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Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

5 easy ways to model your home after one of the greenest on earth

It’s no secret extensive time, research and resources went into building ” The Confluence” — a home west of Cochrane, Alberta aiming to achieve the world’s highest standard in sustainable building.

In partnership with the Molenaar family and homebuilder  Woodpecker European Timber Framing, SAIT’s Green Building Technologies team supported construction of the sustainable dwelling, which also has a positive impact on the health of its occupants.

A home that’s good for you and the environment? Who doesn’t want that?

The good news is you can emulate some aspects of “The Confluence.”

Here are some easy, affordable ways to transform your space for the better from EcoCanada’s 2020 EcoImpact Top Environmental Professional and SAIT’s principal investigator on “The Confluence,” Tracey Chala.

1. Breathe cleaner air

Did you know Canadians spend more than 90% of their time indoors? This may not come as a surprise —chances are you’ve spent a lot of time at home these past 18 months.

Breathe easy (literally) by taking measures to improve the indoor air quality of your home.

How “The Confluence” did it:

The ingredients in every product used on the project were identified and vetted against a list of toxic chemicals to ensure non-harmful products were installed in the home. Indoor air quality (including levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NO x), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter) will be monitored for a year to show the impact of avoiding harmful ingredients such as benzene, naphthalene and formaldehyde.

How you can do it:

VOCs are chemicals that off-gas toxins into the air and can lead to short and long-term health issues. If you’re building or renovating, select building products (such as paints, sealants and adhesives) that are labelled as containing low or no VOCs. Look for non-toxic cleaning products with a third-party environmental certification. And here’s an easy one — place floor mats at all exterior entrances and take off your shoes inside. You’ll reduce the debris and contaminants tracked indoors.

2. Choose “dark sky” outdoor lighting

If you’ve never given much thought to your outdoor nighttime lighting situation, now’s a great time.

“If bulbs are too bright or light fixtures point up and out, the artificial light could adversely affect local animals’ reproduction, nourishment, migration patterns, sleep and protection from predators,” says Chala.

“It’s best to choose fixtures that minimize excessive brightness, shine light only on areas that need it and don’t contribute to light pollution.”

In just a few easy steps, you can save the local ecosystem from the negative impacts of light pollution — while improving your view of the stars and northern lights.

How “The Confluence” did it:

Outdoor lighting fixtures were installed beneath the home’s roof overhang to prevent light from illuminating the sky. The fixtures use low-lumen, warm-coloured bulbs and the family only uses outdoor lighting when needed.

How you can do it:

Look for third-party verified labels on light fixtures (such as “IDA Approved — Dark Sky Friendly”), or choose fixtures that only shine down. Install fixtures under overhangs where possible and select warm-coloured bulbs (below 3000 Kelvins) that have low lumens.

3. Bring the outdoors in

Incorporating nature into the design of your home not only looks good — it feels good and it’s good for you.

“Biophilic design integrates architectural elements that focus on forming a stronger connection to nature,” says Chala. “This approach has been shown to reduce stress, improve cognitive function and creativity, and even expedite healing.”

How “The Confluence” did it:

The house design included many natural materials and features emulating nature. Examples include exposed, rhythmic beams that show the patina of sap drips, shower tiles with a texture that mimics sand dunes, a peaked window resembling a mountain top and light sconces that radiate shadows across the ceiling much like sun rays.

How you can do it:

Enrich your décor while deepening your connection with the world around you:

  • Use wallpaper featuring natural elements, such as leaves, mountains or clouds.
  • Install a pebble shower floor or river stone bath mat.
  • Look for live edge furniture or countertops, where the natural edge of the wood is incorporated into the design of the piece.

4. Use salvaged materials

Whether renovating or furniture shopping, make second-hand products your first choice. The environment — and your wallet — will thank you.

“Incorporating salvaged, surplus or used products into your home saves landfill space, reduces the need for raw materials and costs a fraction of the price of a new product,” says Chala. “It also brings character and originality into your home.”

How “The Confluence” did it:

The homeowners incorporated over 50 salvaged products into their design. They obtained fir doors from a condo renovation, an entire kitchen from a showroom display, lighting from Habitat for Humanity and a shower head from Home Reno Heaven, to name a few.

How you can do it:

Check out your online classifieds, local thrift stores and garage sales for great deals on used products.

5. Help manage the internal temperature

An effective way to reduce your environmental footprint is to reduce your use of heating and air conditioning.

Depending on the geography, structure and layout of your home, this may be trickier to accomplish. But there are some ways to help keep your home naturally cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.

How “The Confluence” did it:

The home was designed to maximize passive solar energy, with most windows facing south, a few facing east and west, and none facing north. The high-performance walls are about 9” thick with triple pane windows, providing superior insulating properties year-round.

How you can do it:

Change out old door sweeps and weather stripping on exterior doors and close curtains and blinds at the hottest and coldest times of day. Plant deciduous trees on the south side of your home to provide cool shade in the summer and warm sunshine in the winter. If you’re new to gardening, be sure to check out tips and tricks for creating an eco-friendly outdoor space.  

Ready to go green?

Chala and the entire GBT team are eager to research and create innovative projects that support building a greener world.  Learn more about what they do, follow them on  Twitter and  get connected.

Be sure to check out ” The Confluence”  for the ultimate enviro-inspo.

Adrienne Madden

Adrienne Madden

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