Thursday, 29 December 2011

Do CFL bulbs make sense in Vancouver?

A CMHC study identifies that although CFL bulbs do reduce the electrical energy needed for space lighting by up to 68%, in a predominately heated region these savings are offset by an increase in space heating loads as the interior of the home is no longer being partially 'heated' by the traditional 'inefficient' light bulbs.  In Vancouver, this increased heating load clawed back much of the savings and only resulted in a overall energy savings of $10-12/year (based on 2008 energy costs).

A further consideration before switching is looking at what provides the heating energy in the home.  For those of us concerned about the environment and the planet's ability to survive the onslaught that we humans throw at it, does it make sense to replace an electrical heating source ('inefficient' light bulbs) operating at 100% efficiency with a gas heating source operating between 50% to 90% overall efficiency (depending on age of gas appliance) and at the same time belching out all that carbon compared to our relatively clean electrical supply we enjoy in BC?

I welcome your comments.

Friday, 23 December 2011

School is Over!

Here is the next installment of how I came around to wanting to build and live sustainably.

High School is now but a distant memory and I never need to learn again, right?  Now what?

Well, I had trained to be a carpenter, so let’s get going.  I came to an agreement with a Journeyman working on a dwelling a few doors down from where I was living in Richmond.  I just needed to sign the apprenticeship papers.  I had been working for this fellow for a few weeks as a labourer to get a feel for the ‘real world’.  On one particular day, I had spent many hours prying out 2”x12” Floor joists installed at 12” centres with a nail gun (they had been set at the wrong spacing and elevation - but not by me). That evening, I ended up in the hospital with a set of pulled back muscles, interrupting a Christmas get-together with my uncle’s family in Abbotsford.  I took the opportunity to re-analyze my career path.  My family members generally had a history of bad backs and I soon realized a life in construction was probably not a prudent course for me.  Looking back, with hindsight, this was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made, as I avoided the downturns of the construction sector throughout the 80’s and 90’s and saved my body for the project I plan today - 25+ years later.

So after a few part time jobs I landed up in a spot I would have never guessed.  I landed a desk job as a professional purchaser for a chemical engineering firm with plants all over the world.  I generally worked in a two man department responsible for sourcing and supplying spare parts and replacement equipment for our 60 plus clients at locations throughout the planet.  This was a good fit for me as I was given a LOT of autonomy and wore many hats.  I became known as the “efficiency natzi” during my 19 year career there because I was always looking at ways to make the processes more efficient.

The frustration I had for inefficient processes raised its head one day when I was asked to take over the logistics on a project that was almost completed and ready to start up.  Those in the business will know that this is when the most activity takes place and ALL shipments are RUSH shipments.  My frustration with a spreadsheet based shipping and logistics system reached a climax one day and I proceeded to become self taught in Microsoft Access data base design (I thought the learning part of my life was over – I already know everything - right?)  I created a program that took a process that previously took hours to prepare the data and close to an hour to just generate the print job, to a process that just required ongoing updates to the order data and then the press of a button when it came time to print the packing lists.  15 minutes later, the 100 or so page packing list was ready at the printer.  Not wanting to stop there, I then pressed to expand this system to include purchase order and requisition generation and was able to reduce information previously entered 3 times into different systems into only 1, saving hours of work and reducing errors.

It was while working at this company that I started to think about the bigger picture.  I saw the destruction that many of our clients were causing to the environment and to the residents living near their chemical plants.  And while many of the products designed by the company I was working for greatly reduced the impact of our client’s plants (we had a division that did nothing else besides producing processes and equipment that reduced the amount of nasties discarded by a plant), I still was developing guilt for what ‘we’, as a company, were part of.

It was also during this period at the beginning of the 21st century that I also started to make personal changes to how I impacted the planet.  At work and at home, I switched to a generally paperless system.  I started scanning all inbound paper so that it could be stored and retrieved efficiently in an electronic format (why continue buying filing cabinets).  I moved away from faxes and snail mail and now emailed most documents to all my vendors and clients.  The volume of paper printed by me had dropped by many factors and I was now able to retrieve information in a much more efficient format allowing me to handle larger volumes of work (sounding a lot like my high school projects).

I was now determined that no matter how small my contributions were, I was going to start making a difference!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Living Life in Vancity

A shout-out to a colleague (Alexis Morgan) who is also documenting his personal journey through renovating an older home in the East side of Vancouver into a modern and efficient structure to serve his family for decades to come.

