Tips from the field

A builder expert’s essentials for a green home or reno

“Green” has been a buzzword over the last few decades. We are bombarded with reality TV shows, websites, magazines and product descriptions that often give conflicting information about their green claims. For builders, sorting through these conflicting claims can be challenging. For home owners, it’s worse. It can be both confusing and discouraging.

By Roy Nandram

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What’s more, we are faced with green words and phrases that further compound this problem – words such as environmentally friendly, no- or low-VOC, renewable, eco-this and eco-that, LEED® compliant, and sustainable. Some of these terms are being misused. This is “greenwashing”: where companies are promoting the perception of being environmentally friendly by making environmental claims that are misleading and inaccurate.

Consumers must understand what a product is actually offering. Buildings, including homes, account for 30-40% of total energy consumption. The energy consumption of homes is a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.Green renovation is the integration of: comfort, energy efficiency and environmental responsibility.
Comfort – A home that offers an indoor climate which promotes good health, adequate daylight and views as well as thermal and acoustic comfort.
Energy – A home that minimizes the demand for energy through good building envelope design as well as reducing air leakage, space heating/cooling, electrical loads, and water usage [both hot and cold].
Environmental – A home which minimizes the negative impact on our land, air and water due to the way it is renovated and operated.

THE FIRST STEPS
When planning a major green renovation, start with an energy assessment [audit] of your home, which includes a blower door test. This will reveal the current EnerGuide rating of a home and include the air leakage rate. This report can help prioritize green renovations based on the most beneficial upgrades and the best payback for your budget.
We need to protect construction workers during the renovation process as well as everyone who will enjoy the home afterwards. Renovations that involve demolition work of an older home require a mandatory designated substance report [DSR]. This report may reveal any possible presence of mould, lead paint, asbestos and materials which have now been found to be detrimental to our health.

In addition to a DSR, a radon gas test should be performed. The cross-Canada survey of radon concentrations in homes found that 4.6% of homes in Ontario, for example, have high radon levels. Long-term exposure to radon can cause serious health concerns, such as lung cancer.

Roy Nandram is a LEED® Accredited Professional, President of RND Construction and a Green Builder/Renovator. You can reach him at roy@rndconstruction.ca.