designed to be environmentally friendly, there are many ways that green homes can be sustainable not only to the environment but also to your health, finances, and lifestyle.

If you have found this post valuable and if you know someone who also loves green, sustainable homes please share it with them.

Thank you so much for reading and until next time… Go do something to make your home a little more sustainable.

The information provided in this post is meant to inform you of the many ways that you can make your home sustainable.

The information and opinions presented are solely those of myself and my guests and are based on our own experience and research.

Before undertaking any major projects or any project outside of your own area of knowledge and comfort you should consult a professional in your area that is familiar with local building codes, regulations, and construction practices.

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Why should you have a durable home?

Have you ever had an old junker car that you were always afraid of it breaking down?

I bought my first car when I was 17 for $250. It was a 1981 Toyota Corolla Sedan with a 1.8 litre engine and standard transmission. It was already almost 20 years old when I bought it and as soon as I started driving it the starter went (which made learning to drive a standard even more fun as every time I stalled it it was harder to start). I almost always had to fix something to keep it going (which I enjoyed). Finally, after I had driven it for several years it had had enough and developed an electrical short that I couldn’t find and I had to retire it.

When we own an older car we know that many of the components are getting close to wearing out and repairs may be required frequently.   

New cars can appeal to us as they look nice and require very few repairs. The only work we usually have to do is basic maintenance.

We have the same desires for our homes.

We want our home to look nice… not run down. It is always our desire for our homes to just work right and not require any repairs or maintenance. We want to be able to just move in and enjoy our home… not spend all of our spare time maintaining and repairing it.

Newer homes often require little to no repair and generally look better… unless you are going for the look of a classic, older home that can’t quite be duplicated in a newer home.

Old homes can look great too and require very few repairs but this takes work and staying ahead of the game. It takes repairing and maintaining items before they wear out beyond repair. This requires an understanding of the materials of your home.

There are many components in a home that will wear out and require replacement eventually. Maintaining them will extend their lives but their days are still numbered. Failing to replace old materials and components when they can no longer function properly may result in other issues. For example: old windows, roof, or deteriorating cladding may fail resulting in water leaks and damage to both the structure and contents of your home.

Most people know that their home will require work to maintain.They may not realize however exactly how much maintenance is required or know enough about maintaining their home to stay ahead of the maintenance curve… to stay in the zone of maintaining and not sliding into the zone of repair and replacement due to improper maintenance.

Whether your home is new or old there will eventually be some maintenance required. It is important to plan for it and manage it properly.

Maintaining your home is great but what does durability have to do with it?

What is a Durable Home?

Durability is the ability to withstand wear or damage.

Having a more durable home means that the materials, and systems in your home are designed to require less maintenance and last longer before replacement.

Less maintenance means less time, money, and stress .

Durable Home Construction

Another part of durability is to ensure that your home is constructed to perform properly.

Your home can be made of the best materials but if it isn’t constructed and detailed properly having the best materials doesn’t make it much better than an old shack.

Your home must be structurally safe and manage the flow of water, air, vapour, and heat between the indoors and outdoors.

To put it simply, a major role of the exterior shell (walls, roof, foundation/floors) is to keep the indoors and outdoors separate.

A failure of your home to properly manage water and air flow can lead to major problems including water damage and mould. Poor management of heat flow though mainly leads to high heating and cooling bills and can also lead to condensation related moisture issues.

After structural and fire safety, the most important thing to pay attention to during the construction of your home is the management of water and air flow through the exterior shell.

Durable Materials and Systems

So what are the less or more durable materials and systems in your home and what can you do to make what you have more durable?

When it comes to the existing materials and systems in your home maintenance is key.

With new homes you have the opportunity to select longer lasting products that require less maintenance.

To give you an idea of what to consider when it comes to maintaining your home and selecting more durable products I have summarized a few common products and systems below.

Wood

Wood is very common throughout the world. It can last a long time if it is well maintained. On the exterior of a home, wood will often require repainting every 3-5 years. Stains will last a bit longer than paint.

Exposing wood to higher levels of moisture results in more maintenance being required to prevent degradation. If the paint or stain is left to degrade and isn’t touched up or recoated, the wood will weather and eventually begin to rot.

