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.