In this episode Stephen talks about going green with respect to you home, whether you own or rent. He breaks down different aspects and how they relate to you home such as local, natural, energy efficiency and much more. Tune in and green up!
Welcome to Your Healthy House. I’m Stephen Collette.
This podcast, I explore your indoor environmental quality concerns and opportunities. We look at the facts and debunk the fiction. We will discuss examples you can relate to, and the doable actions you can take in your own home or apartment. We will also look at the history of how our homes are the way they are, and the future of healthy housing for everyone. I promise to make this fun and interesting for both of us.
Episode Number 20, going green.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to episode number 20. Going Green, I get this question a lot about environmental and sustainability and going green and natural. What does that really mean? Well, it means a lot of things to a lot of different people. And as many people as you ask, you’re going to get different answers, for sure. But I’d like to talk about it in a broader sense, and hopefully help you feel and think and consider all these other aspects. And find out what resonates with you What makes sense to you, when describing green for yourself, for your family, for your community, and for the planet.
So out of the gate, the number one thing is going to be local, the more local we can purchase things from local people, local businesses, local makers creators, we’re definitely going to be reducing our impact on the planet. As because there’s less transportation costs. The easy one to you know talk about is food, obviously, being able to buy food from a farmers market. Instead of buying it from the grocery store where it may have come for 1000s of miles, the tomatoes are the same, but what you’re getting is a lot less transportation cost. So buying local, buying from farmers market, getting to meet your local producers, the family’s growing the food, raising the animals makes a huge difference. And so I really strongly recommend that and it’s a much more pleasurable experience instead of just pushing your cart around the grocery store, and the fake lights and all that when you can wander around outside and talk to people. But that translates into the built environment as well, which is obviously what this podcast is focusing on. When we look at local, we want to think about the idea of choosing materials that are much closer to us geographically, instead of something again, that has to have high transportation costs. And I’ll give you an example. So where I live, there are hardwood forests and soft wood forests near me. And if I wanted to install flooring, for example, I could purchase source relatively local maple flooring, probably unfinished and I would finish it myself. And so what that does is I’m really, really local, um, you know, less than 100 kilometers, the forests are sustainably harvested, hopefully. And, and I’m getting a local material. And there’s a vernacular to that, of course, that when we think about our homes, and and the idea of local, you know, we think about local his heritage, which is true, right? Like, you didn’t have stuff shipped from far away in a heritage building, you built everything that came from here. And if we, you know, really think about it, that kind of makes sense, right? You’re not going to see heavy wood construction in a Plains region, you know, you’re not going to see, you’re going to see, you know, more natural buildings, maybe more rock, stone base construction, right? So just thinking about that and making that connection to the building of your own home to your environment creates a huge, huge opportunity, in my opinion, as far as going green. Now, the hardwood floor example. I think it’s valuable to look at that because we could have a maple floor, right. And that’s relatively local. And I could compare that to bamboo floor, which I also happen to really like. But from a local perspective, the bay bamboo flooring is going to be coming from the other side of the world, oftentimes China and you can get some amazing quality, beautiful bamboo floors. But when we’re thinking about the energy to get it over here, that’s a huge question. That’s a huge pause, reason for pause to consider whether or not it makes sense to be using the bamboo. And so that can be one opportunity for you to consider is definitely local. So are there local, even manufacturers. So it’s possible to get, you know, insulation, there’s an insulation manufacturer not too far from me. And so I’ve purchased my insulation, using that brand, because I know it’s local, it also performs really well it’s rock wool, and I really like it. And it’s a great material from a building science perspective, I could get sheep’s wool, which is definitely more natural. But there’s nowhere local that I could get that. And so if natural is more important to me, I’d lean towards the sheep, if locals more important to me, I would lean toward the closer manufacturer or supplier. So something to keep in mind.
