Friday, 02 September 2011

Back yard progress; a river doesn't run through...

Something that I haven't been chatting about is the progress we are making on the last big job that is now, ah, three years overdue from the house build. We have been cleaning up and landscaping the back yard to make it a usable space again.

A few weeks ago we cleared out all the garbage and gravel and the old shed, and starting planning anew. I put two connected blue plastic barrels in the ground for future rain water collection, then we began work on a dry river bed feature that was part of our plan. Here are some pictures of our progress.

Dry river bed, "down stream."
...and "up stream."
Stone landing from the deck stairs.

PM: Well, it is actually designed to hold water, mostly, and let it drain away from the house and (hopefully) into to connected blue plastic barrels that I buried under the river bed. The landscape cloth actually is good enough that if I pour a bucket of water at the top, it drains down to the end, and you never see it trickle through the stones. (09/03/11)

Grondzilla: Noice. (09/13/11)

Grondzilla: Noice. (09/13/11)

Libby: I have always wanted to put one of these in. Maybe in Belwood, but it would rarely be dry I suspect :) (09/03/11)

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Monday, 29 August 2011

And now we are truely "Green"

After some touch and go weeks with no rain, the slight reprieve from the heat and a few weeks with some on and off rain, has done wonders for our new living roof. It was quite a thrill to go up to the top window and feel the cool breeze that came in over the roof. Quite a difference from when it was all black BPDM on a sunny day!

Without further yammering, here are some "after" pictures with life aplenty.

Front roof in excellent shape.
Flowers by the atrium.
Back roof coming along nicely...

Overall it looks pretty good. I did pick out three or four ragweed plants and there are some sparse areas on the roof, particularly the back area. That may have to do with some erosion or maybe in the case of the back, a bit too much running water off the atrium roof, but on the whole it looks good.

We should be getting a few maintenance visits back to the roof to check on it, but generally I am very pleased.

PM: The living roof was installed by a company called Nedlaw, by their Living Roof division. They are one of the few companies that grows their own material. The mix we got on the roof is the native grasses mix because we have the roof structure to support it. (09/03/11)

green roof: On the roof of home the green view is look like awesome and it make atmosphere clean and beautiful. Not only roof, all the places around home make green. Its good for environment. (11/10/11)

Libby: Who put your roof in? My friend is curious. (09/03/11)

Charleigh: Woah nelly, how about them aplpes! (06/10/13)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Pictures of the Living Roof

Not terribly green due to this being the hottest week in recent history in Toronto, but here are pictures of the roof. It is a bit unkept looking from both the install and the fact it was mowed short before it was harvested. It has had two good waterings now, and will have a few more in the next two weeks (hopefully at least one of those waterings will be due to RAIN, that would be nice). The overall install looks good, but I may see about checking the filters on the scuppers to make sure they stay clean. I might also add some stone around the stacks to make it look a bit neater. Overall, I am please, and I may be slightly biased, but it seems to be making a bit of difference already.

Living Roof, Five Days Old
View looking at the access window and the hot water solar panels.
For context, this is what the roof looked like during construction...

Janais: What liberating knowledge. Give me librety or give me death. (10/27/11)

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


As Toronto is about to start a true record breaking heat wave, today we have finally had our living roof installed! It was a one day bliz, but it is up there, native grasses, meadow flowers and all. We will have to figure out some irrigation for the next few weeks to make sure it holds on, but the installers said everything went very well. We look forward to at least a bit of heat relief in the house in the coming months and years.

I will report on the effectiveness compared to the bare roof. One thing I can say, though, is all the small cracks in the drywall where walls met ceilings in the upstairs of the house, from the ceiling joists lifting up a bit because they were not under any significant load... Those cracks are all gone. The house ain't going anywhere now!