Vinyl siding

Vinyl siding can last over 30 years. The colour is part of the vinyl so it will never come off though dark colours can fade over time particularly with lower quality products.

As vinyl siding ages it becomes more and more brittle and thus more lily to be damaged by impacts or hail. Brittleness is also something to keep in mind during winter… especially if you have a backyard rink that has the occasional stray hockey puck (I think that is mainly a Canadian issue though).

Cementitious siding

Cementitious siding (made of concrete and fibres with a highly durable finish coat) is another option which will withstand hail and impact damage regardless of age and temperature. James Hardie is one manufacturer of cementitious siding that I have extensive experience with. They provide a 30 year warranty against weather damage. The product cost of cementitious siding is considerably more than vinyl but the labour costs to install either product are pretty close.

It is worth considering upgrading to a cementitious siding if it is within your budget.

Windows and doors

Vinyl, Fibreglass, or Metal windows and doors require essentially no maintenance to maintain their finish. Wood windows however have a finish that must be maintained to maximize the life of the windows.

Any window that opens has seals and hardware that will wear and eventually require replacement. Depending on the material, seals,and hardware may require periodic cleaning and/or lubrication to ensure proper operation and a long life.

Generally the more you pay for a window or door, the higher quality the seals and hardware are and the longer they will last.

Roofs

Most roofs have minimal scheduled maintenance and only require a visual inspection every 5 or so years and having any localized damage or failed sealant repaired.

Ashphalt Shingle Roofs

Asphalt shingle roofs are the cheapest and most common except in warmer climates.

Being the cheapest, asphalt shingles have the shortest life span usually lasting 10-20 years.

It is also important to note that usually the south facing slope of your roof goes first due to the amount of sun it is exposed to in comparison to the rest of your roof which results in faster aging of those shingles.

Wood shingle roofs

Wood shingle roofs are a very high maintenance roof system. They should be reviewed by a professional every few years and any damaged shingles replaced. This is the best way to ensure your roof will last as long as possible.

You should also know that wood shingles are excellent at allowing your attic to breathe (due to vapour being able to flow through the wood shingles) which may mask moisture issues within your attic. If present, these moisture issues may seem to begin after switching to asphalt shingles even though they were there previously.

Metal roofs

Much more expensive than shingles, metal roofs are often used on sloped roofs because of their durability and come with up to 40 year manufacturer warranties.

These roofs can last 40-60 years and the failure typically comes when the finish ages and breaks down leading to corrosion of the panels.

Requiring maintenance only on areas of exposed sealant, metal roofs are one of the best choices for a durable roofing product. Thinner types of metal roofing are more susceptible to hail damage but thicker products can be very resistant to hail damage.

While many metal roofs are installed with the metal roofing as the only barrier against water entry, a full waterproofing membrane should be properly installed under the metal roofing. It is an additional cost during installation but will be worth the added investment.

Tile or Slate Roofs

Often more expensive than even metal roofs, tile and slate roofs are designed for the tiles to shed most of the water and should also consist of a sheet membrane on the roof deck beneath the tiles to shed water that gets beneath the tiles.

A lifespan of over 50 years is likely with these products but regular maintenance is required on areas of exposed sealants and any tiles that become loose or damaged.

Furnaces and water heaters

Like many components in your home… if you pay more…. You get a better, longer lasting product.

Newer systems have a lot of sensitive computer controlled sensors which means If they become dirty, they could stop working and require replacement. These sensors and computer components often aren’t cheap.

It is important to follow the manufacturer’s maintenance requirements to ensure your furnace or water heater will function properly.

With furnaces it is important to change the filter as often as recommended by the manufacturer.

Light Bulbs

Incandescent bulbs are the least efficient bulbs and are becoming less available.

CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs are almost as efficient as LED’s but often have small amounts of mercury in them.

LED bulbs are the most efficient bulbs available currently and are very long lasting. Some manufacturers offer up to 10 year warranties “under normal usage”.

When you replace burnt out bulbs use an LED bulb. If you are considering replacing bulbs that still work with LED bulbs consider how often you use that light to see if it is really worth it.

When buying new light fixtures don’t get fixtures where the LED bulb is part of the fixture. Get a fixture where you can replace the bulb if it happens to go bad. Even if it is still under warranty you still have the issue of having to change out the fixture.

