Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Green Barn Nursery

I heard about the Green Barn Nursery in March for the fist time but it wasn't until September that I actually had a chance to go for a visit. This is a nursery like no other because they are not tree resellers, they are tree "breeders". It was a fascinating tour!

The owner is Ken Taylor and what he does is imports exotic fruit trees from around the world and then tries them out in our climate(in Montreal). He tests several varieties with a specific end goal in mind: hardy fruit producing trees that require NO maintenance. That's right, no spraying for fungus, bugs or weeds necessary with these plants. No pruning either in many cases. He jokes that his trees have to learn to survive otherwise they are not fit to be kept.

Well let me tell you, the end product is amazing! So here is a short list of plants I will be buying from him in the spring: kiwi, Asian pears and peaches. All hardy for this climate! How's that for shocking?!?

Check out his catalog for yourself. You might find something that will make it worth a trip to Montreal


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

We had a baby!

I'm sure the people following my blog had figured that out by now.

Our new baby girl was born at home on June 22, 2009. All went well and her big brothers fell in love with her right away. Although my two year old did ask if we could put her back when she was 3 days old. : )

She is 3 months old today and I can finally say that I have adjusted to life with 3 kids. Oufff!

Things are moving along with the house so I will start posting again very soon.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Planning meeting with the architects #1

We have now met with our architects a couple times to discuss what we wanted and I am really looking forward to seeing what they will come up with. I must say that I am very impressed with them up to now. They have been incredible accommodating with our schedule, agreeing to come meet with us after our children's' bed time. That makes for late evenings for them!

They went through a long questionnaire with us about our wants and needs for each room of the house. Our requirements seem to be mostly about the function of things and of spaces.

We also showed them our picture binder. These are things we like that we have been taking out of design magazines.

This is SO exiting!

Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Tagging Ottawa, Canada

I'm sorry about this post, it is just an experiment.

I'm finding that the ads that google is putting on my site are not very local, but then I have not been making a big effort at tagging my posts so this one is just one big tag. I'm also going to go back a month and finish off each post with a tag, just to see.

So here it goes:

Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada,
Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Friday, May 29, 2009

Building with our own wood

Today's post is a plea for help. : )

This new land we are planning to build our house on has a 60 acre forest. It would make sense to use at least a bit of this wood in the building of our house. Unfortunately, having never harvested our own wood, we don't know where to start!

So to people reading this who are in the Ottawa area. Please let me know if this is something you have ever done, and how we should go about doing it. (who can help do the actual work)

I know that wood has to dry a certain amount of time before it can be used, so we think we are limited to using our own wood for trim work and the like (if at all). Still, that would be something. : )

Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.

Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Thank you La Leche League!

I am now 8 months pregnant and really starting to think about life with the new baby (our third child). Nursing the baby is a given by now but I must thank the La Leche League women who helped me out the first time around. Without them, I would never have managed I am sure. We had so many little problems that could have gotten really big had I not had excellent expert advice!

But I find myself wanting to thank them as well for pointing me in the direction of sustainable living. Not that sustainable living is a goal of La Leche League but it definitely is a consequence of being part of the organisation! I mean, when you think about it, you can't get a much more local source of food than a mother's milk! Thanks to tricks I picked up from other moms in this group, I also learned how to make my own baby food, how to use cloth diapers, and where to find great used stuff for children. It's also from other moms in the group that I first heard of Natural Infant Hygiene as well as of masonry heaters (yes very divers topics of discussion in these groups) .

So yes, La Leche League is a sustainable living organisation! Who knew?!?

Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The most mind-boggling gardening book ever!

About three years ago, my husband and I cleaned out a room to make way for our new baby. It was basically wall to wall books. We then went to used book stores to sell our books. That is when we made a discovery that, being the book lovers that we were (and still are), astounded us. Used books are worthless! We resolved then and there to stop buying books (and only get books from the library)! We amended our resolution shortly after to: only buy books that we thought would be used often enough that it would be inconvenient to get from the library.

So why am I telling you this? Because I am in the process of reading the most mind-boggling gardening book ever! I am SO impressed with this book in fact that I decided that this will be my new way of gardening. And even beyond that? I decided to buy the book and the other books written by the same author as well. That is how impressed I am!

