Nov 25

Greening Your Home, For Real

Here are some green initiatives to contemplate that can really work—

  • All-off button or at minimum install switch to shut power off to appliances and any item that constantly draws power (eg, TV’s, blue ray players, etc)
  • On demand hot water
  • Spring hinges on exterior doors (door closers)
  • Ensure fireplace has igniter vs pilot light (big savings especially when replacing your fireplace)
  • Get rid of grass/substitute local flora (xeriscape) or hard surfaces
  • Low flush toilets with two flow settings
  • Solar hot water
  • Solar panels/solar shingles
  • Solar air wall
  • Solar blinds

-Keeps the cool air in by increasing your window insulation value by up to R10
-Reflects heat and solar gain, thus preventing it from heating up your home
-Reduces need for air conditioning


-Absorbs sunlight and converts it into interior radiant heat

-Protects against sun damage by blocking up to 92% of harmful UV

-Keeps the warm air in by increasing your windows’ insulation value
by up to R10

-Reduces ice build up, night time heat loss and up to 71% of cold
air infiltration


  • Additional insulation
  • Heat recovery unit
  • Heat pump, air source, geothermal or geo-exchange heating/cooling
  • Add diurnal thermal storage media to foundation to provide heat during winter, cooling during summer
  • Orient your home for maximum passive solar gain
  • Consider each elevation of your home to optimize daylighting
  • Recover heat from all drains (kitchen/bathrooms including shower hot water recovery unit)
  • Dryer heat recovery
  • Co-generation units (basically, mini turbines producing both heat and electricity at about 95% efficiency total)
  • Home zones for forced air systems
  • Radiant floor heating (not a big cost savings but increases comfort)
  • Radiant heating
  • Solar hot water heating using radiators
  • High efficiency windows/doors (large part of energy is lost through these even though they are not a high percentage of the envelope area)
  • Replace sliding windows with casement windows
  • Spray foam windows
  • Rooftop garden/green roof
  • Use bio-glow (glow in the dark) plants to light your driveway and your garden
  • Vertical garden (indoor) for improved air or outdoor for additional insulation
  • Water-saving faucets
  • LED lighting
  • Intermittent spin washer
  • Low energy-consumption appliances
  • Install motion sensors to turn off lights
  • Get a programmable t-stat that doesn’t require PhD/energy monitoring
  • Install blinds and curtains/keep closed at night/go one step further with automatic window shutters
  • Caulk everything
  • Seal everything including your duct work
  • Ceiling fans
  • Daylighting via skylights, light shelves, wall cuts, clerestory windows, light tubes & light bottles as well as giving consideration to orientation as well as all elevations of your home or office to maximize daylight penetration
  • Rainwater capture/reuse
  • Move closer to work,
  • Work from home/increase the intensity of use of your property/add granny flat, elder care or in-home apartment
  • Make sure the home or condo you buy has a high walkability score 
  • Make sure your property is being put to its highest and best use
  • Add nature pond to your backyard
  • Plant veggie and herb gardens
  • Create an edible landscape (cities should be doing this too along roadways, in parks etc) with all plant material to be edible including pear trees, berry bushes, apple trees, walnut, maple, chestnut, Balsam fir (for tea– the needles can be used this way), sweetfern, Wintergreen (chew the leaves for their taste) and so on
  • When replacing exterior cladding use ridged foam before installing new cladding
  • Also, place ridged foam under basement slab (if building new or ripping out basement floor)
  • Foam insulation in headers
  • Foam insulation in basement
  • Use baking soda and vinegar to clean instead of store-bought chemical agents
  • Use ammonia as a de-greaser
  • Put blinds on south elevation (for structures south of equator, reverse this)
  • Add awnings on south elevation(for structures south of equator, reverse this)
  • Install high efficiency fireplace using natural gas
  • Use only high efficiency wood stove with catalytic converter to capture more heat from more complete combustion
  • Use low-e glass windows
  • Add trees canopy on north side to shelter home from wind
  • Put restrictors in all showers
  • Soak veggies and dried foods in cold water before cooking then they take less time to cook
  • Use more off peak power
  • Clean your home, green/choose non-toxic household, personal care and lawn maintenance products
  • Eat organic/eat local whenever possible/support local farmers who practice sustainable organic farming methods
  • Drink tap water, not bottled water/municipal tap water is regularly tested and in a place like Ottawa is rated amongst the safest in the world
  • Reduce stormwater/use rain barrels, plant trees, avoid paving surfaces and install a “green roof” or sod roof to reduce run-off and heat buildup/provide opportunity for urban agriculture/raised beds
  • Create bioswales along both urban and rural roads to absorb stormwater, provide green zone in roadways
  • Educate/inspire/inform
  • Properly dispose of batteries, paints, pharmaceuticals and toxic chemicals to prevent unsafe run-off into watercourses
  • Scoop poop/doggie waste enters rivers untreated/picking up after pets prevents additional bacterial contamination and shoreline pollution
  • Maintain vehicles/proper car, boat and motorcycle maintenance prevents oil and other leaky fluids from running-off into rivers
  • When building new, Smith + Gill architects found in a study (Toward Zero Carbon) of Chicago’s Loop, a 50 block area, that if carbon emissions/energy use are counted not only for a structure’s materials but also in its operation then 3-story, stick-built walkups (sans elevators) are best
  • Note that WHO identified stairs as an important contributor to human health; don’t buy a bungalow until you absolutely have to
  • If you can’t get your home to be more carbon neutral, try doing what does–they partnered with Ottawa’s Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation who estimated that their fleet of five, 20-yard trucks produced 54 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2013; in order to offset it, RVCF planted 400 Canadian bare-root seedlings on land close to Ottawa/they plan on doing this every year.

It’s always seemed strange that some environmentalists have trouble grasping the concept that nothing is sustainable unless it’s also economically sustainable. The reverse is also true—some business people believe that moving towards using less energy and material as well as producing less waste inevitably leads to higher costs and lower revenue growth. How can being more efficient and more environmentally conscious be in conflict when you save energy, matter and waste?

ray anderson radical industrialist

In 1995, Ray Anderson, founder of Interface (a carpet manufacturer), talked about the toxicity of his industry. His goals included—

1. phasing out use of virgin nylon

2. replacing fossil fuel with renewables

3. aiming for 0 waste within 25 years

aiming for 0 waste

Businessweek (Sept 14, 2014) reports that after Ray made his presentation, next day Interface’s stock fell by 50%. Still, their revenues have increased from $595 million to nearly a billion today, their carpet tiles are so prized that fussy clients like Apple use them in their HQ, their factories are 39% more energy efficient than industry average, they use 83% less water, and about half of their inputs are either recycled materials or from natural sources.

It’s possible to be both a business person and environmentalist, you just have to work harder and smarter.

@ profbruce

@ quantum_entity

Postscript: More about invention and innovation in real estate:

The Environment—A Solution? See:

Private versus Public Ownership. See:

Entrepreneurship, Economic Development and Sustainability. See:

Want Higher Density Communities? Then First Build Out not Up

Sources are many and varied. Thank you to all who contributed including Ottawa River Keeper.

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.