These are only a few examples of the durability of different materials and products on your home.

How Can Your Home Be More Durable?

As I mentioned earlier, having a more durable home means that your home is constructed properly. Not only that, the materials and systems in your home are also designed to last longer before replacement and require less maintenance.

Less maintenance means less time and money… and stress from you.

Staying on top of your home maintenance will prolong the life of the materials and systems in your home. You wouldn’t purposely neglect to change the oil on your car for 5 years would you?

New Homes or Major Renovations

When designing a new home or a major renovation look for materials with a factory applied finish which will last much longer than something that is painted on site. Also verify the manufacturer’s maintenance requirements before committing to certain materials.

It is also a good idea to speak with a contractor or other professional who has experience with the product to find out it’s expected life span and any potential issues.

Screen the contractors that you are planning to use and check their references to verify that they are reputable and have experience with the type of work that you are asking them to do.

Small Projects Around Your Current Home

When you are trying to make your current home more durable become familiar with your home and know the condition of the different materials and systems.

For example:

You need to be aware of when your windows or roof will need to be replaced in a few years so you can budget for it and have the work done before your they fail resulting in moisture damage.

When something needs to be replaced, do your homework and get a replacement that is long lasting and low maintenance.

Have your furnace and water heater cleaned annually and ensure you are replacing your furnace filters regularly. This will greatly extend the life of your furnace and water heater.

Taking the time upfront to ensure you are getting durable materials and systems for your home and planning and budgeting for maintenance and replacements will result in savings of time and money in the long run.

This savings of time and money will help make your home more sustainable to you and your finances.

Conclusion

I hope you have found this information beneficial and it has given you ideas as to how you can make your home more durable and how that can benefit you both immediately and in the long run.

If you have found this post valuable and if you know someone who you think would also benefit from it please share it with them.

Thank you so much for reading and until next time… Go do something to make your home a little more sustainable.

Would you like to recieve announcements and updates?

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When we think of sustainability we most often think of “green homes” being sustainable to the environment meaning that it does not degrade the environment through its construction or use.

The definition of sustainability describes the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level.

Over the years as I have learned more and more about sustainable homes I have discovered that a sustainable home can benefit much more than just the environment by being:

  1. More cost effective to construct.
  2. More cost effective to heat, cool, and operate.
  3. More durable and cost effective to maintain.
  4. More conducive to the health of those who live in it.
  5. More comfortable.
  6. Better able to meet the habits and needs of those who live in it.

While we mostly speak of homes as being sustainable to the environment I propose extending that definition to include the items above to account for how sustainable a home is to it’s owners, occupants, and their finances.

So let’s dive into the aspects of this re-defined sustainability…

(I am only going to provide brief outlines for each of these aspects below and in the future will expand more on each of them in their own episodes)

The Environment

Environmental sustainability is fairly well known and it’s necessity often debated in modern society.

Sustainable homes most often strive to use materials and construction methods that have minimal environmental impact and in some cases provide a net benefit to the environment.

Different areas that are looked at are:

  1. Energy used during construction of homes and production of the construction materials.
  2. Depletion of natural resources such as forests, water, minerals, and stone.
  3. Damage to natural habitats.
  4. Impact on the environment when construction materials are disposed of or recycled at the end of their life.

The environment is often the main point of discussion around sustainable homes and rightly so. We can’t just order a new planet to live on if this one goes bad and expires. We need to ensure we are taking care of the Earth and preserving it not just for the next generation but for the many generations that will follow us in centuries to come.

Construction Cost Effectiveness

When a new home is being designed the potential construction costs are often reviewed to ensure that it will be within the home-owners budget.

Wouldn’t it be disappointing to build your dream home and then having to eat rice and beans for the next 10 years to afford your mortgage payments? Just Sayin’

When construction cost estimates are above the budget of the future home-owner this results in going back to the drawing board and finding areas where costs can be reduced.

Most often this results in losing those granite counter tops or settling for less extravagant plumbing and lighting fixtures. Rooms may also be sacrificed at this stage… so much for that home theatre room I’ve been dreaming about….. not to mention my Man Cave.

One thing that is not often looked into is using more cost effective construction methods or materials.