The book: THE WINTER HARVEST HANDBOOK by Eliot Coleman.

Mister Coleman, as far as I can tell is a gardener turned farmer. He lives in the state of Maine (so a very similar climate to ours) and grows vegetables year round on his farm in unheated green house. He explains in his book that he has always loved reading gardening books. Now, some years ago, he read that the city of Paris used to be completely self-sufficient in it's vegetable production. He new that Paris had the same amount of winter light hours that his garden got during the winter so it gave him an idea. He wondered if the plants that grew over there during the winter could grow over here during the winter. It's colder here, but we get the same amount of sun. So off he went to Europe to visit winter gardens.

He found out that only specific vegetables grew during the winter in Europe. The next logical step was to try growing them here in cold frames. It worked! Unfortunately, he found that digging cold frames out of the snow was a bit inconvenient, so he decided to put a green house over his frames. This turned out to be a stroke of genius! Now he farms during the winter with much bigger green houses. Inside, he now uses spun row covers instead of cold frames. Oh! And this is all done using organic gardening techniques!

Like I said, this is going to be my new way of gardening!

Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Saturday, May 16, 2009

We have our architects!

So how did we go about finding them?

Well, we started off by getting recommendations from people in the "green building" world. We then did telephone interviews and finally met with 2 firms. We then asked to get proposals from both firms. We had lots of questions so there was quite a long series of back and forth emailing and phone calls. But now, a couple months later, we have finally made up our minds as to who we are going to work with. Yey!

The firm is called "Live Architecture" (pronounced like give not hive). They need to work on their web-site but at least you have their email if you want to contact them. : )

They are a husband (Laszlo Mohacsi) and wife (Teresa Hanna) team and they are totally devoted to "green" building. We have now had a few meetings with them and we always come back totally reved-up and excited about our project. I think working with them is going to be a blast.

Last week we had our first site visit with them and we also went to the "Passive House" presentation together. It was really nice to have an educational/social evening with people we are going to be working so closely together with.

Next step: meeting with Malcolm, Teresa and Laszlo.

Then I think we need to find a contractor pretty early on so he can be part of the team as well.

Also, I think I have also found a landscaper who could help us out but I have yet to meet him in person. We have to wait for his spring planting rush to be over.

So now what do we do? We collect pictures we like of everything that can be found in a house, and of the outside as well.

Still lots of research to do!

Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Bookmobile stops in front of our lot!

For those outside of Ottawa, the bookmobile is like a portable library. It's basically a library in a bus.

Well, we were just at our lot and while we were there, the bus stoped at the school that is in front of our lot.

Are you kidding me!?! We are library super-users! I can't believe we will have our books delivered to our door (or just about) when we move out to the country!

This just keeps getting better and better!

Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Have you ever checked out the CMHC web site?

My experience with the CMHC, until recently, had been limited to mortgage insurance, but about one month ago I discovered that they do much more than that.

I went to their web-site after one of my blog readers suggested it to me and I must say I was quite impressed with what I found. I ordered a few documents from the CMHC and I have just started looking through them. All I can say is wow!

Many of their documents are free too!

I ordered a few that had fees as well and I can't wait to start reading them. I'm particularly looking forward to these two: "Healthy Housing Renovation Planner" and "Tap The Sun", both of which will be quite relevant to our project.

Green building, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Friday, April 17, 2009

Who wants to know more about Passive House construction?

Mark your calendars!

Malcolm Isaacs (our Passive House consultant) will be giving a public lecture on Passive Housing in his home village of Wakefield, Quebec on Tuesday May 5th at 7:30PM.

This will be about 1.5 hours long with questions and probably including an exhibit from Thermotech Windows, and will be held at the famous Black Sheep Inn, no less.

My husband and I plan on attending (we live about 1hour away). We think this might be a useful backgrounder for us since Malcolm told us he will be including a lot of pictures and technical information. I would love to meet some of you who are reading my blog, so come out to meet us! This is a free event and no reservations are needed!