Libby: Good to hear your house is finally complete. I want pictures on Andrew or Donna up there watering the plants :) (07/20/11)

Gypsy: That's excellent! Congrats folks! I know you've been planning long for this and it's great to see it through. Yes, please advise as to the changes it makes to the house as a whole, I'd be very interested in that. (07/20/11)

PM: I will provide some pictures a bit later this week. It may look a bit rough from a fresh install, but you can see it from the street as a slight fluffiness to the roof. It should be more pronounced as the grasses grow back (they were clipped just before they were harvested). The trick will be to ensure they get enough water in the first few weeks to allow the plants to establish, which during a heat wave is a challenge! (07/20/11)

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Friday, 01 July 2011

Garden in Good Form

I took the plunge this year and started a lot of my garden indoors. By June, this is what it looked like! Some things worked well, such as the tomatoes, while others worked not as much... such a wonderful learning experience!

I have been adding a lot of whimsy to the garden layout to make it easier to access everything. I need to work harder on setting up the strawberries better, but we can't complain about the production. We got over 14 pints of strawberries and counting. We have the following items in this year:

  • Strawberries (perennial)
  • Tomatoes, heirloom and cherry sized
  • Lettuce greens of several varieties
  • Radishes
  • Carrots
  • Garlic
  • Onions, several varieties
  • Tomatillo's (re-seeded from last year, surprisingly annoying in speed of growth and weed-like behaviour, but no worry, I will can them!)
  • Beets
  • Eggplant
  • Hungarian Black Peppers
  • Hot Thai Peppers
  • Arugula
  • Herbs: thyme, basil, dill, coriander, etc...
  • High bush blueberries, Saskatoon berries, black raspberries... and a very small red current plant

And all in a wee little patch of front yard. Obviously not a lot of any one thing.

A view of the garden in June

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Native Grasses going on da House

I know, that is horrible to type out for a blog post title, but sometimes I cannot resist. Here is a picture I grabbed with my work Blackberry of the native grasses blend that we are planning on putting on the roof.

Native Grasses mat, provided by Nedlaw

Solyn: What a neat article. I had no iknlnig. (06/10/13)

Kathreen: Holy concise data btaamn. Lol! (10/27/11)

Adelie: Now we know who the sensible one is here. Great post! (10/25/11)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Spring is growing, literally!

It is true that I have been horrible about posting (read that I haven't posted in over a year), but I have some great news.

Firstly, this season we decided to start our plants ourselves, in trays, to be ready for the planting season. This was a good thing because our regular provider for plants was a bit of a no show. If we had waited we would have had to scramble for plants. As it is, I am happy to report that we have tomatoes, a variety of lettuce greens, peas, radishes, many types of onions and huge amounts of garlic progressing nicely. We were at Richters Herb's yesterday and picked up some ground cherries, some hot peppers, and some types of eggplants. It is always fun to experiment!

Of the perennials in the garden, both the strawberries and blueberries are looking very happy. The blueberries seem to have "perked" up after we started dumping old coffee grounds and cold coffee on them to help acidify the soil in the immediate vicinity. We will see what the summer brings.

But in even bigger news, we have just finalized the company to install our green roof. Before the end of June we should have a complete cover of native Ontario grasses and wildflowers on the roof. This should help us keep cool when we get into the heat of the summer.

I will post later with some pictures of our growing progression...

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Saturday, 28 August 2010

MPAC can have it's benifits.

I have been terribly bad at posting this summer, partly because it has been so hot and busy. Here is a quick recap:

  • One of the longest and warmest summers on record in Toronto so far, means some amazing bounty out of the front garden, including over 12 pints of strawberries, service berry, elderberries, kale, salad greens, dill, tomatoes, tomatillo's, ground cherries and four surprise watermelon plants (I unfortunately picked the first melon too soon, so I hope we get the second one to fruition). This may also be the year that I get a few of my small sweet melons (crossed fingers).
  • MPAC, Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, re-assessed our house value. The surprise back tax bill from the city was fairly painful (and we still have some issues with the city on that point, but more on that another time). The good news is that we were able to use the MPAC assessment to get the bank to actually give us a bigger portion of the real value of the house. Now we can properly consolidate our debt into the house, where it belongs!
  • The hot summer was not so fun on the hottest of days in the house. With no A/C in the house all summer, we acclimatized to it and were able be ok with open windows and ceiling fans. The greatest part is when the hot weather breaks, the house cools down super fast. Getting the gas and electrical bills last week made us feel a lot better about it.

I hope to post more in the next few weeks.