Natural is the next one, of course. And when we think about natural materials versus manufactured materials, there’s just less energy into creating them. A wood fence has less energy than a metal fence. Right. And the wood is a more natural product. And we’re gonna have a really natural we could have like a cedar split rail fence, for example. When we were looking at building materials, even finishes clay paints versus, you know, petroleum based paints, well, there’s definitely more natural, right and the natural one is going to be healthier for you. It’s just, it typically has to be there’s less chemicals involved, there’s less processes involved. And so you can oftentimes now they’re you know, nuclear radiation is a natural thing and it’s not particularly healthy for you. So you know, results vary. But basically when we’re thinking about our homes, we can think about natural materials, natural finishes, natural furnishings, to be far more resilient, durable and beautiful. And far better for the planet when we want to go green. So hemp fabrics are incredibly resilient right? ropes 100 years ago, 200 years ago, ropes and sales for ships were all made out of hemp incredibly strong. Your original Levi’s blue jeans were made out of hemp. Napoleon went to war for hemp. And so those are products that are definitely more natural, less processing going into them then and then a cotton blue jean equivalent, for example. And you can have hemp in your building. There’s hempcrete there’s hemp plasters for example. So there are choices and variations. Thinking about just finishes. You know, when we choose between a trim for our home baseboard or a window trim a door trim. There’s different grades, you know, there’s MDF, medium density fiberboard, and those MDF are the are the most inexpensive. And that’s just their price point. But they’re kind of like glued together sawdust, right? No a lot of and they’re maybe from an environmental perspective, they’re pretty good because they’re made from all the scraps hopefully they’re not grinding up trees just to make sawdust but they’re made from the scraps of the mill industry and the manufacturing the wood engineered industry. But you know, there’s glues there’s processing, versus using maybe either paint grade or clear grade pine, most common around here, trims for Windows doors, baseboards. And so now we have something that’s far more natural and we can finish that with with or with natural oils in my own case, so we have wood trim all of our wood trim is clear pine and it’s oiled with beeswax and linseed oil is a beautiful rich honey color. Smells actually like honey when you put it on from the beeswax. It tastes delicious. Don’t eat it. It shouldn’t eat linseed oil, but we can use these to connect with nature as well, and that natural element, whether it’s biophilia and that’s being able to see nature or integrate natural approaches to our design strategies. When we use natural materials within our homes biologically we prefer it the grains in the in the wood, the texture, the color variations, it’s far more pleasing to our eyes and our brains than flat paint white, right? We like that curves, we actually the those textures those undulations in straw bale homes instead of a stick frame home or an Adobe or rammed earth or straw light clay, noise create intense feelings when you’re inside and because of the curves because of the, the variations in the in the wall surfaces and are. And we biologically prefer it because their eyes actually have difficulty with flat surfaces because they don’t exist in nature. And so trying to flat white wall or eyeballs trying to adjust to it actually causes minute stress on our brains. But when we can see texture when we can see grains and variations in color. Biologically that’s more more attractive to us more appealing to us. So the natural carries a lot of benefit. And obviously, the more natural it is, the more oftentimes more environmentally friendly, and we can go back to that bamboo, flooring. Right? Now bamboo is a rapidly growing plant remarkably strong. It’s one of the strongest plants out there’s certain varieties. And it can grow like something like inches in days, like it’s crazy fast. And like I said, very, very hard. So it’s really it’s sustainably harvested, because it grows in clumps and huge clumps, and you can cut it and then make bamboo flooring, and you’re not killing the plant, it’s just keeps growing and you keep harvesting and keeps growing and keeps harvesting. And so that’s a very natural material, very strong, very resilient, very beautiful, as amazing character to it. And so when we go back to that bamboo flooring, I would take the bamboo flooring, over a more engineered flooring or laminate or you know things with different particle boards in it, for example, that it’s definitely it might still be coming on the same boat from Asia. But given the two choices, I would pick the solid wood bamboo approach. So you know, again, we looked at that and in one’s sense, if locals really your priority, bamboo is not going to be a choice. But if natural is a priority, and you’re choosing between bamboo and a laminate, which is all just you know glued sawdust and color, photocopied paper under a vinyl topping, you’re going to go with a bamboo, right. And so depending on your criteria, it gives you things to think about for sure.