Here is Malcolm's bio:

Malcolm Isaacs is establishing himself as a technical authority on ultra low-energy building design and construction in Canada, and he now specializes in application of the Passive House Standard, by far the world´s most ambitious and most verified building performance standard. A Professional Engineer who has worked in residential energy analysis, conservation and construction for the past 20 years, he is a graduate of the University of Ottawa.

Like many Canadians, Mr.Isaacs has grown tired of waiting for any signs of intelligent life in national and regional policies to promote sustainability, and of the lack of courage and integrity at all political levels to address the shoddy construction practices and development patterns which are clearly anything but sustainable, yet which enrich developers and speculators in all parts of the country – at the future expense of all of us.

In 2004 he travelled extensively through northern Europe researching building practices which might truly be called sustainable, and visited the Passive House Institute in Germany for the first time. As a `Green´ building professional it was astonishing to discover that even the best Canadian building practices are literally decades behind the Passive House approach, with this gap in quality getting wider every year as more and more European manufacturers, building professionals and municipalities align themselves with Passive House-quality construction and push each other to develop and refine components, policies and practices.

Pictures of Malcolm's super efficient house can be found on Flickr

In 2005/6 Mr.Isaacs designed and built the first house in Canada to these specifications in Wakefield, Quebec (in which he presently lives), and since then he has worked on developing his knowledge and expertise of this extraordinary and cutting-edge building standard.

It is now known – albeit not widely - that not only are Passive Houses proven to use 80 – 90% less heating and cooling energy (in any climate) than conventional Code construction, they also provide far better comfort and indoor air quality, and since they use simple technology and do not depend on expensive renewable energy systems they can actually be the cheapest houses to build if all costs are taken into account by a homeowner.

As a founding member of the North American Passive House Alliance, Mr. Isaacs’ professional focus is now on developing affordable, appropriate applications of low-energy design in Canada, and he is working with local architects and building partners to eventually offer a full Passive House design and construction service for the growing number of Canadian clients presently searching for vastly improved energy and environmental performance in new and retrofit construction.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

So how about renewable energy?

I am now just starting to read a new book by an author I have really appreciated over the last few years. The author is William Kemp and his new book is The Zero Carbon Car. I'm sure this book will be quite enlightening since that is the effect his other books had on me.

His first book was The Renewable Energy Handbook and it really opened up possibilities for me. The beauty of this particular book was that it was written in Ottawa. You see Mr Kemp and his family live in an off-grid home just south of Ottawa. This was the first renewable energy reference I ever found that was not only northern, but local! It was also during the reading of this book that I realised that all the other things I had read, I had classified as "would be nice, but not in this climate" without really realising it. From that book on, I started looking at renewable energy from a different angle: "now how would THIS work in a place like Ottawa?" He really had an impact on me as to actually thinking of adapting/applying these technologies to the north.

A few years later, he published a book for us city and suburban folk: $mart power. This book really took his first book, that had an off grid focus, and translated it to living lightly on the grid. That's when we changed all the light bulbs in our house to CFLs and plugged everything into power bars so we could turn them off easily. (did you know that many appliances are still "ON" when they are turned "OFF"? They continue to use up energy so the only way to make sure they are really off is to unplug them or to switch off the power bar they are plugged into)

His BIODIESEL book also made me think. This is a book where he explains how you can make your own diesel from used frying oil. I would LOVE to do this, but it's the set-up I find a bit intimidating. We might get into biodiesel at the new house if we need it. Right now, we have 2 cars, one is a new small SUV that can seat 7. The other is an 11 year old sporty car. I expect we will be changing that for a pick-up truck when we move to the country. Maybe if we get a diesel engin it would be worth making our own biodiesel. I'll keep you posted on that one (don't hold your breath, the follow-up might take a couple years to come)
So for us, William Kemp really was the springboard we needed to get seriously thinking about renewable energy. Now we are looking at our new land and trying to figure out what we can do. Solar water and space heating for sure, wood water and space heating as a back-up, some PV panels would be nice, maybe wind power, maybe even micro-hydro, and does anyone out there know if there is a way of generating power by burning wood? That would be nice since we have a 60 acre forest we can drag dead wood out of.