You may have really wanted to have that nice stucco finish on the outside of your house but if you switch to a cementitious siding (Hardie Board) you can usually save 30% or more on the cost of cladding your home and are still left with a very durable product.

And what about the main structure of your home? There are many options out there besides the most commonly used structure of wood framing on a cast-in-place concrete foundation. It’s worth looking into what other construction methods are available in your area that may be able to cut costs slightly while still providing you with an enjoyable and structurally safe home.

And what about efficiencies in saving materials during construction?

The traditional method of framing a home with dimensional lumber is somewhat wasteful (Especially if the trades are unskilled or unorganized). An alternative method of using the same framing materials known as Advanced Framing can save materials and also reduce energy loss. For more information on advanced framing you can read this article from Green Building Advisor (http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/green-basics/energy-efficient-framing-aka-advanced-framing) and this PDF from the National Renewable Energy Library (http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy01osti/26449.pdf)

By taking steps to consider and reduce construction costs where possible you can make your next home more sustainable to your financial situation.

Heating, Cooling, and Other Operational Costs Heating and Cooling

I have heard of a term used in Europe which affects many homeowners known as fuel poverty. Due to the poor insulation values and air sealing of many of the century old (or older) homes, many have very high heating bills. In some cases the cost to heat their homes is so high that it results in homeowners having to choose between spending their money to have a comfortably warm home in the winter or to buy food.

Most homes built in the past few decades do not have such high heating costs but it is always good to consider how much heating or cooling your home will cost and what could be done during design and construction to reduce those costs.

When designing and constructing your home, steps can be taken to better insulate and air-seal your home which will result in much lower heating and cooling bills for not much of an additional up-front construction cost.

Another thing to consider is the number, size, and placement of your windows. The sun is a very effective (and free) source of heat. It can be utilized to gain extra heat in the winter but the same extra heat in the summer will result in uncomfortable interior temperatures or very high cooling bills.

By utilizing overhangs and shading devices on the outside of your home, and considering the number and placement of your windows, you can utilize windows to gain extra heat during colder months but not have to suffer from that same additional heat in the summer.

In an existing home it can be quite expensive to change window locations or re-insulate your entire house to reduce your heating and cooling costs. Some lower cost options though that can still make a noticeable difference are adding insulation to certain areas of your home such as your attic or having air sealing completed.

The best place to start with your existing home is to have a home energy evaluation completed. In a home energy evaluation a home energy rater (They sometimes go by different titles) will take a bunch of measurements and assess different aspects of your home to determine it’s energy usage and areas in which it can be improved.

Just google “Home Energy Evaluation” and the name of your province, state, or city to find someone locally that can complete an energy evaluation of your home.

Electricity

When it comes to electricity in sustainable homes most people first think of installing solar electric panels to produce the electricity their home needs and thus nothave to pay for electricity which in north america is often produced through burning fossil fuels.

Solar electric systems are cheaper than they have ever been but are still very expensive and the time it takes for the savings on your electricity bill to pay for the cost of the solar electric system (payback period) can be over 20 years (This does not account for government grants or incentives that may be available in some areas).

The most cost-effective way to reduce your electrical costs is to reduce your electrical requirements by investing in low energy lights and appliances. This is much cheaper than investing in a solar electric system to offset your electrical usage by the same amount.

When designing your home you can also plan the layout of windows and rooms to optimize the amount of sunlight in each part of your home and thus reduce the need for lighting during the day.

Whether you are designing a new home or renovation, or just wanting to make some minor improvements around your home, take some time to evaluate areas in which you can reduce your electricity use.

Water

Unless you have a private well (which comes with its own maintenance costs) most homeowners pay monthly fees for water and sewage based on the amount of water they use each month. Reducing those costs is always a good thing and it is also always good to preserve the limited natural resource of fresh water.

Most of us have heard the strategies of turning off the water while we brush our teeth or having shorter showers. Another way to reduce the water we use is to use low flow faucets and shower heads or other high efficiency plumbing fixtures.

Many people also use rain barrels to collect rainwater to use in watering their gardens. This can be taken further and depending on local regulations you can use rainwater you collect to flush toilets, do laundry, or for other water uses in your home where the water does not need to be drinkable.

If you want to take things even further, greywater (wastewater from showers or other uses in the home that do not make it very dirty) can be used to flush toilets or for irrigation (also depending on local regulations).

