Sunday, March 27, 2011

Our Kitchen Before and After

Well it has taken almost 10 months since we first started working on the kitchen and there are still a few details left to clean up (window coverings, seat cushion, baseboards) but in our minds the kitchen in complete.

The "Green" features of our kitchen:

- No and low VOC paint
- Low VOC sealants
- Formaldehyde free cabinets made from FSC wood
- Zodiaq Recycled glass countertop
- Cork flooring
- R-24 Insulation and full air/vapour barrier
- Energy star appliances
- LED under-cabinet lights
- Recycled MDF, low VOC window trim
- Electronic charge station with dedicated switch
- 95% of demolition and construction waste diverted from the landfill

What is was:

Our new kitchen (although I am not too happy with the pictures. There always seemed to be too much contrast):

View from Family Room
View from Dining Room

Pantry Unit

Desk and Banquette

LED Lights in Action
Next up... the bathrooms.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

LED undercabinet lights

I had blogged previously about my preference for LED lights over CFLs.  Our house is finally starting to reflect that preference.

For our undercabinet lights we installed strip LEDs from LED Lights Canada.  We had looked originally for off the shelf options from the likes of Rona and Home Depot but weren't satisfied with the light output. LED Lights Canada has these ones custom made for them.  The result: 400 lumens per metre on 10 watts.
Custom cut LED strip for smallest cabinet

Installation was a breeze and the light quality and brightness is excellent.  We also had friends comment on how cool they run compared to their halogen lights.  You can run them all day and they will be only slightly warm to the touch so they don't heat up all your food being stored in the cabinet above.

Our only issue is that I had anticipated having off-the-shelf lights which would plug in.  So I wired one switch controlling three outlets. The strips we did buy have no built in driver.  LEDs use 12V power not 120V (which is why they work so well for battery powered flashlights).  So when hooking into your home power they need the power converted using a driver.  Replacement LED bulbs have that driver built in.  These didn't.  It is not a big deal, it just means that you need to buy a separate driver or in this case because of how I wired things up ... three drivers which pushed the price up.

I also need to give huge props to Harvey Hoffman (LED Lights Canada's owner/president) for the excellent customer service.  Sent him a long winded email and I got an immediate phone call with him walking me through the easiest and cheapest way to do my set up.  He custom cut all the strips to fit my cabinets and when I couldn't find the mounting clips with my order (I probably threw them out with the packaging) he mailed new ones the next day no questions asked.

Excellent product, excellent service, hopefully this Edmonton based company will do well.  I take the fact that they are sold out of the cabinet strips until next week's shipment as a positive sign of their success.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Zodiaq Counters

It has been a while since our temporary counters went up ... over 6 months.  Probably a little longer than normal but that does include our new baby renovation hiatus.

But a big part of the problem came from the fact that we knew what we wanted and we thought we knew where to get it.  Last year at the Montreal Home Show I saw a locally made recycled glass countertop.  It was beautiful and functional, 90% recycled content and locally sourced.  The company was Eco-Surface.  Their quote was good but their colour selection left a little to be desired.   The good news was they were expanding and in 100 days would be able to provide us a much better palette to pick from.

So we put up our temporary counters and waited.  Towards the 100 day mark we contacted them again to find their website directed us to: "Creations di Verre cite".  Alright, name change with expansion  ... no problem.   But there was a problem:  nobody would pick up the phone, or respond to an email, or website inquiries.   Heck their contact information on their website just provides their website address.

Chalked that up as a lost cause and headed back to square one.  Looking for alternatives there were several options although none of them local:

- EnviroGlas EnviroSLAB
- IceStone
Geos Sustainable Surfaces from Eos
- Zodiaq Terra Collection from Dupont

Out of these group, IceStone probably gets kudos for being the greenest of all the products.  100% recycled glass in concrete, No VOC, no resins, no petrochemicals.  The company is very forward thinking and the entire process has received Gold Cradle to Cradle certification.  That being said it is concrete and therefore susceptible to etching and staining.  Properly sealed and cared for this shouldn't be a problem but for us relying on "proper maintenance and care" is setting ourselves up.  While we didn't go with it in the kitchen, we are strongly looking at it for the bathrooms.

Geos, was recommended but we struggled with finding the right colour. They also were unable to confirm their recycled content.   For the countertop to qualify for LEED points it needs to be a minimum of 25% post-consumer recycled content (post-industrial counts at 50%).  Geos could not confirm or guarantee that.

EnviroGlas was a little too bold a palette for us (and there were no local distributors) so we went with Zodiaq.  Zodiaq countertops are a recycled glass and quartz blend embedded in a resin.  Very hard, very durable, low maintenance and we found the perfect colour.  Custom cut and installed by Comptoir St-Denis, we are very pleased with the result.

The one danger of using recycled glass in any countertop or product is colour control.  While it may seem easy to separate out the brown beer bottle from the green wine bottles and clear soda bottles,  all you need is one little chip of green glass to potentially ruin an all white counter.  Our colour "Coriander" contains clear and brown glass with the occasional fleck of green.  But if you really hunt you can find a couple other odd colours.  We have one speck in an obscure corner that is florescent orange. Luckily, I only spot it when I am cleaning down the counter... so not very often at all :)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Insulation: Manufacturer Follow-up

This is a follow-up to my post from January.  I would recommend reading that post first and if you really want to do your homework, read the article on as well.