When we think about going green, energy efficiency is really important as well. We have to reduce our carbon footprint on the planet, we have to lower them carbon dioxide levels. And on the climate change, we have to we have to meet these for for ourselves and for our kids. And these can be difficult choices sometimes. But we have these realizations that energy efficiency within our home isn’t always that difficult. And honestly, depending on whether you’re a hot humid climate, a dry climate, a temperate climate or a cold climate, there’s really some simple things you can do for energy efficiency to reduce your your operational costs and your energy consumption. And that could be whether you own your home or apartment or whether you’re renting air leakage is a huge one. The more air leakage and exchange between indoors and out, the more energy loss it’s it’s pretty straightforward. And in homes, which the bulk of our built residential units are single family dwellings, you know, something like 80% in North America. hot air rises. So whether you and again doesn’t matter what climate you’re in, but a hot air rises and so the air in the building, if you have a basement or crawlspace or two floors, or even if you’re on a single floor, the air rises it’s cooler at the floor. It’s hotter at the ceiling, and the taller the building the greater this this hot air rises, there’s pressure. And so from an energy efficiency perspective, the weakest link often times is going to be your attic catch, because it’s actually an outside door because thermally on the other side is is your attic, which most of the world has unconditioned attic, which means there’s insulation up there. It’s it’s not warm, it’s not clean, it’s not airtight. And so that attic catch leaks to the outdoors. And so we want to air seal that attic catch. And the more we can air seal that attic catch, which really takes as much as some clear packing tape and a scissors and a stepstool to you know, insulated commercial grade, attic, hatch doors, all sorts of systems, but the most common ones are just using a vinyl foam gasket material, you combine your weatherization section of your hardware store for like a box cutter with scissors, it’s got double sided tape on the back. And it acts like weatherstripping like on your front door and get a couple eye hooks and a handle to close it nice and tight, you’re going to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of your house. In a cold climate and Ontario, the amount of air leakage is measured in cubic meters of air per per hour in winter, it’s a huge amount of heat loss. And the greater the temperature difference between inside note hot and cold no matter which side those go that grater that drive. And so air sealing can be a really easy thing, almost anyone to do can do. Watch a couple YouTube videos on how to caulk around your Windows, or make a really more durable and resilient air seal your hatches and, and weather stripping around those doors and windows as well makes everything tight, the more the more we can contain the vessel, the easier it is to control. And the easier it is to clean as well. From an air quality perspective. For every cubic meter of air that leaves there’s a cubic meter of air coming in and it’s dirty. So air sealing can help a lot. And you can do that on any rental as well. Now, that’s really simple stuff. Really, we recommend energy audits. And home energy audits where someone comes in a professional with a with a blower door and calculations and they can calculate and find all the energy loss points within the home. That’s a really amazing tool. And it’s a ton of fun. I actually own a blower door. I don’t do energy audits. But it was a really cool tool and I just had to have one. I actually use it for air quality for chasing odors. But energy auditors are really amazing people can really help you save tons of money. And if your provincial, federal state governments have energy efficiency rebates, those people are going to help direct you on how to actually get the best bang for your buck. So they are worth their money. So I really recommend you think about energy audit audit for your home. Water Efficiency also really important. We think about clean drinking water. And certainly, for me living in Ontario, I live in cottage country, we have water all around us and we take it for granted. But there are millions and millions of people who don’t have clean drinking water and we’re spending all this money you know, cleaning our own water and then literally flushing it flushing a toilet with a cup of tea in it. It’s insane and it’s incredibly wasteful. And so water efficiency is another really critical component. So just thinking about that thinking about conservation about you know, air aerators low flow and ultra low flow toilets, air Raiders on your shower. You know and strategies to really help can make a huge difference in going green for your home. Take a break. We’ll talk to our sponsor, and we’ll be right back.
Building Biology Institute
Your Healthy House with Stephen Collette is sponsored by the Building Biology Institute, a nonprofit educational institution dedicated to creating healthy homes, schools and workplaces free of toxic indoor air tap water pollutants and hazards posed by electromagnetic radiation. through a combination of online learning and in person seminars. We offer professional certifications including building biology, environmental consultant, electromagnetic radiation specialist and building biology new build consultant. For more information, visit our website at www.buildingbiologyinstitute.org.
