Greener Homes Built and Under Construction

After the recent meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Harper it became apparent that the environment is now a high priority for the governments of both Canada and the United States. This probably means that suddenly everyone has to start thinking ‘green’ both at the office and in their homes. Energy conservation, renewable energy, recycling and many other environmental issues will be front and center in the very near future.

However, for the past decade one company in Calgary—Kanas Corporation—has been developing energy efficient and smart technology for Green Buildings and at the same time providing affordable housing. Their experiences to date, plus their research into new technology, ensures that we have a leader for the greening of our lifestyles right here in our own backyard.

Kanas Corporation began in 1997 with the concept of developing buildings with Insulated Concrete Form Construction (ICFC) and locally produced recycled steel joists and interior wall studs to create a superior building envelope to which smart technology could easily be incorporated. “We had a passion to develop a better building with a green emphasis but to really focus on efficiency with affordability,” says Robert Sipka, President of Kanas Corporation. “Our pilot project, now completed, was Parkhill Manor with nine rental apartments and currently under construction is our prototype Lomond apartment building with fifteen rental units. This fall we will break-ground and commence construction on our major performance project the Lumino with 318 units in the Manchester community.”

Defining a green project encompasses the building construction, the energy efficiency of the structure, the use of smart technology for energy conservation plus the surrounding neighborhood in terms of close proximity to public transit and amenities to include a reduction in the resident’s carbon footprint. A typical Kanas building meets R-2000 criteria and a Platinum Rating by Enervision’s Built Green program that evaluates “green” construction techniques which reduce the environmental impact of buildings. These prestigious ratings are achieved by Kanas through the ICFC construction method, the use of recycled steel, the acrylic stucco exterior, hot water solar panel heating systems, triple-glazed Low-E windows, low-VOC paints, concrete counter tops, low-flow fixtures and toilets, plus smart technology applications.

“Our buildings are greater than 50% more efficient relative to traditional construction methods. Plus the triple-glazed windows ensure no cold drafts or heat loss in winter and year-round noise reduction for a noticeably improved comfort level for the residents,” says Sipka.

The new Lomond development is located at Centre Street and 32nd Avenue N.W. with two bedroom apartments anticipated to be ready for occupancy late this year or early in 2010. Lomond is located close to public transit routes, giving residents a practical alternative to driving which results in financial savings and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. These homes will encompass some of the latest smart technologies recently discovered and tested by Kanas. Wherever possible Kanas chooses Canadian made products and materials to reduce shipping costs, lower transportation greenhouse gas emissions and support the Canadian economy.

Kanas has worked in conjunction with Alberta Government grants for affordable housing and the Lumino development is in partnership with the City of Calgary affordable housing program. This is an important part of the company’s philosophy to provide an environmentally friendly hand-up but not a hand-out.

” Our buildings are affordable by design and efficiency but the core is a really good building envelope to start with,” says Sipka. ” Although the cost savings may not be realized until several years after the tenants first move in, as the landlord we can afford to wait for these cost efficiencies to be realized.”

With Kanas Corporation as both the building developer and eventual landlord it would seem to indicate that they are fully prepared to stand behind both their construction materials and methods for a truly superior building with a focus on environmental efficiency.

Future Homes and Neighborhoods Will Likely Be Compact, Greener, and Friendlier

American home and neighborhood designs change constantly. If you put yourself randomly in a 20th century neighborhood, chances are that you could tell the decade it was built, even after the avocado-green siding is replaced. We may be in for an even bigger than normal shift in the next decade. How will a 2015 neighborhood be different than a 2007 subdivision? Here are some recent trends:

Movement to smaller, greener and more livable homes

New homes are undoubtedly getting smaller. According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average size of a house under construction fell 7.3 percent in the July-September quarter of 2008. A January 2009 survey of builders reported that 90 percent are building smaller homes.

Until recently, homebuilders focused on grand houses that maximize square footage and feature high-end upgrades. Today, builders are more likely to highlight how their homes save money and energy. “As people value operating costs more, they start thinking more about these things,” said Roger Voisinet, noted EcoBroker and President of Cvilleproperties.com. “People are choosing solar and more energy-efficient heating and cooling.”

More attention is being paid to the quality of space rather than the quantity of space. “Time after time people leave the basement unfinished and put their money into good trim and quality elsewhere in the house.” said Voisinet. “People are also getting more creative with spaces.” He cited Belmont Lofts, which are popular condos in downtown Charlottesville where moveable, Shoji screen walls allow smaller rooms to be transformed into larger living spaces.

Economic fears are impacting design, suggests author and architectural psychologist Sally Fretwell. “People are now more simplistic in design and in building material. People are probably less showy,” said Fretwell, who also owns a paint store in Richmond, Virginia. Cost is more of a factor but by being more thoughtful, home purchasers focus on the details. “People are looking at things differently.” Said Fretwell, “They are a lot more creative. That’s wonderful”.

Migration to new urban centers with common greens and ready-built community

Besides moving into smaller homes, Americans are moving to communities with denser housing and “village” aspects that evoke neighborhoods of our great-grandparents.

Arthur C. Nelson, a leading housing expert who has studied housing trends for 20 years, expects that migration to denser living will bring sweeping changes to American society. According to Nelson, “Surveys indicate a growing preference for urban living. Roughly half of all households want the opportunity to live in neighborhoods and communities with higher density housing, a mix of housing types and household income levels, sidewalks, proximity to stores and restaurants, accessibility to transit options and other “smart growth” features associated with well-designed urban areas.”

Nelson predicts that there will be a surplus of between 3 million and 22 million homes on large lots (built on one-sixth of an acre or more) by 2025. He and other experts foresee these big homes in the exurbs eroding in value, with many of them being subdivided into multiple units.

