Tag Archives: energy efficiency

Affordable, Sustainable Homes: Eco-Sense and the Future of Green Building

Here is link to the Cascadia report on Eco-Sense.  One year Research Project funded by a grant from Vancity and the Real Estate Foundation.  Gord and Ann have over 425 hours into this…250 of which was volunteer…we missed our summer.

Affordable, Sustainable Homes: Eco-Sense and the Future of Green Building  (Written for the public.)

Also a link to the Technical Report  which served as the basis for the Cascadia report.  Written by Gord Baird, Christina Goodvin of Goodvin Desgins, and Ann Baird.  Lots of graphs, tables, and building science analysis for the earthen walls in four seasons (temperature, humidity, dew point),  full technical analysis of sustainable energy systems (solar PV, Solar Thermal, wood gassification), full policy report, full water analysis (grey water, rain water harvesting, composting toilets, water balance tables, and more).

See research page on blog  for all the individual reports (water, solar PV, building code, wall performance, and energy comparison reports)

Energized, over carbonated and gassy?

Sounds painful… like something should be cut out of our diet?

Energy Diet Challenge

Today we look forward to a countrywide challenge, a diet of sorts.  A diet that even Ann and I feel the need to participate in.  Lets challenge your imagination… picture Gord, using some electrical extension cords to act as suspenders to hold up his pants over his fictional CO2 beer belly, or better yet, one of those same electrical cords used as a belt cutting into Ann’s carbon bulging belly (no laughing…. Just consider this a mental exercise).  Over the next three months Ann and I will be helping six families across Canada try to slim their energy and water consumption and trying to cut down their carbon footprint in the Canadian Geographic and Shell Canada Energy Diet Challenge.

Eco-Sense as Mentors

As mentors, for these six families, we will be guest blogging on the Canadian Geographic Energy Diet Website; (http://energydiet.canadiangeographic.ca/home/landing ).  In addition we’ll be sharing technical “how to” and “why”, and we’ll participate alongside these families by trying to cut our own carbon bulge.   If you would like to follow our Eco-Sense Canadian Geographic blog, vote for the families, participate in the dialogue, share your stories, learn some technical how to, or even go on your own personal energy diet, this adventure is for you.  The challenge will also be covered in the print version of Canadian Geographic with a feature on Eco-Sense in the October 2011 issue.

When it comes to transportation, we still have a BIG footprint.  For us this means going multimodal (multiple combined methods of transport for one trip).  Gord has taken on the task of teaching the kids and himself how to get around on transit… seems it is easier for the 11 and 13 year old than for Dad.  The first lesson Gord learned… was he needed to get an updated eye prescription as he jumped on the #14 only to realize that his blurred 42 year old eyes placed him upon the #4 going the wrong direction.

As he headed off to his optometrist appointment one week later, to get drops in his  eyes, and using transit once again, he walked into the office, only to have receptionist say “You have to go home right away.  Your neighbour’s house is on fire!”.  So as Gord spun around and walked out of the office he looked towards the west and 17 kms away was a horrible black smoke trailing through the sky.  His first thought, “Ahh Shit!    Then a second thought, “what’s is the fastest bus home?”.  Total travel time from leaving the home in the morning, driving to the park-n-ride, catching the bus in, and returning home… a total time of 70 minutes… quicker than if he had brought the car into town and found parking.

Sadly, the neighbour’s cedar house was lost, but thankfully all safely escaped.   The hot embers that landed around the neighbourhood were either put out or did not ignite, and we are so lucky the whole tinder dry forest did not ignite.  It was very frightening, however there was some comfort in knowing that our earthen home is not flammable.  A fire and a scare really puts into perspective what’s important, our lives, our pets, and the beauty of our shared land…fire (or climate change) doesn’t stop at fences.

So, what else has Gord learned in this effort to become more responsible in his fossil fuel indulgence… he’s become increasingly aware of parenting!  It really was time for the kids to be learning more independence.  Having them taking on responsibility for their own mobility is part of preparing them for the future we envision.  Most agree that energy use and transportation will be very different in the kids’ future, so it only makes sense to raise our kids in this reality.  Gord must admit that he also appreciates not having to spend the time sitting in a car doing this most mundane of tasks.  With our goal of reducing our energy footprint and striving to have more time to spend doing things that are important… dropping the kids off at the bus achieves this in spades.