Well at the very least, our house will be ultra energy efficient because that is the main point I got out of these books. It costs way more to generate power than it does to save it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Natural pools !?!

Okay, it must be the season because this issue of La maison du 21e siècle as well as last week's broadcast of La vie en vert both featured a topic I had NEVER HEARD OF! An ecological swimming pool!

So this is my understanding of how this works. You build a small artificial lake and install a rubber lining. Instead of having a mechanically filter, you have a filtering pool next to the swimming pool. Water is pumped from the swimming area to the filtering area. The entire area of the filtering pool is landscaped with filtering plants. This type of pool uses either very little or no chemicals at all depending on the relative sizes of the swimming and filtering pools.

Oh, and here is the kicker! This looks really expensive doesn't it? Weel, it costs about the same as a traditionnal swimming pool. But once it is built, your yard is landscaped! If I understand this correctly (I really have to do more research on this), these pools can be any shape you want as well. Have you noticed that the picture above has a deck going into the pool. It looks just like the side of a lake! : )

Now the best part is that while looking up a comment sent to my blog, I found a company in Ottawa who builds these! The Pond Cinic calls them recreational ponds. All the pictures in this particular post were taken from their website. I hope they don't mind. I figured they wouldn't be upset with me for marketting one of their products a bit. : )

Well, we want a pool at our new house. This is definitely a possibility!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Planning a natural childbirth

Preparing for childbirth is a really big part of my life right now since I am six months pregnant so I figured, why not talk about it in my blog.

But first, let me give you a bit of background.

When I was first pregnant, I was still pretty mainstream. : ) I figured, you get pregnant, you see and obstetrician. Then, when the time comes, you go to the hospital and have the baby with an epidural. That's what I did and apparently I'm one of these people who do not react well to epidurals. Not a good thing to find out in the heat of the moment!

By the time I got pregnant the second time, I had heard of midwives so that is the care I got during that pregnancy. What a difference! Even during the monthly visits the care is completely different. An OB visit is basically a weight measure, a belly measure, a heart rate check and a quick: "do you have any questions? No? Alright see you next month." This all lasts 10 minutes at most. Midwives on the other hand actually talk to you and give you information about pregnancy and birth issues even before you ask for them. They also take some of the measures the OB does. An appointment can last 30-60 minutes. Talk about feeling better prepared for a birth!

The other thing I decided to try was water labor. I found an Ottawa doula that rented out aquadoulas and I got one. It was great! The water is actually deep enough to take all of gravity away! I highly recommend this for labor! (It's probably great for birth as well but I was out by the time I gave birth so can't talk from experience.)

This small pool is called an Aquadoula

The next thing I decided to try was hypnosis during birth. I had heard about this when I was a teenager and it had stuck in the back of my mind. I found an Ottawa doula who did Hypnobirthing and did the prenatal course with her. We also hired her to be at the birth for support. This also helped tremendously with pain management.

I'd say that between water and hypnosis, my labor cramps went to the intensity of menstrual cramps. Not bad at all if you ask me!
The last thing I did differently was to give birth at home. This too I must say helped to make this second birth much nicer and easier. I loved being able to get up and shower in my own shower an hour after giving birth!

So now I am pregnant again. What do you think I'll be doing?

Water and Hypnobirthing at home for sure!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

La maison de 21e siècle

I just got the spring issue of the best "green building" magazine I have found! La maison du 21e siècle is actually out of Quebec so the information in it is bang on for this climate.

If you can read French and you are planning an ecological construction or renovation, you have to get this magazine!

Okay, this is a really short post. I just had to say how great this magazine is! I'll get back to you with something I learn from reading this issue.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

So what would be in your dream home?

When we were interviewing architects, one asked us what mood we wanted for this new house of ours. We were really stumped at the time but I think we have figured it out now. We want a house that is fun to live in for adults as well as for children. I basically want this to feel like summer camp, all year long! My husband works from home as a computer consultant and we are going to homeschool our children, so we are going to spend a LOT of time in and around this place!

