Sustainable housing and real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo Region


Can wind energy work to power our homes?

It costs anywhere between $2,000-$8,000/per kilowatt power produced to purchase a small wind turbine. However, the wind turbine costs represent only 12%-48% of the total cost of a small wind electric system. There are also costs for other components, such as inverters and batteries, as well as sales tax, installation charges and labour. People sometimes opt to install the turbine themselves.

After installation, there are maintenance costs, as with any mechanical device. These are said to average approximately 1% of the original cost per year. The blades and bearings need to be replaced approximately every ten years. The wind turbine can last 20-30 years (or longer) if properly installed and maintained. It must be oiled, greased and safety inspected regularly. Bolts and electrical connections must be checked annually, along with checking for corosion and to ensure proper tension on the guy wires.

In cold conditions the turbine will have to de-iced and the batteries must be stored in an insulated place. Turbines should never be placed on a rooftop, as they are said to cause damage to the roof through vibrations. There have also been some complaints of noise or vibrations causing discomfort to those living inside a home with a turbine on the roof.

The turbine does produce noise. From a distance of 250 m away a typical wind turbine produces  approximately 45 dB (A) decibels) of noise. This is similar to the noise inside a typical  office building. If not properly installed or maintained, turbines have the potential to get louder.

The blades of most turbines are made of fibreglass or wood, and as such are transparent to electromagnetic waves such as radio and tv.

They must be placed in a large open area with a certain level of wind (which varies depending on the type and size of the turbine).  It is recommended to have them in an open area free of trees or buildings,  approximately 1/2 an acre or more in size for best use.

From what I have read, the claim that wind turbines are dangerous to birds is misleading, with a large window on a home posing more of a threat. This can be reduced with certain measures, such as netting.

Wind power does not create toxic by-products in its generation. Some of the material inside the batteries can be toxic, and should be disposed of properly. Overall, the environmental impact and toxicity of turbines is considerably less than the use of fossil-based or nuclear energy.  The electrical components should be stored properly to keep away children or animals, like any other mechanical or electronic devices capable of carrying electricity.

There are a couple types of wind turbines, the horizontal axis wind turbine (HAWT) and the vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT), a design more like an egg-beater.

An adequate wind turbine can generate 50-100%+ of a household energy needs. If it creates a surplus of energy, this energy can usually be sold to a local energy provider. How much do you pay for energy every year? If your energy bill was $0 every year, how much would you save? How long would these savings take to pay for the system? Probably much less than 20 years, the lifespan of a typical wind turbine.

A wind turbine is not for every property or person, and is best used in combination with other energy systems (such as passive heating and cooling, geothermal systems and solar devices). But if  you live in a rural environment and have space available, it is an option you should consider. There are government grants available to help subsidize the costs, and savings in the long term will help pay for the system.

The more we move towards alternative renewable energies, the more options there will be and the cheaper they will become.



What does sustainable really mean in housing anyway?

We’ve heard the word “green” for so long now, what is this other new catch word “sustainability”? Sustainability is a holistic concept, concerned with the big picture. It looks into the overall cost in terms of economic, ecological, and social costs. It is about looking at where the raw materials that went into a product came from, what happened to them along the way and the final result of where it ends up. It’s looking at the entire lifecycle of something and figuring out the most efficient way to make it happen with the least waste as an end result.

In housing, this translates into efficiency in water usage, energy usage and the minimizing of overall adverse health problems. It also means looking into where the building materials came from in the first place and finding out whether or not they are using a system that is maintainable and respecting human rights. It’s about reducing the waste that goes into a product, and finding ways to reuse the product in a new way once it’s reached its usability. It’s about thinking about the ways we are living and finding ways that better suit our current needs. Desiging the spaces around us, around our environment and figuring out the best usage.

Many innovative designs are available. Architechture and engineering schools are turning more and more to sustainable designs and ideas, but the turnover to the building industry is slower. The turnover to the real estate market, probably the main driver of how the building industry will run, even slower.

Not all of the kinks in the new technologies have been worked out, and we should not rely solely on one means of securing energy. Instead we should diversify. The more energy efficient or energy creating technology becomes in demand, the more research will be done and the more options will come out.

It’s not about changing everything overnight, but it is about making small changes to be more efficient and cost-effective (including social and ecological costs as well).

It doesn’t even mean making any real structural changes. It can be as simple as switching your energy provider to one that offers more sustainable energy (in K-W you can try www.bullfrogpower.com). It’s about stopping the leak in your sink, and cauking the cracks. It’s about turing the heat down one degree and putting on a sweater. It’s about updating windows and doing proper insulation. It’s about changing lifestyles to be less wasteful.

The smaller maintanence and daily lifestyle changes make huge differences. Not only in reducing environmental impact, but also in costs. You will save money. Sustainable efficient living will save you money. It will save the amount of toxins getting into your home and into your body.

All housing requires maintenance. When you do the maintenance, think about using more sustainable options in place of what you would normally do. If you don’t know what options exist– ask me! I’d be happy to share my resources with you.



