Energy Efficient Housing
According to Natural Resources Canada, "the residential sector accounted for 17 percent of secondary energy use in Canada and 16 percent of related greenhouse gas emissions in 2003". Energy use in homes represents the energy used to heat and cool the home, provide lighting, and power the appliances and electronics in the home. The following are links to help you think about how to build energy efficient homes or renovate, and upgrade the house your in so that it uses less energy. The links are meant to be to practical sites that show you solutions to improve the thermal envelope of your home and reduce its energy consumption.
Building and Renovating to a higher standard
These sites show you solutions to improve your house's thermal envelope and just as importantly how to maintain or improve indoor air quality.
To Start, Building Science Corporation is a great place to get detailed information on how and why to build energy efficient houses. It's also a good spot to get details on how to prevent radon gas entry into your home.
Net Zero Energy Homes take houses to the next level of sustainability. Houses can be built that have well built thermal envelopes, with windows that provide a net heat benefit and so the Heating and Ventilation systems need very little energy to keep the home comfortable. Since the home doesn't require much energy (including energy for lighting as the windows provide natural light), it becomes feasible for the home to use alternative energy sources to generate, and sell back to the grid. If the home can generate as much energy as it uses it is a Net Zero Energy home. The ideas used to design Net Zero Energy Homes are applicable to renovations of existing houses.
Here are two examples of Net Zero Homes and a related Fine Home Building article:
Taking sustainable houses to the next level
PassivHaus is an approach to house design that uses extremely efficient building envelopes and passive solar heat gain to heat a home. These houses can potentially be heated solely by the sun's low angled rays in wintertime shining directly into the house.
The Healthy House was built in 1996 as part of a CMHC competition. It is off the grid in Metro Toronto, no electricity, water or sewer connections which means that it also has its own rain water collection, septic and gray water recovery systems.
Resource Saving Technologies
Thermotech Windows are locally designed and built by people who understand passive solar heat gain, and build windows based on the direction they are oriented.
Caroma Toilets, an Australian company, set the standard for 6L/3L dual flush toilets. It's not yet in Canada but they have 4.5L/3L dual flush toilets available in Australia (http://www.smartflush.com.au/). Not only do these toilets save water, but you'll use less electricity to pump the water you need to flush your toilet.
Make sure the appliances and electronics you buy are the most energy efficient. Natural Resources Canada's Energy Star site helps you select the most energy efficient products. One thing to note is that many electronics continue to draw power after you have turned them off, stand-by power or phantom loads have to be the worst example of energy waste, hook your electronics up to a power bar and turn the power bar off when you are done.
Bringing it all together at the design phase
The Integrated Design Process (IDP) is a building design process that realizes that to achieve a building design that maximizes resource efficiency and occupant comfort all parties involved in the design must work together and in parallel from the start of the design. The IDP is essential if large buildings are to meet Green Building standards, but the ideas are also applicable to residential homes.
Tap the Sun, Passive Solar Techniques and Home Designs is Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (CMHC) essential guide to incorporating Passive solar design into a new home or renovation.
What you build your house with, the material and finishes you use to complete the interior, and the furniture and household products you bring into your home can have an impact on your health and wellness.
The Healthiest Home is a Canadian Green Building Store that markets building and finishing products that are designed to not be harmful to building occupants.
The Guide to Less Toxic Products is an online guide put together by the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia to help people select household cleaning and personal care products. It also provides information on ingredients that really shouldn't be in these products.
The Healthy Building Network is a site that advocates for the use of sustainable and safe building materials.
Waste Reduction, Diversion and Composting
Waste and Garbage issues have always been a contentious issue and with growing environmental awareness people will demand a higher standard, the status quo will no longer be acceptable. This has become quite apparent in the Outaouais with the proposal to build a major dump in Danford Lake and opposition to its construction (http://www.savedanford.com) which has looked into alternative waste disposal options, particularly plasma gasification (plascoenergygroup.com).
Instead of finding better ways to incinerate or bury waste, we should be questioning why we generate waste in the first place. Often neglected are the first two of the three Rs. We are supposed to first Reduce, then Reuse, and then recycle. At the moment it seems the only strategy is recycling, which is understandable as it is obvious and visible.
First of all, Reduce, only buy products you really need, and choose products that minimize packaging requirements. Secondly Reuse, buy used products or if you only need a product occasionally consider renting it. In terms of packaging choose products that have packaging that the manufacturer takes back and reuses, for example glass bottles and jars. Finally continue to recycle, but get to know what your municipality can recycle.
Eat Local & Eat Well
It doesn't make much sense to buy vegetables from California at your grocery store when a local producer picked it fresh for market day. The produce local farmers grow tastes a whole lot better than what you find in the grocery store because it was selected to taste good, instead of being selected to ship well. A good book to get you thinking about where your food comes from is The Omnivore's Dilemna (www.michaelpollan.com/omnivore.php)