So we started looking at architecture and design books, magazines, web sites and TV shows. A building philosophy that really resonated with us was Sarah Suzanka's "Not so big house". She really emphasizes good architecture as opposed to BIG architecture. So we've decided we want to build the smallest house we will be comfortable in. Now this being said, we do work and school at home on top of eating and sleeping there so it can't be TOO small.

Now let's see, what rooms do we need in this house (or spaces around it)?

1- a country style kitchen. For me, that means the kitchen, dining and living areas all in the same room.
2- a good sized kitchen pantry.
3- a big room that we can use as a school room that is visually connected to the kitchen. I want to be able to invite a bunch of other families to do regular activities with this room as the activity center. I also want this room to be our playroom when it is not "school" time. My husband, a hobby painter, would like to use this room to host art workshops and art shows. He would also like to host poker tournaments with his friends in this same room. In case you are following all of this, you might have come to the conclusion that we need a lot of storage for this room so we can put things away between activities.
4- a root cellar
5- a kick-ass laundry room! (where I can actually hang clothes to dry any time of the year) I want it to have easy access to a clothes line.
6- a master bedroom that is big enough for a king size bed, 2 side tables and a couple chairs.
7- 2 kids bedrooms that could be sectioned off in the future to make 4 bedrooms. (we have 2 boys now and are expecting a girl in June + we would really like a 4th child)
8- a soundproof office (for my husband) that is big enough to double as his studio (so he needs lots of storage for his paints and canvases)
9- space for guests to stay but we would prefer not to have a dedicated room that is used for nothing else.
10- one toilet per floor but not more than that (composting toilets are not cheap!). One full bathroom for the whole house.
11- a greenhouse where I can grow food all year round.
12- a mudroom
13- a garage for our 2 cars
14- easily accessible storage for outdoor toys, bikes and small ATV.
15- easily accessible storage for wood that we will use to heat the house when the sun is not shining.
16- a direct access to the kitchen garden.
17- a garden shed
18- a workshop
19- a pool
20- a planned area for eventual easy expansion of the house (you never know)
21- a garden
22- an orchard
23- a nut grove
24- a bridge across our river
25- an outhouse
26- a mail centre (back in the house)
27- a recycling/composting/garbage centre
28- lots of storage for seasonal accessories (camping stuff, Christmas decorations...) as well as clothes that are between sizes for the children
29- A usable attic
30- You know what I would love? A secret door! You know like in the movies, where you pull a book and the bookcase opens to reveal a hallway? That would be so cool! It probably won't make it because of our construction budget but I thought I would mention it anyway. : )

What do we want out of this house?

1- We want it to be a healthy and safe place to live and to raise our children.
2- We want it to help us be somewhat self sufficient (power and food)
3- We want it to let us transition easily from indoors to outdoors. I'm not sure how to do this other than to have floors that do not get damaged by keeping our shoes on all the time. Maybe a nice sized covered porch or even a screened in porch would help with this. An outdoor kitchen would be nice, a sheltered place to BBQ all year round would be wonderful!
4- We want it to be a fun place to live.
5- We don't want the construction or the inhabitation of this house to have a negative impact on the environment. (or as limited an impact as is possible)

Well, this was a bit of a brain storming post... Please feel free to contribute to my brain storming and I will edit it on a future date.

So what would be in your dream home?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Root cellaring

There are two things we want to accomplish in this new house: reduce our expenses as much as possible by super insulating the house and generate some income through the installation of solar panels.

We want to carry these ideas into the landscaping as well: everything we are going to plant is going to have an edible function (saving money). We also plan on growing enough to be able to sell some of our produce at the local Farmer's Market in a few years.

Root cellaring seems to actually blend these 2 things together. With a cellar, we could keep more for the winter, thus saving us money. Plus, if we have a big enough harvest, we could potentially extend the selling season as well.

Now I've never had a root cellar so I don't know how to build them nor how to use them! Again, my friend from The Veggie Patch Re-imagined had a book to recommend so I ordered it from the library.

Root Cellaring, Natural cold storage of fruit and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel.

Of course, you've figured out that I really thought this book was worth the read. If fact, I'm planning on buying it now. The authors not only explain how to build a cellar, but also how to organise it. What I really want the book for though is for its list of good fruit and vegetables to be kept in a root cellar, how to pack them for long keeping and what temperature and humidity level is best for them.