For the kids… well they quite enjoyed the transition as it means they are no longer a captive audience in the ride to and from school and don’t have to listen to dad’s rants and lectures about the future.

Affordable, Sustainable Homes: Eco-Sense and The Future of Green building

Quite separate from the Energy Diet Challenge, but tied directly to energy usage, we have just finished 18 months of research on the home, a year of data logging, 3 months of procrastination of how to digest the 721,000 data points, and 3 months of analyzing and writing several reports; we have real data of our energy footprint.  Part of this research focused strictly on the cob walls, and their functioning (moisture and thermal properties), and the rest was tied to the energy use of the house.  Obviously the house is one big interconnected system so the trick was to separate the pepper from the flyshit and see what energy was used for what purpose.  No easy task.

Of interest was the variable of solar insolation, (the energy provided by the sunshine); the research period from June 2010 to June 2011 served us a year of cloud.  Using data acquired from 3 UVic weather stations surrounding us, we found this period to have the equivalent of 2 months short of sunshine.  This equates to 15% less solar gain, and a 14% increase in the number of Heating Degree Days… and consequently more energy used for heating the home than in an average year.


A comparison of our energy usage can be found on our wordpress blog at https://ecosenseliving.wordpress.com/research/.  The full science report can also be found there.  We would also like to extend a big THANKYOU to Christina Goodvin for all of her amazing help to Gord in setting up the research, analyzing the data, and report writing.  Gord and Christina were truly amazing in their dedication to this project.  Cascadia has used this science report to write the summary report just completed today.  Affordable, Sustainable Homes: Eco-Sense and The Future of Green building.  Link coming later this week!  Thanks to Vancity and the Real Estate Foundation for funding this research and of course our research partner Cascadia Green Building Council.

As we look at energy and we look at learning the new language, we have had to learn how to conceptually picture what different units of energy look like.  Imagine what a Kilowatt looks like.  No, not on your hydro bill… go a little deeper.  Imagine a calorie, a BTU, a joule.  Energy units can be very abstract and confusing.

Its easy to picture a litre of gas, and to understand how far it gets you in your car or scooter; But what’s a kilowatt (kW)?  Think of food or a daily dietary intake of 2500 calories… the energy to power our bodies for a day.  Now lets compare the food for our bodies to a single litre of gas and the total household energy use for the average BC person per day.

2500 calories is about 3 kWhrs

One litre of gas is about 9 kWhrs

The average person in a house in BC uses 35 kWhrs of energy per day (and this does not include our transportation…or the transportation of everything we buy…or the energy to make everything we buy)

At Eco-Sense the energy used per person per day in our home is 16.5 kWhrs.  This energy comes from wood used to heat the home, Solar Thermal to heat the hot water, Solar PV  for electricity, and propane for cooking.  We consume half the total energy of the average resident, and much of our energy is from renewable energy.

But we can do better, especially when it comes to transportation… and have some laughs doing it even if they are at Gord’s expense…which is why we are now drinking a low carbon footprint local beer…made right here.  It’s covertly known as CSIS…Carbon Sequestering Imperial Stout.   Problem is that we now need to conserve energy, water, and BEER.  All this done to tighten up our energy bulge and make lifestyle changes that will last…for generations to come.

And what about the energized, over carbonated, and gassy feeling?  We’ll see at the end of three months if Gord is feeling better.

January 2011 Eco-Sense Update

We’ve been saving up our words and this month we have two updates…the first is a very newsy update with short snippets and photos of what is going on here at Eco-Sense.  The second update is probably our longest and most thoughtfully assembled group of words describing what Wisdom means to us…this is a compilation of our deeper thinking on the world and how humans are fitting in.  We use our thoughts on Wisdom to explore what Less Life Stuff, More Life Style is really about and how we personally are getting there.

So here goes with the newsy bits…

Simplifying: In order to keep on track with living what we call a reasonable life with Less life Stuff, More life Style, we have both decided to pull back a bit on our outside commitments.  We have so much passion and energy that we get ahead of ourselves sometimes and get way too busy…hence burn out.  The first sign was that a couple months back our car insurance expired…and we didn’t notice for well over a month.  Oops!  The second sign was a trip to ECO-therapy to help us keep our lives on track.

