Q. I'm looking into doing some ecological house renovations. Any suggestions, sources, tips?
A. So many of the earth-conscious decisions we make revolve around tiny little acts. Like buying recycled toilet paper or toting a cloth bag. Easy, right? But others, like gutting your kitchen or getting a new toilet, seem a little more daunting, especially when you want your home to be an eco paradise but you're up to your Adam's apple in green housing sins.
Before we get to all the sexy design stuff, you may want to evaluate your home to figure out where you're leaking or hogging the most energy, since no amount of strawboard cabinetry can offset that kind of eco blasphemy.
Getting a Natural Resources Canada Energuide for Houses expert is a good place to start ( www.energuide.nrcan.gc.ca). Doing this before and after you renovate is actually the only way you'll be eligible for federal retrofit grants. And it's worth it. If your living quarters are over 25 years old, the program can save you about 35 per cent on energy use, and the older the house, the more you'll save. (Enbridge customers can also get a $50 rebate once everything's done.)
Rather give it a go on your own? Start by burning a stick of incense. Not to commune with the renovation gods, but to gauge where drafts are coming from. Windows can actually account for up to 25 per cent of your home's heat loss. That's a hell of a lot of money gone with the wind. Next up after weatherstripping and caulking are new Energy Star-certified windows. If doors and skylights are your problem, Energy Star certifies these, too.
Showers going cold on you? Time for a new hot water heater. You can either get a solar one that relies in part on the sun's rays to keep your water warm (from $4,000 all installed, www. freebreeze. com, 519-885-9021) or a super-efficient tankless system that heats water on demand, saving up to 50 per cent on your bill ($549 to $999, gotankless.com).
The rest of your checklist should include stuff like a high-efficiency furnace, Energy Star appliances and water-saving toilets and shower heads. Can't afford the big stuff? The city of Toronto makes it easy to buy a low-flush toilet at least, giving you a $60 or $75 rebate. It'll also give you $60 on a WaterSaver-labelled washing machine.
Now that the practical stuff is out of the way, let's talk design, shall we? - everything that makes earth-happy houses look so damn cool.
Start at the bottom with eco-sound flooring. More and more specialty flooring stores carry cork, which can be harvested without damaging the tree, and bamboo, which grows so fast it's almost a weed. Don't want to steal food from the mouths of panda bears? Silkroad in Markam carries eco-logo-certified bamboo flooring, plywood and veneers made from a type of bamboo that isn't a food source or habitat for the super-rare animals (www.silkroadflooring.com).
Skip the off-gassing vinyl flooring and get linseed, flax and pine resin-made Marmoleum for high-traffic areas (available at many flooring stores, like Reliable Floors on Dundas West).
Reclaimed wood taken from lake bottoms and riverbeds is so totally cool, but did you know you can get flooring made out of trees axed in the GTA because of storm damage, disease, safety concerns and construction projects? Urban Tree Salvage also sells lumber, slabs, blocks and some furniture (www.urbantreesalvage.com).
Beware of so-called vintage woods that are really new but made to look "distressed."
Actually, you can get all sorts of second-hand lumber, sinks, doors, windows, etc from Habitat for Humanity's Restores (www.torontohabitat.on.ca). If you're gutting your home or trashing parts of it, you can call them for free pickup and get a charitable donation receipt in exchange. Home Again Recycling Depot (416-467-4663) and J. Gizuk & Son Wrecking (416-504-5010) also offer second-hand building supplies, hardware and more.
As for cabinetry, cabinets from Gracious Living on Davenport are all formaldehyde-free (www.thegraciouslivingcentre.com). Healthiest Home and Building Supply sells strawboard cabinets made with FSC-certified wood. It also carries countertops made of recycled-glass terrazzo, Canadian granite and bamboo or FSC-certified butcher block. In fact, the store is a one-stop-shop fantasy for home renovators who dream in green. Though its only Ontario store is in Ottawa, it's coming to Toronto in the summer of 07 and will deliver in the meantime (www.thehealthiesthome.com). It even stocks Enviroshake shingles made of recycled plastics, fibers and rubber from discarded tires if you need to redo your roof. Deco-Tile on Davenport also carries post-consumer glass tiles in over 50 different shades (416-413-7985).
Can't afford any major renovations? No doubt none of this stuff comes cheap. Try tackling one project at a time. Also keep in mind that Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation offers a 10 per cent refund on its mortgage loan insurance premium for homeowners who borrow money to build or buy an energy-efficient home or renovate an existing one.
If you're shopping for a new home, keep an eye out for R-2000 or Energy Star-labelled homes. They're a whole 30 to 40 per cent more efficient than current building codes.
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