Check it out at

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Blog Posting Frequency

First of all - thank you very much!  I only initiated this blog yesterday and I have already had 42 hits.  Many have emailed me and wished me well on my journey.  Thank you - this will encourage me and in a sense make me accountable which should help me keep on track.

Like a good heating system, I will regulate my postings so that I provide a steady even flow.  I plan to at first publish monthly and then more frequently as I progress on this project.  I encourage you to take advantage of Google's tools and either sign up for updates by email, set up a feed (bottom left of screen), or become a follower.  All the methods will let you know when a new posting is available so that you do not have to waste time checking back.

I also have turned on the comments so they are available to everyone and not just those with a Google account (thanks to the reader who advised me to make this change).

Now time to sit back and enjoy the ride!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Beginning – well almost!

I was born in the City of Richmond in Feb of 1967.  For the first two years of my life …. Just kidding, we will not go that far back!

I grew up in the 1970’s & 80’s in a small farming community on the east side of Richmond, BC.   Blueberry fields and horse stables surrounded me. 

There were few (none) influences in my neighbourhood that could be identified with the idea of living in a way that reduced ones impact on this planet.  I shudder today at many of the activities of my youth (like many of the neighbours, I disposed used automotive oil down various holes on the property and burned plastic & tires to get yearly rubbish fires going).  I was surrounded by farmers that sprayed chemicals on their fields to ‘cure’ whatever was ailing them.  The spray plane diving beneath the power lines each spring was always an event to be watched.  I also treated most items in my youth as disposable instead of looking after them to make them last.

However, the property I lived on did have a focus on nature and surroundings that encouraged nature (we were not farmers and had 2 acres of which one was undeveloped birch threes and the other was vegetable and flower gardens with waterfalls and a fish pool).  Without realizing it at the time, I was being exposed to great solar design (deciduous Birch trees on the south elevation that kept us cool in the summer yet allowed the light and heat through in the winter).  But the words Carbon Footprint, Eco Design, Sustainable Building were part of a language I would not speak for another 25 + years.

I had always enjoyed construction and from as early an age as 6-8, I could be found on construction sites ‘helping out’.  I also always experienced great satisfaction with creating something out of a few sticks of wood, and my forts growing up were always a marvel - until of course the rats evicted me :-).  At this young age, I was even aware of lapping wall components to be water tight.

In high school, I found myself pulled towards all things construction and geared my curricular activities towards a career in home construction.  It was in high school that I also started to design my ‘dream house’ and worked on the concept from grade 9 thru 12.  I built a scale model in Grade 11 & 12 and frantically worked in drafting to keep my design progress up to my scale model building pace.

It was in grade 11 that I also developed another character trait.  I wanted to do things right and refused to work with other students that were not taking the program seriously (in my view).  SO, I on many projects elected to not take a partner.  The end result was usually that what got down was done very well, but the project often did not get finished because it took me twice as long to complete things with 50% of the manpower.  But that did not matter to me; I knew it was done right and my marks typically reinforced this.  I also often learned even more during the process by solving project hurtles on my own.  The process taught me to be resourceful and efficient.

Best of all, I learned that I would not compromise on doing things the way I felt they needed to be done.

The road to sustainable living?

Here I sit, a short 500 days (or 43,200,000 seconds – sounds better and like I have more time) before I plan to break ground on a renovation that I am hoping will turn a 59 yr old bungalow into a modern, comfortable, and extremely energy efficient & environmentally friendly structure.

As I plan the project I am wondering: What do I want to do?  How am I going to achieve it?  Can I (we) afford it?  Why the heck am I doing this?

I recently met with a colleague in the construction industry who challenged me by saying “What are you trying to achieve?  What is important to you?”  I have to admit, I did not have a good answer at the time.

In order for me to figure out an answer for this, I guess I need to look back to see how I have arrived where I am today and where it is that I have actually arrived.

This blog will chronicle this journey as I figure out my (our) priorities, what makes sense for me (us), what will represent the biggest bang for the buck, and what is the definition, at least for me, of living in a sustainable fashion. 

The blog will also discuss design decisions, material specifications & pricing, pitfalls to avoid, and post construction – operating costs.

It is the hope that this blog will therefore provide guidance to others embarking on this path and encouragement to the public at large - that they too can make a difference to their environmental impact on this planet by making informed choices during their builds and day to day living.

I encourage you to provide comment and critique as I take this journey.  My requirement to continue learning is ongoing and there is much that I still will need to figure out before this goal will be accomplished.