However far you want to take things… there are many options to reduce your water use in your homes.

Home Maintenance Costs

When buying an existing home or designing and building a new home many people think only about how the home looks and don’t consider what will be required to maintain their home.

I’m not talking about mowing your lawn or trimming your hedges.

I’m referring to replacing things that wear out or having to repaint your deck, siding, or other components of your home so they keep your home looking great. When it comes to exterior wood components on your home, keeping the paint or stain in good condition is also necessary to prevent root and to extend the life of those components.

While many people may complain about appliances not lasting as long as they used to, when it comes to the interior and exterior finishes of your home modern technologies have allowed for components that will last for decades with minimal maintenance.

So when you buy your next home or complete a major renovation on your current home, pay attention to what materials are being used and what future maintenance will be required.

Occupant Health

Did you ever think that your home could be making you sick….. or that your home could help you be more healthy?

This is not meant to be an alarmist statement.

There are however many potential sources of air contamination within your home.

The primary sources are harmful chemicals within the materials used to construct and furnish your home.

Another possible source of air contamination is mould or organic growth. Most often caused by high interior humidity levels but also possible due to water entry into your home’s structure or other moisture issues, mould can be on visible surfaces or can be hiding, undetected within the walls of your home.

Whether harmful chemicals or mould, once airborne within your home these contaminants can result in prolonged mild sicknesses or more severe health problems.

When it comes to chemicals, there has been a movement for many years now to reduce or eliminate the use of harmful chemicals such as VOC’s from the materials used in homes.

By keeping your interior humidity levels reasonable (especially during cold winter months if you aren’t lucky enough to move away from that season) and maintaining your home to prevent any water entry, or other moisture issues, you can reduce the chance of mould in your home.

While you may make your best effort to reduce the amount of contaminates in your homes there are often still small amounts present.

This is where proper ventilation comes in.

Even when your heating or cooling system is not running there needs to be a method of exhausting the stale indoor air from your home and letting in fresh, clean outdoor air. This can be as simple as opening a window and also often involves mechanical ventilation systems.

By using proper ventilation you can help maintain fresh, clean air within your home and reduce the likelihood of getting sick from your home.

Occupant Comfort

Do you have parts of your home that are always uncomfortably warm or cold?

Would you like to sit next to your large living room window to look out at that winter wonderland but it is too cold next to the window?

There are many factors that affect the temperature of your home but the great thing is that most of them can be dealt with and managed to ensure that each area is at a comfortable temperature.

The two main factors are the placement and quality of your windows and doors and the design and balancing of your heating and cooling system. These can both be managed for minimal extra cost during the design and construction of your home but can be costly to adjust in existing homes.

Windows and Doors

In comparison to the insulation values of your exterior walls, windows and doors are often figurative holes resulting in higher amounts of heat loss or gain (depending on the season) in those locations.

Having higher quality windows and doors installed can greatly reduce the amount of unwanted heat loss or gain.

Another highly effective way to eliminate hot or cold spots is to have the heating and cooling system designed to accommodate for large windows or doors in certain rooms and provide the required additional warm or cold air to those areas.

Balanced Heating and Cooling Systems

Sadly, while it is possible to install a heating or cooling system in a home to provide even heating and cooling throughout, it is often not what happens.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all heating and cooling contractors would spend a bit of time to calculate the heating and cooling needs of specific areas and rooms within a home and install a properly sized and balanced heating and cooling system to prevent any uncomfortably warm or cold areas?

Unfortunately this is not often what happens.

In many of the homes built in North America the heating and cooling contractors will use the square footage of the home to determine the size of the system to be installed and will run a duct to each room (hopefully you will get two in your larger rooms).

Sounds pretty basic and easy eh? It is and that’s what many contractors will do unless they are asked to specifically design the system for each individual home.

Will it cost more to get a properly designed and balanced system installed?

Yes… a bit more. But it’s worth it.

It will often result in a more efficient system and thus lower heating and cooling costs. Additionally you will be more comfortable and able you use every area of your home in every season. And how much is your comfort worth?

Occupant Needs and Habits

Do you have any rooms in your home that you rarely use?

Approximately what percentage of the area of your home do you use on a daily basis? How about on a weekly basis?