Our paddle Honeymoon May 2005

The good news is that we are still very much in LOVE, and have excellent communication skills…we just need to make sure we get our downtime to recharge our batteries.  Gord has said that our life has kind of been like that of a drug addict where every time something great happens in our world we are excited and up…and then we crash…until the next fix.  So, Gord and I are learning to say No, and to tune out just a bit from the constant bombardment of negative news…you know, floods, fires, droughts, famine, collapsing eco-systems, greed, apathy, ignorance, dying oceans, melting glaciers…you know all that minor stuff the mainstream culture seems to be ignoring.  So here’s to a new year focusing on our success, spending time together, enjoying nature, and living our simple and rewarding life.

Greenhouse: As part of our own projects we are building an earth sheltered GreenHouse.  This will enable even more of our own food production.  It will even be tall enough for a lemon tree and have space to grow some tea plants.  Gord is really enjoying the project.  It is sure to be very beautiful and functional with the built in cob seating and cob oven on the North wall facing our house.  We will post photos as it evolves.

Wall Temp during sunny sub zero weather


House performance: In one word WOW…and we have the data to prove it.  All those sensors in the cob walls are telling a story.  This is a story about how R-value (insulation) and Thermal mass (heat storage capacity) are related and how they work together under different conditions.  Check out these graphs.  Our mass walls are also coming in at R24.

Policy: As many of you know we have become quite the policy nerds.  Last year we wrote a full report on the  barriers/policy ideas for our experiences building out home.  This full report can be found here.  As part of the research on our home funded by Vancity and the Real Estate Foundation, Cascadia is in the process of writing a full case study on the home including the barriers.  All the research, tours, publicity, and recent Living Building Challenge Petal award has resulted in yet another high level policy tour here at Eco-Sense organized by our MLA John Horgan.  John arranged to have the new provincial Minister of State for Building Code Renewal, Naomi Yamamoto and her Assistant Raechelle Williams tour our home to learn about our experiences building the “World’s Greenest Modern House”.  See this link to read our thoughts after this meeting.

John Horgan (MLA), Gord, Ann, Minister Yamamoto

This was not the only higher level Government attention that we received in the week before Christmas.  See this link for a very nice letter we received from MLA John Yap, Minister of State for Climate Action.

John Horgan:  John has been very supportive of our work here at Eco-Sense over the years right from his first tour in 2008 before our home was finished.  This tour inspired him so much that he actually got up in the legislative Assemble to discuss our home.  Here is the Hansard minutes from April 10, 2008 with his speech. http://www.islandnet.com/~anngord/downloads/legislative-report-april10-08.pdf

This visit was the first of many over the following years.  We always found John very knowledgeable, practical, approachable, and highly principled.  John recently attended our big party to celebrate the announcement of our Living Building Challenge award, and has really gone to bat for us with bringing awareness to some of the barriers we have faced with building and living sustainably especially when it comes to energy policy.  John gets it and has an excellent grasp on current reality and the challenges faced and the steps required to move forward in this rapidly changing world.

Our Two Eco-Cents…we support John Horgan for leader of the NDP and for the next premier of the province.  We are generally non-partisan and vote for people not parties.  If you are so inclined to join the NDP to vote for John Horgan as the parties new leader, you must be 12 or older, and pay $10.  You’ve only got one week…to join!  Talk about making your vote count.   We sincerely hope that John Horgan can shape the politics of this province so that EVERYONE (Green, NDP, and liberal views) can work together to focus on the issues and not the politics.

BCSEA Webinar: Also in Dec…the same week everything else seemed to happen around here, we put on a webinar organized by the BCSEA to do a virtual tour of our home to 200 registered participants across BC.  It was a lot of fun as we breezed through over 100 photos of our life and our home telling our story, bantering back and forth, discussing policy, showing energy graphs, etc.  We then took questions for about 20 minutes.  This link on the www.BCSEA.org site allows you to download the slides for the presentation with audio coming sometime in the future.

HSTF, WCS, SSAC, ICSP. Ok, the acronyms are starting to be completely unsustainable in my mind.  Ann served a one year term (2009) on the Highlands Sustainability Task Force  (HSTF).  This full report containing all 42 recommendations is on the Highlands website at http://www.highlands.bc.ca/planning/documents/SustainabilityTaskForce_FinalReport.pdf.  The District of Highlands has brought the Whistler Centre for Sustainability (WCS) on board to help with implementation of these recommendations.  So another committee, the Strategic Sustainability Advisory Committee (SSAC) has been formed to guide the WCS in creating the  Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP).  Sounds complicated, but it really is a fascinated process as we navigate through the recommendations and create the tools to actually implement the recommendations within a municipal context.  By mid 2011 it is hoped that the OCP will be updated and the Highlands municipality will have a long term community plan to move our community forward.  For me it is very exciting to think that our Eco-Sense ideas of Flush Toilet Ready, Net Zero Zones, carbon offset payment for new construction, energy and water conservation/incentive programs, and no net increase policies for energy and water could be policy or even written into the OCP…and these are only 4 of the 42 recommendations being implemented.