Talk about taking the guess work out of it!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Humanure Handbook

In my research on water conservation, I fell into the topic of composting toilets. It makes sense to me not to use water in toilets when water availability is an issue as it is on our new land. But I still wanted to know more so I asked around if anyone knew about these devices. My friend from The Veggie Patch Re-imagined recommended I read The Humanure Handbook.

A surprisingly good book!

I really didn't expect much from this book but I ended up finding it absolutely fascinating!

The point of this book is to explain that it is not only possible but a very good idea to compost human body waste. It also explains in detail how to do it safely.

After reading the book, there is no question in my mind what kind of toilets we are installing in our new house! Composting toilets not only reduce water consumption but they also eliminate the risk of the contamination of nearby ground water supply. Plus, you end up with great nutrients for your flower bed or garden. This one is a no-brainer!

All I have to do now is to convince my husband...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Houston, we have a (water) problem

So has anyone out there thought: "I wonder how these guy can afford to buy 100 acres of land in Ottawa"?

Well, it's because there is a problem with the land. It is lack of water supply. We cannot drill a well because the water has a LOT of sulfur. The city has one water outlet for the whole 100 acres and we were told there would never be more.

So the price of the land was only slightly more expensive than a 5 acre lot we saw in an executive neighbourhood a few km away (out of the sulfur zone).

Here was our thought process: if we manage to NOT use the city outlet (use rain water, surface water, air water...), we could sever off a 5 acre lot and sell it (with the city water outlet). Then the rest of the land will have been quite affordable!

So the next order of business is: finding potable water and water conservation!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My son wants to be a garbage man!

My 5 year old has been fascinated with garbage since he was about 2 years old. It started off with the garbage truck, which I think many children are interested in, but it's moved on to a whole different level.

He seems particularly fascinated with the idea that you can make something new and useful out of something that has become completely useless for us. He has actually been asking to go visit a recycling center for over a year now. I've been trying to set this up for him but with no success, I'm told they don't let children in these places.

His current favorite toy is a conveyor belt my husband made for him.
He puts Lego on it, sorts it and then "recycles" it.
This game has been going on for over a year now, in various levels of complexities.
Last summer, he discovered composting, boy did that open a whole new can of worms! : ) Since then I think he has asked me about every single thing in our house. Does this compost? Does this go in the reclycling? Why not? This week has been particularly intense with recycling and composting questions at our house. He actually managed to make me feel bad about our incomplete recycling efforts! So I've decided to step it up a bit. I went out and bought small recycling boxes for each bathroom as a place to put toilet paper rolls, used tissue paper and anything else that is compostable.

Here is a picture of my toilet. : )
Garbage on the left of the picture, recycling box on the right.

This is an easy way to "green-up" any house. Even yours!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Now we are getting somewhere!

I'll admit that one of the factors that made us chose to meet people was whether they were available when we had family available for baby sitting. Usually, very last minute.

So one of these meetings was on a Sunday morning at a Tim Horton's in Ottawa. We were going to meet Malcolm Isaacs, an engineer who knew something about passive solar houses. He had told me on the phone that he was not an architect or a designer, but he could help us build a passive house. So we met with him. Boy was I blown away by what he told us!

First, let's talk vocabulary. Passive House is a new building standard that is becoming quite popular in Europe. I had never heard of it even if I had been reading about "green" building for over a year!

So what is a Passive House
? I'm going to quote the Passive House Institute directly for the explanation: "A Passive House is a very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc. Energy losses are minimized. Any remaining heat demand is provided by an extremely small source. Avoidance of heat gain through shading and window orientation also helps to limit any cooling load, which is similarly minimized. An energy recovery ventilator provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply. The result is an impressive system that not only saves up to 90% of space heating costs, but also provides a uniquely terrific indoor air quality."

Translation: these houses are well oriented and so well insulated, you don't need a furnace! Sure, you need a back-up system for those cold sunless winter days but never mind geothermal or high efficiency gas furnaces, think more in the lines of a domestic water heater connected to a radiant floor system!