Kent: Geez, I haven't tuned-in for quite a while. Completely missed the August posting. It's now November. How're things? (11/07/10)

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Monday, 19 April 2010

Couple rebuilds home and greens their life

April 19, 2010
Peter Gorrie

Imagine the shock! Four years ago, Donna Bullard and Andrew Pease hired a contractor to remove a wooden side porch from their east-end home. The work was part of extensive renovations planned for the 80-year-old frame house they’d bought in 2002.

Bullard, on maternity leave from her job as an investigative researcher for Navigant Consulting, was in the kitchen when she heard the dreaded, “You’d better come and see this.”

“This” was a rotted mess of wood and concrete at the base of the wall. Further investigation revealed extensive weakness in the entire foundation. The concrete had been poured directly against bare earth. Likely because of that and because it had been made with unclean sand, it was disintegrating.

“Literally, the house was crumbling. It was a scary moment,” says Bullard, now an RBC intelligence analyst. “You ask, ‘What do we do next?’ ”

The couple considered a new foundation, but — given the condition of the rest of the house, and the cost — they quickly realized it would be better to start over, from the ground up.

The wisdom of the decision was confirmed when a demolition crew discovered that the second storey, a later addition to the original bungalow, was barely attached to the structure.

Nine months of planning and 10 months of construction turned the apparent disaster into triumph — an attractive, light-filled, three-bedroom home about 2,000 sq. ft. in size. It’s among the city’s greenest, full of energy-saving ideas that grew out of discussions with architect Martin Liefhebber.

“We decided, if we’re going to do it, let’s do it,” Bullard says. “Let’s have a really cool house that people will look at.”

Some of the green features are beyond what most homeowners could consider. The cost of building this home was more than $500,000. But many others could be adopted.

All point the way to rethinking how we live in our homes.

After all, houses are among Canada’s biggest consumers of electricity and fossil fuels.

This article offers 10 steps to make your home more sustainable.

First, here’s what Bullard and Pease have done.

The house is heated by warm water flowing through plastic pipes embedded in concrete floors. Because the floors are bare, they heat up relatively quickly and the system doesn’t need to be on all the time, as it would be with wood or tile over the concrete.

An on-demand heater, fired by natural gas, warms the water for the floors. It needn’t be above 40C. “When the system is working well, the floor isn’t cozy warm; it’s just not cold,” says Pease, who is an IT manager at Telus.

Solar-heating panels on the roof produce domestic hot water. They heat a glycol solution in pipes that run through a tank in the basement, where the warmth is transferred to water for baths, showers and washing dishes or clothes. If the water isn’t hot enough, the on-demand heater, which operates at 97 per cent efficiency, can boost it a few degrees more.

A heat-exchanger pipe transfers 40 per cent of the warmth from shower and other washing wastewater to the fresh supply entering the tank, thereby reducing the energy required to get it hot enough for use.

High-efficiency windows have fibreglass frames, low-emitting glass and, most important, exterior awnings angled to block sunlight in summer, but allow it into the house in winter.

The house is as draft-free as possible. The exterior walls and ceiling were sprayed with 10 centimetres of soy-based closed-cell foam. Outside, under the siding, is five centimetres of rigid foam insulation.

There’s no air-conditioning. But a window at the top of the house — in a raised section of roof called a “belvedere” — vents warm air on hot days. Cool air can be piped from along the foundation into the master bedroom and 4-year-old Ashton’s room.

The belvedere contains skylights, which flood the house with natural light, but are angled and coated to reduce heat gain from the sun

The front yard is a vegetable garden. Rainwater from the roof is collected in a cistern and hand-pumped to the plants. “I’m on the five-metre diet,” Bullard jokes.

The house was constructed to support a 740-square-foot green roof. That and a backyard garden with fruit trees are likely the next projects.

The cupboards were built locally; the appliances and most lighting are high-efficiency, and the toilets are low-flush.

The home’s central space has a wood staircase and floors. That material is local; the support beams are compressed and made of glued strands of poplar, willow and other fast-growing trees.

An “Energy Detective” power-monitor informs Bullard and Pease how much electricity the house is consuming at any instant. Among the results: The pot lights, which draw a lot of power, but don’t yet have good energy-efficient replacements, are only on for special occasions. The couple put more thought into the use of the stove. And Bullard has cut the use of her hair-dryer.

