Earlier this summer, Bethany’s family had a friend visit who has lived in Utah for the past decade or more. In conversation, we mentioned Active House Centennial Park and she asked what made it special. After a quick description, she showed some interest and knowledge of high performance houses and started asking about water conservation. Where she lives, the priority of being environmental IS water conservation above all else. In the many discussions we’ve had, people seem to have personal definitions or preferences of what being environmental is.

This house employs some common water saving features which gave it top marks on the Active House radar. My family is pretty good at conserving water and we used about 300 litres of water per day in our house in Dundas, yes, I checked the invoice every two months. I am waiting to see a meter reading to see how it compares here. The Active House Specification doesn’t address lawn care and this house has a lot more grass than our house. We didn’t bring our rain barrels with us, but as we’re just coming out of what felt like the hottest and driest summer ever, the rain barrels likely wouldn’t have helped much. Toronto didn’t have a water ban, but the local conservation authority was asking for people to conserve water. As a result, we ended up with super brown grass. We were split on the idea of letting the lawn go brown and saving water versus feeling guilty that we were pulling down the neighbourhood standards.

Another observation is the slow delivery of hot water. The house is equipped with low flow facets for water conservation, a tankless water heater for energy conservation and ¾” diameter water piping for water pressure conservation. But the house isn’t small. So, when you turn the hot water on in the master ensuite shower, it takes 50 seconds and 10 litres of water before the hot water arrives. We mentioned the above two observations to Great Gulf in a meeting and after the initial surprise that I had timed and measured the water being wasted, the discussion turned to exploring more resilient lawn alternatives and options to reduce fresh water usage. Living in this house is after all an experiment with the hope of improving for future houses.  And we did water the lawn a bit. Bethany moved the sprinkler around the yard when the kids were playing in it to beat the heat. So, the backyard recovered when we got some rain late summer, but may the front lawn rest in crispy brown peace!

Environment is one of the main three categories of the Active House radar along with energy and my favorite, comfort. Fresh water consumption is one of the three sub-categories in the Active House Specification. The other two are sustainable construction and environmental loads. All houses have an environmental impact, Active House aims to minimize this impact.

H+ME Technology HomeSustainable construction is straightforward to understand and focuses on the source of materials and the recycled content. Finding the documentation on the selected materials wasn’t as straightforward. For example, trying to find out the recycled content of a house by weight using the EPD (environmental product declaration) system was a chore. This is a challenge for building an environmentally conscience house that will hopefully become easier. I’m not sure how this contributed to the Active House radar score, but I was impressed by how the walls and floors were made in a nearby factory that makes wooden building panels. The main framing of the house was designed on the computer, built on an automated assembly line, put on a truck and then assembled on site within a couple days. What else is cool, is that the computer program allows them to use most of the off-cut wood, greatly reducing the waste during construction. I’d give this some points for sustainable construction if I had a say in it.

The last sub-category is the most obscure for me – environmental load, what I think could be called pollution. The Active House Specification has half a dozen considerations for emissions into the air, soil and water, which affect the environment over the life cycle of the building. I know this is important, but perhaps since I didn’t do well in chemistry, I find this one hard to understand how the impact is calculated, so it occupies less of what I think of as environmental. I should defer this topic to Bethany since she likely took courses in school that touched on this and she worked at Toronto and Region Conservation for a few years, so would therefore understand it better. Actually, she is the one that chooses our environmental cleaning and building products, is concerned about food labels and makes sure we don’t idle our cars – where I turn out lights, check energy bills and think about how to better insulate and air tighten our house. I think we make a good team and in the end, we’re trying to save the environment for our kids!

Ibbotson Family

Royal Botanical Gardens, Hamilton, ON