Also, the point of these Passive Houses is that they are about the same price to build as a non-Passive House. In Europe, there are already over 12000 buildings certified to this standard. They've even done social housing projects following Passive House guidelines! We had heard that building green can often cost significantly more than building a traditional house. We are now hoping this will help keep the cost down.

This is exactly what we were looking for! Maybe even more!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Edible landscaping

We are at a bit of a stand still with the architect proposals so I have started a different line of research. I want the landscaping of our new house to be completely edible.

Maybe I could landscape the place myself but there is so much involved in the whole house construction thing that I've decided to get a landscaper to at least draw up plans for me. I think I can then implement them myself over time.

I've been asking around about edible landscaping for a few months now and have found that very few people have this kind of expertise. I did find a local small business specialised in urban/suburban edible landscaping and the owner has been great at helping me out with my research. Check out her Blog called The Veggie Patch Re-imagined.

Among other things, she pointed me in the direction of the Eco Farm Day organised by the Ottawa chapter of Canadian Organic Growers. I had seen the add a few months earlier but had decided not to go. We ended up going together and not only did we have a blast, I got leads for my large-scale edible landscaping project.

Lead 1: Eliot Coleman- Greenhouse gardening all year round with no heating!
Lead 2: Ken Taylor - Permaculture and hardy fruit plants
Lead 3: Brad Peterson - Permaculture Farm design

I'll let you know specifics as I find out more myself.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Going solar?

We decided we would start with the idea of a Passive Solar home because we want the sun to take care of a good portion of our space heating needs. Unfortunately there is very little information about passive solar houses for northern climates. Plus, while reading up on the topic, I learned that it often does not work as hoped, so we decided to look for people who knew what they were doing to help us out... But where do you find someone like that?

Adobes are great passive solar buildings if you live in the South-West (not so great in Canada)

We met Chris Weissflog from ECOGEN last August at the Ecosphere Show in Ottawa and discussed renewable energies with him for quite a while. He was very nice and seemed very knowledgeable so we decided to ask him if he was aware of any architects in the region who knew about passive solar houses and green building. He forwarded 5 names to us within a few days and that's how we started our search for an architect. We figured that architects who build houses suited for solar water heating and solar electric panels might know something about passive solar houses as well.

We started off with telephone interviews, then face to face interviews and then we asked for proposals from our two favorites. I'll have to keep to keep you posted on this step because we are still in the process of asking questions and getting answers about the proposals. Hopefully, we will make up our minds soon!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

La vie en vert

Okay, so I decided to write my blog in English and then one of the first things I talk about is a French tv show. I think it's because I know it is playing right now so it's in the back of my mind. As soon as my kids go to bed tonight, I'll be watching my show.

La vie en vert is BRILLIANT! It is actually the only tv show I watch on a regular basis. Right now, it plays on Wednesday nights at 7pm on Télé Québec. You can also go to the web site and watch any of their past episodes right from there. If you understand French and are interested in sustainable living, I highly recommend this show.

I love the setting of the show which is very urban-industrial, right in the old port of Montreal. They have discussions and info segments in old rundown, rusty buildings and beside big silos. It's an obvious ideological contrast with what they are discussing.

Every week, they have a couple "green" information segments, a couple eco-tips and sometimes they have eco-challenges. One that I particularly liked was when they asked a sub-urban family to try out vermi-composting, which is indoor composting with worms. The mother of the family was not impressed at all. : ) Other challenges I have seen include asking a professional make-up artist to try eco make-up, professional painters to try eco paints and families to try eco detergents for dishes and laundry. I've actually changed brands because of these challenges. (And I've been satisfied)

I've checked out a few English shows that have the same general theme, but have found them pretty lame. La vie en vert on the other had is high quality, informative and even thought provoking. I hope you'll like it as much as I do!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What's the green idea?

So here we are, we actually own 100 acres of land. Did I mention that there is nothing on the land? We need to build a house.

My cousin is our major inspiration for this next project. She and her spouse bought a run down triplex in Montreal a few years back and renovated it. They did something I had never even heard of at the time: they made their renovation as environmentally friendly as they could. Here is a CMHC report on their house. There are SO many "green" things in their house it would be hard to list them all. Oh! But I must! Or at least, I'll try!