When you were searching for your last home did you start by determining how many rooms you would need?

Did you think to just evaluate what activities you did in your home and ensure you had an area for each… not necessarily an entire room for each?

Architect Sarah Susanka blew me away when I heard about her concept of the Not So Big House. It is not necessarily about building smaller homes but instead about designing your home to accommodate uses or activities as opposed to entire rooms.

For example, do you really need a living room/sitting area where you sit around and talk but also have a separate den where you go to watch TV?

What about having a single room and have a cabinet to elegantly hide your TV when it is not in use?

Boom! You just saved an entire room out of the size of a house that you need not to mention a second set of couches. That will definitely cover the cost of the custom cabinetry to hide your TV with money to spare.

I think when possible we should be looking more at how we plan on using our homes and ensure that the homes we are buying or building really meet our needs and our daily habits. This can often result in us having a smaller, less expensive home which would also result in lower costs to operate and maintain our home.

If you want to know more about the concept of the Not So Big House is strongly recommend Sarah’s book by the same name, The Not So Big House (Amazon Affiliate Link). While many of the photos may appear a bit dated the concepts within the book are timeless. I plan on applying these concepts to all of the homes I design in the future.

Conclusion

It may appear that many of the principles above apply only to new homes during construction.

While there are so many things that can be done during design and construction to make a home more sustainable there are also many things that can be done to make existing homes more sustainable.

It is my goal through Sustainable Home Catalyst to provide you with the knowledge you need to make your new or existing home more sustainable.

I hope I have given you a lot to think about as to how your home can be sustainable not only to the environment but also to you and your finances.

If you have found this post valuable and if you know someone who you think would also benefit from it please share it with them.

Thank you so much for your time today and until next time… Go do something to make your home a little more sustainable.

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This is a brief introduction to Sustainable Home Catalyst. Read on to find out why I created the Sustainable Home Catalyst Podcast and what you can expect. I will also tell you a little bit about myself as well.

Why Did I Decide to Start This Podcast and Website?

My goal is to improve the quality and sustainability of homes in North America. I want everyone to have a home that is more sustainable and more durable. I also feel that a sustainable home shouldn’t just be sustainable for the environment but also sustainable for the homeowners themselves and their finances. And this doesn’t only apply to new homes but to existing homes as well. There is something that anyone can do to make their home a little but more sustainable.

What Am I Going To Do?

Through Sustainable Home Catalyst  I will provide you with the information you need to know about what a sustainable home really is, the many ways sustainable homes can benefit you, and what you can do to make your current or next home more sustainable.

I will be starting off by explaining many basic sustainable home concepts and will also be diving into specific things that can be done and products that can be used to make almost any home more sustainable.

As for the format of this podcast you won’t have to just listen to me blabbing away the whole time. I will be bringing on guests to help explain sustainable concepts, technologies and products. Finally, I want to answer your questions. If you have any questions, send me a message by going to shcatalyst.com/contact or by emailing me at Ben@SHCatalyst.com and I will try to answer your questions on future episodes.

So what about me? Who Is Ben Hildebrandt?

Long before I got into architecture professionally  I was interested in the thought of putting solar panels on my home to generate my own electricity and heat from the sun. I thought it was amazing that it was possible to do that.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to research sustainable technologies and help develop a couple new sustainable products.

For the past several years I have been employed as a building science technologist focusing on moisture, air, and heat in a home and ensuring that homes are constructed to properly manage the flow of moisture, air, and heat between the interior of the home and the exterior environment. During this time I have learned extensively that the materials used to build a home (or any building) don’t necessarily matter as much as how they are installed and most importantly how the different components of a building are connected to each other.

Closing

We need to have homes that are not only built to be environmentally sustainable but are also built properly and durably.

I have created the podcast so that everyone can know not only how to make their home more sustainable but how to also ensure it is constructed properly and durably.

I believe there are many things that can be done to any new or existing home to make it more sustainable…. And every little bit counts.

So please join me in this podcast as I explain what a sustainable home really is, how it can benefit much more than just the environment, and what you can do to make your current… or next home a little more sustainable.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction and that you will join me for episode 1 which is just a tap (or click) away.

Please share this with any of your friends that you think would be interested in making their home more sustainable.

Thank You!

Would you like to recieve announcements and updates?

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