Their utility bills have dropped a little, although the new house is one-third bigger than the one it replaced and prices have risen.

“We consider our home greener, not green,” Bullard says.


Energy-saving choices

  1. Seal leaks with foam tape, caulking and insulating pads that fit behind electrical outlets on exterior walls. ``It’s monotonous and tedious, but it makes a huge difference,’’ Pease says. If you open walls or ceilings, insulate and draft-proof them as much as possible. Without drafts, less heat is lost to the outside world and the house is comfortable at a lower temperature.
  2. Change light bulbs. At the Bullard-Pease home, the power-monitor reading jumps nearly 600 watts when pot lights are turned on, but LED bulbs barely register.
  3. Put awnings on south- and west-facing windows. Getting the right angle for summer shade and winter sun is easy, Pease says. Awnings are especially important in summer. ``If there’s no heat gain, there’s no heat to get rid of.’’ If you don’t mind a darker house, you can get a similar effect for free by closing window blinds or drapes on summer days and opening them when the sun shines in winter.
  4. Install a system to recover heat from wastewater. Pease says his version, which is longer than average, cost $2,000, but cuts the water-heating bill by about $800 a year.
  5. If you have a garden, recover rainwater for it. It’s better for the plants, saves you money and eases the load on water-treatment systems. A cistern and pump work well, but you can get a rain barrel from the City of Toronto.
  6. Install a power monitor. With Ontario’s new Smart Meters, monitors must be wired into the breaker panel, which requires an electrician. But the device ``makes you very aware of what uses a lot of power,’’ Bullard says. ``It reminds you to turn things off.’’
  7. Use local products as much as possible for renovations, and avoid exotic woods, which must be transported long distances and whose harvesting often causes environmental damage.
  8. If possible, switch to tankless on-demand water heating. It costs more to buy or rent, but rebates are available and it cuts natural gas or electricity consumption by about 40 per cent. Since conventional water-heating accounts for about one-quarter of a typical home’s energy use, the savings are substantial.
  9. Do as much free stuff as possible. Wear slippers and a sweater. Dry laundry on an indoor or outdoor line. Let sunlight in on winter days and keep it out in summer. Turn off lights, TVs and computers when you don’t need them.
  10. If you’re renovating, take good advice from Pease and Bullard, who spent extra on the heating system, insulation and other permanent items that would improve comfort and efficiency, but scrimped on furnishings. ``Put money into things you don’t want to change,’’ Bullard says.

Source: Peter Gorrie

Andrew Pease explains that a flash gas boiler heats water on demand and stores the heat in the tank. Seven pumps on the wall send warmed water through pipes to the floors of the house.


PM: Here is the article, as posted in the Toronto Star, this weekend. I guess the picture was too late for the paper, but it looks nice on line. I have copied it here, in full, for posterity. (04/19/10)

contractor management: Hi,This is a really good read for me on this topic,Must admit that you are one of the best blogger i ever seen.Thanks for posting this informative article. (03/24/12)

M: The Book Club ladies saw this article before I did and asked me why there were no pictures in the paper. We will never know. We look forward to new yard and garden pictures...and a green roof! (04/24/10)

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Sunday, 07 March 2010

Thinking of Spring after a Winter that never really was...

I am trying to focus on looking forward to a new growing season, and not the fact that with a winter of almost no snow, that it would have been nice if this weather had happened... like... two years ago!

Ok, enough griping.

This season is the one where we need to apply a solution to the roof. Particularly getting the green roof on the house before the real heat of summer kicks in. I am casting about for more green-roof experienced people that I can discuss the matter with. My budget is now quite limited, but we have a few big things going for us.

  1. The house was designed, from the ground up, to handle 7 inches of growing material on the roof. No re-engineering required!
  2. We already have a very high quality BPDM seal on the roof, which has been perfectly watertight since it's install.
  3. I have 740 square feet of "flat" roof surface (draining with very minimal grade) that is ready and waiting to be covered.
I need tips on some initial supplementary irrigation and sources for both root barrier and growing medium that is best suited for green roof applications where risk of erosion is minimal.

Work to do.

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