They started off by unbuilding the house and then rebuilding it with a lot of the materials they had saved from the deconstruction. They also went to scrap yards to find materials they could use. Re-use and recycle was definitely their moto!

Here they are in thier fabulous green kitchen

This house holds the first dual-flush toilet I ever saw, not a big deal by now, but it was at the time! Other water saving devices in the house include a front loading washer, a rain water capturing system and the little gizmo on their sink in the picture above. You know when you want a drink of water so you let the water run a minute? They have this little spout thing where they dump the clean water. It goes to the rain water cistern and they then use it for washing clothes and flushing toilets. Pretty neat I thought!

Any energy saving skeems in this house? How about a geo-thermal heat pump, right there in almost downtown Montreal! Solar water heating and a green roof. They also have the ability to turn off some of their plugs when they are not in use in order to cut down on phantom loads (electricity that is consumed by appliances even when they are turned off). I'll try to find pictures of their house and put up another post about it. It is such an inspiration for us that I really want to say more about it.

I have to point out that they did most the the "unskilled labor" themselves, evenings and weekends. Their immediate family helped them out when they could, and they hired skilled workers for what they could not do themselves. It is now a stunning home with a small rental unit and is as green a building as you can get!

So now, we want a green house too! But where to start? We have lots of research ahead of us about green building but also about living green in general.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Going rural

After reading the book Farewell my Subaru my husband and I decided to buy some land. We agreed that it had to be as near to Ottawa as possible. We looked on MLS and we contacted a real estate agent we knew in the area we were interested in.

We thought we would look at 5 acre lots. I wanted some forest and my husband wanted something with a small hill. The first 4 properties we looked at were 5 acres but did not really get our hearts racing. The last property we looked at was an inexpensive 100 acre lot we had seen on MLS but could not find on our own. We saw it, we fell in love, we bought it. 100 acres!

So what was so special about this land? It had a 60 acre forest, a 40 acre hilly field and it was cut in half by a small river!!!

Now in case you haven't read the "about me" section of my blog, I will just mention that we presently live on a lot that is 40 feet by 90 feet in Ottawa suburbia. That is nowhere near even 1 acre! Yes, I am anticipating culture shock!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A life changing book

Has this ever happened to you? You read a book and all of a sudden, nothing seems the same?

It happened to me and my husband last summer. I bet you're curious right? What book could possibly have such a profound impact on two people? Drum roll please! The book title is: Farewell my Subaru.

It's written by this guy who decided to move from New York city to New Mexico and start a carbon-free life. He gets chickens and then encounters coyotes. He gets goats, the kind that give the creamiest milk because he wants to make ice cream, and then encounters their personalities. He gets a cistern and has a solar water pump installed but neglects to turn it of before it starts to overflow. He then discovers that every snake in the region has come for a bath in the new pond he has created, and then he CAN'T turn off the water pump. Oh and of course, he gets rid of his small Subaru and buys a big diesel truck which he has modified to run on used vegetable oil.

It is a laugh-out-loud book that changed my life because that's when we went out looking for land and bought some! 100 acres to be exact.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why Green Igloo?

The igloo is very iconic of the north and if you think about it, of sustainable building.

Since the difficulties I've faced in my research seem to stem from the lack in information regarding sustainable construction (green) in the north, I've decided to make this blog VERY northern. Thus, the igloo!

Welcome to the Green Igloo

Welcome to this new blog that will be devoted to living green in the north. Or more exactly it is here so you can accompany my family through our "Green shift". I have decided to start writing about our adventure out of being peeved with other resources. You see, we are building a new house and most books and resources concerning "green" building are out of California or Arizona, not that helpful up here in Ottawa, Canada.

Themes will include "Green building", "green landscaping", becoming a "green" family and anything I can think of that is related to living more natural lives.

I debated as to whether I should write my blog in English or French since these are the two languages I use on a regular basis. I have opted for English because most of my resources are in this language, but you will find the occasional resource that is printed in French.

One last note to readers. I am deep in the research process for the construction of our new home, please feel free to forward any information you think I might be interested in.