Ninth installment in an ongoing series on the green renovation of a war-time house in the Holmedale area of Brantford, Ontario. Journalist Greg McMillan of TheGreenHub.ca follows the process, from start to finish.
Today: A recap before heading into 2011
The clock is ticking and 2011 is upon us.
So now, for something completely different, the This Really Old House Goes Green project shifts gears as we prepare to bid farewell to 2010. (continued below)
Up until now, in the previous eight weeks of installments, we have chronicled how the TROHGG team was being assembled and how anyone contemplating a green renovation in The Green Hub should proceed.
We will hit the ground running in 2011, however, by announcing the addition of two new key members of the team – Flying Camel, a Brantford marketing and public relations company and Corwyn Perrin of MC Developments, who has taken on the role of home designer.
Flying Camel has a background in the home design and building products industries as well as experience in communicating green initiatives and working with sustainable organizations.
Leanne Wood Newman, in account services with Flying Camel, said she hopes to be able to bring some manufacturers on board, but also boost awareness of the project.
"We have a social media manager on staff," she said. "But we are also well connected with shelter media, design and green bloggers and we plan to use our connections to best promote the project."
She cited one project Flying Camel has already been associated with – Nexterra Green Homes in Toronto – as an example of a residential construction mandate that emphasizes "obsessive attention" to the best available in green materials and practices.
"Flying Camel has been working on green initiatives on a broader scale for our clients for the past five years," she said. "We run our business locally with a green perspective, but saw the TROHGG project as a way to get better involved in local initiatives and provide support and promotional opportunities to local sustainable businesses."
And then there is Corwyn Perrin. He will be visiting the green reno house at 87 Alexander Drive for our first installment of 2011, and then help us nail down a course of action to shift the project to the next level. That will include mapping out a green design plan, guiding us through building department applications, and working with other team members to get the construction work underway.
So, as one year comes to a close, with another right around the corner, we take a look back on the first eight weeks of the project, summarizing all that has transpired up until this point:
Week 1 / What building guidelines the project must deal with
Back in the first week of November 2010, Doug Clark, the City of Brantford's chief building official, got the ball rolling when he was asked for his assessment about guidelines that would affect the TROHGG project.
And at the time he said: "To be frank, we haven't had anything quite like this before."
In the spirit of the project, however, Clark shifted gears and agreed to give the property a quick once-over and then offered his general assessment of what the reno might be up against.
In his office at City Hall, he was able to provide information about the zoning for the house - R1B (Residential One B), which, in this case, permits uses such as single-detached dwellings, bed and breakfast establishments, day nurseries, home occupations and mini-group homes. For this project, for the house in the Holmedale area of Brantford, near the Grand River, the use will be as a single-detached dwelling.
He then talked about an online service at Brantford.ca, where a building permit form is available in PDF format.
This would have to be filled out and submitted, along with a site plan and construction drawings prepared by a qualified designer or the homeowner.
Clark did say contact with the Grand River Conservation Authority was also necessary, since the house is in an area classified as a floodplain. A GRCA spokesperson subsequently said staff there would review any plans and then could issue a permit, to go along with any building permit from the city.
Week 2 / Evaluating the existing energy efficiency of the house
With energy advisor Todd Downey of Energuy Canada Ltd. on board, a 90-minute energy assessment was conducted.
And his findings determined that by implementing all the recommended upgrades, the percentage of energy saved would be 68 per cent. As company president Chris Nyyssonen subsequently explained, after this initial pre-retrofit assessment, Energuy Canada would also take care of filling out all the appropriate paperwork and forms for exploring government grant and incentive eligibility.
Week 3 / Reuse and recycle
Next to join the TROHGG team was the Habitat Brant ReStore. Wholeheartedly embracing the project was ReStore manager Linda Moyer, a bundle of energy who felt the project fit her organization's mandate perfectly.
"At the ReStore we challenge the community to take pride not only in a job completed, but a job completed that used recycled materials and that will ultimately reduce energy consumption within the home," Moyer said.
"As a member of the Brantford Brant Chamber of Commerce for the last five years, Habitat has been actively increasing awareness of our mission to not only support the affiliate's house-building goals but also divert construction and renovation materials from the landfills, protect the environment and provide low-cost gently-used building materials to the community.
"I think the TROHGG project will not only be interesting to follow on an entertainment level, but will also give Do-It-Yourselfers a new perspective on what the ultimate outcomes of a home renovation can be."
At this point, as the project moved ahead, it was decided that the reuse/recycle theme would be adhered to whenever possible. Joined by The Belko Group, a longstanding Paris, Ontario company that has offered environmental, engineering and construction-related services, Habitat Brant ReStore will help to see that project will make every attempt to incorporate recycled, reused and salvaged materials into the green design, and only then augment that with new materials.
In the spirit of the project, TheGreenHub.ca agreed to donate any monies received through government grants, which could total in the $7,000 range, if all energy efficient upgrades were approved and installed. Plus, all existing materials from the house that are not used in the renovation would be donated back to the ReStore for resale.
Week 4 / A green landscaping makeover
Jamie Carman's eyes lit up the moment he got his first look at the property. Let's just say he was overcome with inspiration.
"This was a typical war-time house and had seen its best days many years ago," said Carman, president of operations for Silent Impressions Landscaping. "It was lacking some of the luster it once had.