Lifestyle has influenced people as much as economics in the growing taste for clustered, walkable neighborhoods. In an October 10, 2008 New York Times article, Kathleen Gerson, a professor of sociology at New York University describes the sense of well-being from being able to walk around and recognize your neighbors or even shopkeepers. Gerson said this sense of well-being is second only to being able to provide food and shelter for the family. “We know from studies that in close-knit urban communities, where private space is not as plentiful, public space becomes more central,” she said. Indeed, many families said they did not spend a lot of time at home. “There are always trade-offs in these choices. Families are resilient and find ways to adapt to whatever their circumstances.”

The community-oriented changes in where people choose to live coincides with new research on psychological studies of happiness. According to the Handbook of Psychology, by Irving Weiner and Donald Freedheim, “the strongest predictor of happiness [is] social connectedness. People who are relatively alone in the world are much less happy than people who have close connections with others. All other objective predictors of happiness, including money, education, health, and place of residence, are only weakly correlated with happiness.”

What might a neighborhood of 2015 look like?

A recent Chicago Tribune article summarizes the eight great real estate trends of 2009:

  1. Smaller Houses
  2. More apartments
  3. Increase in attached housing
  4. More rental units
  5. New urban centers with homes close to shops and restaurants
  6. Common green spaces for outdoor enjoyment of homeowners.
  7. Creating Community – where the developer provides social features beyond land, bricks and mortar.
  8. Online marketing of homes

(see http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2008/dec/26/realestate/chi-real-estate-trends_chomes_12dec26)

So, what might a Year 2015 neighborhood look like? There will probably be many variations of neighborhoods that adopt the above trends.

Cohousing as a Case Study

One kind of modern neighborhood is cohousing, which is mostly unknown in the U.S. but which constitutes 25% of new development in Denmark. Cohousing is a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood where single family and attached homes surround a common green. Homes are smaller and closer together than the typical 2007 house, but space is efficiently used and homeowners enjoy a large clubhouse, shared gardens, a large playground, and other common amenities. Often a cohousing neighborhood is located near an urban center – further promoting walkability and neighborliness. Marketing of the homes is typically online or through word-of-mouth. Private spaces and backyards are a standard feature of cohousing. Solar, geothermal and other green features are also very common. But markedly different than typical housing developments, there are social aspects built-in. Neighbors have the option of taking part in potlucks and common meals and also working together on common tasks (such as landscaping and decision-making). In summary, cohousing is one example of where people buy houses not so much based on raw home size but more based on improving their social and private lifestyle as well as reducing their carbon footprint. Proponents of cohousing refer to it as “yesterday’s neighborhood today,” as a shorthand for describing a community where neighbors know one another and have fun together.

More to Life Than Square Footage

The weaker economy and worries over energy costs may have spurred homebuilders to make smaller, clustered and more energy-efficient homes; however, a broader national mood towards simplicity, and a richer lifestyle is likely to drive further change. As they further realize there is more to life than square footage, people will change their tastes. Clustered housing around green spaces will not only alter the landscape but will foster neighborliness and improve the way people live and relate to one another.

Achieving Greener House Through These Easy Tips

Green is in – not just in the sole sense of its color, tones, and hues but also due to its association to efforts done to help preserve Earth and its resources. If you are a homeowner who is concerned of helping in the large-scale conservation efforts, making your house greener and more at tone with nature through the following easy tips can be your right start.

Cut down on what you consume.

Consumption reduction is probably one of the easiest ways to make your house greener. Cutting down on what you use and consume will reduce your household waste production. According to available stats, the United States generates an annual municipal solid waste of 208 million tons – and the figure has your waste contributions. By reducing your consumption of every thing such as toilet paper, bottled water, and other packed things- you are actually contributing not only in lessening waste production but also in reducing energy consumption needed to manufacture those things.

Replace old appliances with those bearing the Energy Star logo.

The use of appliances contributes to about 20% of a household’s electric bill. Of this 20%, a large segment comes from your old appliances. Replacing them with Energy Star compliant counterparts would cut down on your energy consumption. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the energy-efficient appliances utilize up to 50% less of what the standard models use. This is a huge slice on your average electricity usage.

Change your water usage behavior.

While a lot of water can be saved with the use of water-efficient fixtures like shower heads and toilet flushes – a lot more can be saved if you would change your water usage behavior. Simple things like turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth can save up to 4.5 gallons of water. Bigger volume of water can be saved if you will use a broom to drive away the dirt and sand particles on your driveway. This act alone is estimated to save up to 80 gallons of water.

Choose bamboo over wood.

If you are into replacing your floor for a greener feel, the use of bamboo is better than using hardwood. By using bamboo, you are actually contributing to hardwood resources conservation. You are also directly contributing towards lessening operating energy used when cutting the hardwood into standard dimensions. Although bamboo comes from nature, it is a fast-replenishing resource that just takes a maximum of six years to mature as compared to hardwood which normally takes 5 to 10 decades to grow mature enough.

Use compost instead of synthetic fertilizers.

Tune up your garden greener with the use of compost rather the commercially available synthetic fertilizers. Compost supplies your plants with all of the essential microorganisms needed to help the plants absorb the rich nutrients within the soil. Compost will not damage the soil’s pH as compared to the synthetic counterparts which have been proven to degrade the soil’s nutrient content through repeated use. Also, the use of compost as natural fertilizer can be your way to garden-to-table produces which are healthy options for your daily cooking.

Being green doesn’t mean you always have to go to the streets and bring a placard to join demonstrations. Action is greater than speaking loudly without actions at all. Be green now and start it right in your doorstep!