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?