"It really fits into what our company is trying to promote with environmentally-sound techniques and products that push the envelope to make the immediate environment a safer, cleaner place to live, but also preserving our Earth for future generations."
He was quick to provide an overview of his vision for the green makeover.
Here are some of his initial musings:
"Simple ideas, such as adding flower beds to the front of the house were the first things that came to mind;
In the backyard, I realized that this house had been neglected for many years and was in need of an overhaul;
Patios, gardens and trees were my next thought … not to mention that the deck was like being in a prison and had no view of the backyard;
The side entrance to the backyard was very cramped and really not inviting to people who would want to come into the backyard. It will have to be changed to become more inviting and easier to use;
I did find somewhat of a dinosaur in the backyard that really got me excited because we just do not see it in the city any more – an old-fashioned clothesline. The clothesline is something that I have wanted to incorporate for many years now, but have never been able to make it work due to homeowner concerns. Now that I have that opportunity, it will be staying in the project.
Artificial grass is an option, and is something that the people of Nevada are being paid to put down for lawns because it is reducing the water that is used in that state. Artificial grass will reduce the need for a lawnmower, taking that polluting monster out of service, and it also eliminates pesticides and watering from the equation;
Where water is concerned, we harvest water to go into whatever water features we build. At the very least we can place water barrels at the ends of each eaves trough, collecting all the water from the roof when it rains. Then that water could be used to water all the gardens around the house."
He went on to say that if a solar panel element was incorporated into the reno, it would be possible to have landscape lighting and pond pumps run off that green power.
He also pointed out specific, dramatic features his company intends to use to replace the existing landscaping. He envisions creating a beckoning side entrance to the backyard, removing some older concrete stairs to enable a 'welcoming' feel to the redesign. He also wants to relocate a young maple tree that the previous owner planted in the middle of the grass in the backyard and wants to remove any chain-link fencing, and continue the higher wood fencing motif so that the entire backyard is more private and inclusive. He also is willing to look into the creation of a natural pool, one that does not use chlorine, salt or other chemicals.
Not only that, but, true to his company slogan – Expanding Your Outdoor Livingroom – he would like to see some sort of stairway leading from the house down into the back garden, where an outside ground-level patio in front of a pond area could serve as the green reno's pièce de résistance.
Week 5 / Meet the TROHGGers
With apologies to Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro, we invited you to Meet the TROHGGers.
Myself included, we are a family – not to be confused with the cinematic Fockers – that finds itself smack dab in the middle of the This Really Old House Goes Green reno.
And it's a topsy-turvy time for my wife, Yani, daughter Alaina and stepson Bryan. At first glance, it might seem that a project such as this should be an exciting time for all of us as we chronicle, week by week, the goings-on and developments inherent in such a home renovation endeavour.
And exciting it is, admittedly.
But the overall scope of this undertaking takes on a new light, considering we have a decidedly non-traditional blended family dynamic to factor into the mix.
Yani has only been living in Canada for two years; Bryan since last June. They immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Spanish is their first language. English continues to be a work in progress. So for them, understanding the TROHGG project is another challenge tossed on top of their adaptation to Canadian life and culture.
Alaina is not exactly in the same boat, but she's close. Spanish, too, is her first language, and she also was born in the Dominican Republic and learned English there. But she arrived in Canada in 2005, and has been more or less assimilated to the goings-on here, having attended Lansdowne-Costain public school in Brantford for five years.
At this time it was decided that, for the duration of the project, Bryan and Alaina, along with Adam Hislop of TheGreenHub.ca, would produce an ongoing video blog with their own unique, youthful take on a variety of green topics.
Week 6 / Technical help arrives
We introduced TROHGG followers to Dara Bowser of Bowser Technical Inc., who joined the team as a key technical advisor.
Back in 2004, he performed a massive "sustainable" renovation on his house in Brantford's Henderson Survey when he was looking for a way to combine his office and home spaces.
Bowser factored in sustainability, however there were other considerations including transportation and resource efficiency.
Week 7 / The incredible transformation of Dara Bowser's house
After taking a cursory look at Bowser's personal reno, we found there were so many sustainable elements incorporated into his project that a more detailed breakdown seemed necessary. In painstaking detail, Bowser examined key features under categories including recycling, landscaping, building construction, electrical, water conservation, HVAC, life/work, infrastructure and community.
Bowser agreed to take that same expertise and attention to detail with him when he evaluates the house at 87 Alexander Drive.
Week 8 / The planning process for a green renovation
Bowser makes his first visit to the house on Alexander Drive and offers general observations plus tips about embarking on a green renovation.
He said it is imperative to have a plan of attack in place right from the outset.
"Planning is a variable process that can involve simply research into options that should be considered," Bowser said. "It really helps to be organized about collecting this information. Research done ahead of time means less guess work when a decision has to be made."
That means, in a perfect world, any homeowner should be aware of the meaningful steps that are advisable when undertaking a reno. With the TROHGG project, by necessity, some of the recommended planning process has had to be circumvented.
That does not mean there will not be attention to the key details; it just indicates that a variation of the tried and true methods must be utilized in this case.
In short order, under Bowser's guidance, a surveyor – John Muir of MacAulay, White & Muir Ltd. – and home designer Corwyn Perrin were enlisted. They will both be getting their feet wet during the next few weeks.
Despite the unorthodox approach, the TROHGG team continues to press on.