So we were talking about energy and water efficiency and certainly, I could spend a whole podcast talking about you know, all the different types and concerns. I think I want to just mention that just heating is a really energy intensive thing. And most North Americans will use gas fired heating, whether that be furnaces, whether that be boilers. And the same with our hot water can be gas as well. Whether that’s for domestic just for drinking or whether you know your boiler to end. So we want to really think about the idea of, you know, burning dead dinosaurs. And the embodied energy, the carbon that we’re putting into that, you know, in the past through the 70s, it was, you know, the electrification boom, and the gas and the back and forth, and the old electric baseboards in the 70s. Like, they suck, like, they’re just terrible, they’re uncomfortable, and they burned us. And they’re not particularly efficient. But what we’re seeing now, in modern technologies, the use of heat pumps, the idea of an air source heat pump, which could be called a mini split, or, or you may also know, a ground source heat pumps, so we’re taking energy from the ground, or the air source heat pumps taking it from the air. And these are incredibly efficient units for one unit of electricity on an air source heat pump, it can make like, four units of heat, that’s incredibly efficient compared to an old electric baseboard, you know, one unit of electricity makes about point seven, five units of heat, it’s just a resistor, it’s a toaster. And so these new units are really, really efficient. And same with the air conditioning side is that they are more efficient, you know, CLP of like three, one unit of electricity makes three units of cool. And I’ll give you an example. So in our home, we did a major renovation, it’s 100 year old home, we did a major renovation six years ago. And we actually got off gas. And at the time, we, we actually put in modern electric baseboards. They’re they’re more efficient than the old ones. But they were a stopgap, mostly because we ran out of money. But heat pumps were always going to be flying. And so two years ago, we put the heat pumps in. And before that, we had a portable air conditioner up on the top floor. And the top floor has two bedrooms and a bathroom. And that portable air conditioner with our 40 in the walls and our 60 in the ceiling. Well, I had to work kind of hard. And you know, I’m monitoring my electricity costs and loads and consumption and whatnot. And, and so the air conditioner, the portable air conditioner was upstairs, keeping the the upstairs cool. When we switched to the heat pumps, the whole house was now air conditioned, instead of just the upstairs. And my electricity bill dramatically dropped. There that efficient that I could actually see the line drop from day to day with the little air conditioner versus a whole house heat pump. so incredibly efficient also takes moisture out really important when we’re talking about humidity and, and climate change. So we just want to talk about that.
Embodied energy is the next point I want to bring up in the embodied energy is the idea that there’s an amount of energy that goes into extraction or mining of material, the transportation to the to the manufacturing plant, the manufacturing process itself, the the shipping, you know, it could be around the world and on ships, boats, planes, trains, you know, to a store and the energy there and then delivered to your home and then installed that’s embodied energy is a lot of energy to make a shoe or a pair of glasses or a window or a heat pump. And so that embodied energy is baked into everything. Everything we have, has some sort of embodied energy. And that embodied energy is part of this carbon challenge that we need to reduce our carbon footprint. And one of the greatest examples is actually new buildings versus old buildings. So we think you know, the building’s old, we should knock it down and we’ll build a sparkly, shiny spangly energy efficient, you know, super greenhouse. And you can, but the embodied energy in that new building of all those brand new products and taking the old building, tearing it down and taking into landfill, there’s embodied energy and all those materials that you’re getting rid of. And it turns out, there’s some really amazing research out there, both in Great Britain and the United States. And what we’re seeing is that you could take 30-40 years to overcome and surpass all That embodied energy, where the energy, lifetime consumption of the existing house. So to the point being is that a new house has more embodied energy, even though it might be consuming less energy operationally, it’s huge. And it could take decades to get over that energy that you’ve just baked in. And that means that it’s actually cheaper in the long run, and better for the planet, to actually fix up your existing home, to make it more energy efficient to make it last for another 50 6070 years, that that takes less overall carbon, energy, embodied energy than it does to knock it down. And we should understand that because it’s really important, we’re shooting for, you know, carbon neutral by 2050, and 80% of the buildings in 2050. In 2050, I want you to imagine what that looks like. And I want you to imagine all the buildings that are out there in 2050 80% of those buildings you’re imagining are standing here today. And that means we have to take care of our existing building stock, because there’s a good chance that your house and my house is still going to be here in 2050, we’re not all going to be in sparkly, shiny, Space Age homes, we’re going to be in this home. And we need to get this home towards that carbon neutral. So wrapping your head around that we can do that we can still have architectural value and heritage value and cultural value of neighborhoods and what they look like and the beauty of old homes and we can have all that. So there’s a great opportunity and a huge market. I think, for people in the renovation business, instead of the new construction, business, new construction only makes up 1% of our building stock. Every year, it’s not much, it’s you know, it’s a huge economic driver, still, but this renovation market to get us to 2050. Huge, so you want to go green, give your kids a job, show him how to use a hammer, and a saw, that’d be amazing.