Mary Lake: The Highlands is definitely leading the way with many aspects of sustainability…including that fact that over 39% of our land base is park.  And for those who have not heard the news, a group of passionate volunteers from our small community are working their butts off to create another park, 107 acres around Mary Lake.  www.saveMaryLake.com

Mary Lake

This land consists of mature low lying Douglas Fir ecosystem, with wetlands, two creeks, and a lake.  The Save Mary Lake volunteer group launched a social media campaign headed up by Bob McMinn (86) who has been absolutely relentless in keeping our dreams alive.

Bob, our inspirational leader

This land is an essential nature corridor that connects Thetis Lake park to the Gowlland Range.  Please check out this video of Bob to fully experience the importance of this land for everyone.   http://www.savemarylake.com/contest/

Bob hiking Gowlland Range at 86 years old

Imagine being able to hike right from Victoria to the Gowlland range…ocean to ocean on beautiful trails.  Mary Lake is the missing link.  You can help for just $10 on the interactive map and pick your own personal square meter to save and dedicate.

Spell the word FROG in a wetland with your square meters

Save square meters to spell the word LOVE

The campaign is very unique and fun…Our family is creating a family tree where we have all saved square meters on one old growth tree…right near a very old log cabin that it is rumoured that Emily Carr stayed.  The campaign to save Mary Lake has just got a lot more interesting too…with the launch of a contest called “The Power of Many” to win up to $10K by creating your own utube video to convince people in your life to help save this amazing land.  All donations will also receive a tax receipt from the registered charity with my signature as I am the treasurer doing my little part behind the scenes.  I would personally like to thank the others on the front lines (the BRAINS) of this project; Bob, Greg, Neville, Pattie, Rod, Koi Neah, Dustin, Libby, Eric, Ellie, Rob, and many others….especially the visionary group on the Highlands Stewardship Foundation board who pulled out the Scotch after our last meeting.  I don’t think Gord wrote that into the minutes.   Here is an awesome link to some photos and slide show (of the lake…not us drinking Scotch)…enjoy!

So, there you have it..a VERY quick update to see what’s happening in Eco-Sense land.

Hugs from Ann and Gord

Unacceptably Sick Environmental Destruction (USED)

The tides have turned as we approach the strongest predicted hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico. And with 5000 barrels a day spewing into the ocean with no end in site, it’s sure to be a sickening environmental catastrophe as we helplessly document all the damage to ecosystems and human lives.

We all wag our angry fingers of judgement at BP, the offshore oil drilling regulations, the US government, and even the chemical companies raking in the profits from the toxic chemical dispersants.

So while we are all busy pointing and blaming lets considers that this 5000 gallons per day is only accounting for 2 minutes (yes 120 seconds) of oil consumption in the state of Texas.

As we ponder the magnitude of our planets total oil consumption that finger pointing is shifting from outward… to inward.  The GAS shift (Give-A-Shit shift) is finally happening.  Regular people are hitting the wall of realization that we are the primary cause of this…WE are the the consumer of all this oil.

It is no longer acceptable to waste energy.  Big vehicles, flaunting excess, and luxury homes are now being viewed with distain by many and the fingers are starting to point at each other.

Anyone who now chooses to hop on a plane for their “deserved” vacation after witnessing this catastrophe is now the subject of finger pointing.  We have all been ignorant of the hidden consequences of our actions in the past and we have to accept that, but seeing what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico now, there is absolutely no excuse for selfish indulgence at the expense of everything else.

With this “Oh Shit” moment also comes the power.  The power to not waste, the power to vacation locally, the power to eat local food, the power to help create stronger communities, the power to help others make the GAS Shift, the power to force our governments to shift to sustainable energy, the power to live better.

Do you feel Powerful or USED?

Highlands Sustainability Task Force Report

Highlands Sustainability Task Force

42 recommendations submitted to Highlands council.  Read section on green building for policy on “Flush toilet ready” and “net zero zones”.  Lots of great stuff in this report.