Essentially, I grew concerned about the existence of HFC-134a in my foam insulation products.  As a result I switched my rigid insulation from Dow Styrofoam to Isolofoam's Isofoil although I will probably be trying out other rigid foam products as well. I have also stopped using Touch n' Foam's two part spray foam.

I won't lie, the Touch n' Foam product pissed me off.  I was surprised by the amount of HFC in it and the environmental impact it would have.  To the point that I wrote Rona / Reno-Depot and asked them why they carry it.  I felt their response skirted the question and also had the manufacturer deferring all responsibility for the product

"Good day Mr Lilley, Here is the response we received form the manufacturer. The propellants used in our cylinders were chosen by both the Canadian government and US government for this type of product. A different type of propellant was used in the past, but due to flammability, manufactures were forced to change. At this time, there are no alternatives due to regulations. If you should need further information don't hesitate to contact us again. Thank you for your support and have a nice day."

I am following up further with them to see if I can get an actual answer.

I also contacted Dow Chemicals. My only concern with dropping the Styrofoam was that the article I was basing the decision on said "I have to note here that I’m not 100% sure that XPS is made with HFC-134a; manufacturers are unwilling to divulge the exact blowing agents they use".  Wanting to make sure I wasn't stopping use of a product unjustly (and then blogging about it),  I went to the source.  I emailed Dow asking them about the charge and what they used as a blowing agent.  I will give them kudos for a providing a quick professional reply. They never did explicitly state their blowing agent but provided GWP numbers in line with HFC-134a.  Even if it isn't the exact agent the end result would be the same.  Here are their complete responses (from two different emails):

"I'm following up on your email and to conform that Dow Building Solutions (DBS) had successfully converted our North American manufacturing facility that manufactures STYROFOAM(tm) Extruded Polystyrene Insulation products, which includes Clademate, to its new zero ozone-depleting, no-VOC foaming agent technology. STYROFOAM Extruded polystyrene insulation is HCFC and CFC free.  

The proprietary formulation substitutes the hydrochloro-fluorocarbon (HCFC) 142b, an ozone-depleting compound that U.S. and Canadian regulations under the Montreal Protocol require to be phased out by January 1, 2010 in North America, with a non-ozone depleting compound. It enables Dow's North American customers to continue receiving STYROFOAM insulation with the same product performance and cost-leadership position, and reflects Dow's commitment, as part of its 2015 Sustainability Goals for Addressing Climate Change, to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissionsany further questions on this matter, do not hesitate to contact me at the phone number shown below my signature.  

Dow Building Solutions has completed a rigorous, external assessment of its building insulation products conducted by MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, LLC), a global sustainability consulting and product certification firm. STYROFOAM SIS Structural Insulated Sheathing, STYROFOAM Brand Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) Foam Insulation, THERMAX(tm) (ci) Exterior Insulation, STYROFOAM(tm) Brand Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF) Insulation, and SAFETOUCH(tm) Fiberglass-Free Insulation have all achieved Cradle to Cradle(r) Certification , a process that assesses products for their ingredients' human health, environmental health and recyclability profiles. Dow products that have achieved Cradle to Cradle(r) Certification are eligible for points that contribute to various building certifications, such as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED ) Rating Systems and National Association of Home Builders' (NAHB ) National Green Building Program. Certified products can be listed under the U.S. EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program, as well as several other environmentally conscious product purchasing programs."

"XPS has a ozone depletion number of 0 and a global warming potential of 1300, which reduced the GWP100 from previous while maintaining the insulation’s thermal and physical properties."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Built to Last

I think most of us appreciate that disposable products are not usually the most environmentally friendly choice on the market.  Anytime we need to throw out a product to replace it in kind it generates waste and uses up resources to replace it.  The same is obviously true for homes.

If a newly constructed home is going to need to be replaced in 30 years or have major renovations done to it, the same principle applies.  New building materials being produced and the old material being torn out.

Recognizing this, one of the pre-requisites for a LEED home is a durability plan.  It is essentially required of the builder (or renovator) to assess risks to the long term health of the house:
- Exterior water infiltration
- Interior water leaks
- Condensation
- Pests / termites
- Natural Disasters

LEED provides a sample evaluation form with key things to look for as well as some mandatory features for minimizing water damage. Some are common sense things like not installing carpet in your bathroom others are less common like having a drain pan under any washing machine or water heater (not including those in the basement).

Being an existing home with 30 years under its belt makes this process a little less theoretical.  A detailed inspection of the home allowed us to assess where we had existing problems that needed to be corrected.

Our home fared well with the exception of some exterior water problems that we will need to fix:

- The ground around our home has a flat grade rather than providing a slope away from the house

- All our exterior window sills are brick.  All are starting to degrade  While brick looks pretty, it is porous and when installed in a location where water will collect on top it will start to break apart especially in freeze / thaw conditions where water runs into cracks and then freezes and expands.  We will need to replace all our sills with something more durable with a positive slope away from the window.

- The flashing on top of our brick wall slopes towards the house essentially dumping water down behind the bricks.... not good.  Needs to be repaired and the adjacent brick replaced.

- Finally some of our siding against our roof comes right down to the shingles.  This can allow water to be drawn up behind the siding due to the wicking action of water

Whether we were doing a LEED renovation or not these are issues that need to be addressed.  If they aren't fixed they will lead to larger more costly (financially and environmentally) corrections later. So it is probably a good exercise for every home owner.