So thinking about the embodied energy, healthy, healthy plays a role because, you know, I can make a sustainable home and a green home. But if it’s killing you, because of all the chemicals you’ve put into it, that’s not healthy. So what’s good for the planet is good for you. And what’s good for you is also good for the planet. So thinking about that local thinking about that natural thinking about that embodied energy, that all plays into healthy, right, the more the less embodied energy, the more local it is, the more natural it is. We can have healthier, healthier environments, indoor environments, because we are indoor creatures. We spend 90% of our time indoors. And so we need to make sure that these indoor environments we’re upgrading our is green and healthy. And as possible. We don’t wrap our heads around 90% indoors time, but take your age and multiply it by point nine. And that’s how many years you’ve actually lived indoors. That’s a pretty crazy number when you crunch it. So making it healthy for you also makes it a healthy for the planet. So more natural materials really, really important.
Okay, I think that the culture The Heritage piece, although some may not say it’s part of going green, but I really do believe it is we need to think about the neighborhood. Right? Going Green means walking more biking more, you know, interacting locally, getting off our technology, because there’s energy involved in actually like talking over the fence to our neighbors, exchanging recipes and, and sharing friendships. We do have digital online presence, and that’s not going to go away. But to be local, and and to engage in local culture and the heritage in the values of these buildings. These neighborhoods, you can pick a neighborhood in your town that has beautiful homes, right. And I can pretty much guarantee that those homes weren’t built in the last 10 years. I can pretty much guarantee that if you’re looking at like all this neighborhood is so beautiful with the trees and the kids and the porches. That home is 50-60-100 years old. And that’s value right? And we can make homes like that for sure. But we can keep those homes keep that culture that that defines that neighborhood that defines your village your town your city, right what’s the value what what are tourists come to you to your city for what do they want to see? Do they want to see brand new homes developed No, I can guarantee they don’t do they want to stay in an old air? You know, Airbnb in an old part of town? Absolutely they do. Think about that, that’s the value. That’s, that’s the culture that that you that your background brings to it. And there’s some lovely traditions of architectural traditions, vernacular traditions, which is local traditions, to all regions in the world, and understanding those can actually help you overcome climate change as well, because you can see how they created buildings before electricity before central heat, you know, how did they stay calm, cool, and, and, and comfortable in the hot, sweltering summers, how did they stay warm in the winters, they had design strategies and really effective ones. Right and southern states, hot, humid climates, really tall rooms, with windows that opened at the top and bottom to get that air exchange and that circulation, classic technique. And it works really well. And we’ve forgotten a lot of those because they’ve been designed out as we go for the International style, the idea that well, it all has to look the same, you know, I want that, you know, two storey house to look exactly the same. And in Canada, in Ontario, and British Columbia, in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Florida. And they do, but they don’t perform the same. You know, we need to think about the heritage and the culture of the local construction history, and how we can implement that into newer designs to make them more efficient.
So this is by no means an exhaustive list of how to go green in your own life. But I hope it’s been helpful for you, give you some tools to process some things to think about some some ways to look at things in your own lives with you and your family and within the built environment that you live within and work in and exist in. And so I hope you take these tools. I hope it’s valuable. Thanks for listening, lots of free information on the website. please click the like button and share this with others. That’d be really great. Thanks again for listening. Cheers.
If you enjoy the show, please leave a review and subscribe to the podcast and you will be doing your part to help others create their own healthy homes. If you’d like to learn more about me Stephen Collette and what I do, please check out my website at your healthy house.ca music for the podcast is by Brian Pickett of Voodoo highway music. Audio technical support is by Mike Pickett. editorial support is by Eric Rosen. I’m your host, Stephen Collette. Thanks for listening and enjoy your day. Cheers.
Why are pirates so eco friendly? Because they follow the three R’s