Knowing your rights and responsibilities as a landlord.
February 23, 2009, 9:26 pm
Filed under: Rebecca Sargent, Rentals | Tags: , , ,

Knowing your rights and responsibilities is very important if you are a property owner of a tenanted building. You should also know what the expectations of the tenant will be.
Here is a list of useful websites and services for rental property owners in the Kitchener-Waterloo region:

You are required by the Landlord and Tenant Board as rental property owners to provide your tenant with the following brochure:
http://www.ltb.gov.on.ca/graphics/stel02_111728.pdf

What to do with problem tenants, which forms to file (and copies of the forms), when to file them and how to file them with the Landlord Tenant Board:
http://www.ltb.gov.on.ca/en/STEL02_111286.html

Landlord and Tenant Board
http://www.ltb.gov.on.ca/en/index.html
Telephone Number: 1-888-332-3234

Filing rental income taxes with Canada Revenue Agency:
http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pub/tg/t4036/t4036-e.html#P406_41464

Centre for Equality Rights Accommodation (CERA)
Provides information and advice on housing discrimination and on evictions. Has helpful for advice on how to prevent human rights abuse in housing and rental units.
http://www.equalityrights.org/cera/
Phone number: 1.800.263.1139

Landlord self-help Centre
http://www.landlordselfhelp.com/frontpage.asp
Phone number: 1-800-730-3218

Waterloo Region
Community Legal Services
170 Victoria Street South,
Kitchener, Ont. N2G 2B9
Tel: 519-743-0254
Fax: 519-743-1588
http://www.wrcls.ca/

Rent Bank/Eviction Prevention Program
Program to secure housing for persons in danger of being evicted or in need of help with a rental loan in a case where a tenant doesn’t have funds (for whatever reason) and cannot secure them otherwise. Also can help with last month’s rent deposits. If a tenant tells you they do not have the money for rent– you can try sending them here.
165 King Street East
Kitchener, Ontario
N2G 2K8
Tel: Kristine Dearlove – 519-743-2246 x 225

By-Law Enforcement Kitchener: (519) 741-2330
By-Law Enforcement Waterloo: (519) 747-8557
Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal: 1-888-332-3234

Information package to give to your tenants (if you so choose): What tenants need to know about the law. May be helpful to you to see what they can do and what they can’t.
http://www.cleo.on.ca/english/pub/onpub/PDF/landlordTenant/tenantsaccess.pdf

Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO).
Tenant information booklets on:
Can your landlord take your stuff?
Fighting an eviction
Maintenance and repairs
Moving Out
Rent Increases
Web tools for renters with roommates: Sharing rental Housing
http://www.cleo.on.ca/english/pub/onpub/subject/landlord.htm

If you need more information, please feel free to contact me.



New tax credit available for renovations!
February 22, 2009, 7:16 am
Filed under: Rebecca Sargent, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Some great news for those who are interested in renovating this year! You might qualify for a temporary incentive announced in the new Federal budget. This incentive provides Canadian homeowners or home inhabitants to receive up to $1,350 on eligible expenses over $1,000 up to a maximum of $10,000 in the form of the tax credit. The tax credit is available to any household (1 credit per household only) for work done, or goods bought after January 27, 2009 and prior to February 1, 2010.

(Up to $10,000 – $1,000) X 15%= $tax credit. This means that for $2,000 worth of renovations, you can qualify to receive up to $150 back. So keep your renovation receipts for tax time!

Eligible expenses include: renovating a kitchen, bathroom or basement, building an addition, deck, fence or retaining wall, interior and exterior painting, new sod, driveway, flooring, furnace, air conditioning and water heater. Purchases of appliances, furniture, electronics or tools do not qualify; neither does routine maintenance such as carpet cleaning, furnace tune-up, snow removal, lawn care and pool cleaning.

For more details please check out http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/gncy/bdgt/2009/fqhmrnvtn-eng.html



How sustainable is the K-W region?

How sustainable is the Kitchener-Waterloo region? Well, according to the 2007 Corporate Knights report on sustainable cities, Kitchener ranked the 4th overall most sustainable city in Canada and 1st on the water and waste index with the relatively low water consumption of 390 litres/person/day in 2007. While we topped the 2007 list, we dropped out of ranking in 2008 and 2009. So what happened? This report focuses on more than just ecological issues, and also looks to economic security, governance and empowerment, infrastructure and social well-being.

So where are we failing? Kitchener-Waterloo region is reported to have air pollution levels as high as or higher than large cities like Hamilton and Toronto who have much greater populations. Kitchener currently has the worst air quality scores for ground-level ozone. This is fueled partly by the lack of anti-idling by-laws, polluting corporations and individuals and heavily by the coal plants in the Ohio Valley which contribute over half of the pollutant load in the K-W region according to reports. We are being heavily affected by coal plants hundreds of miles away in the US. This is just one of many reasons why developing more alternative energy is so important and why we all have to work together. We are affected by, and affect more than just our immediate neighbours. Carbon dioxide from retail fuel in the region has jumped 0.2 tonnes per capita in the past year alone, only adding to the air pollution concerns.

We are taking steps to improve public transit with over 13% of the Kitchener fleet now using alternative fuels. With housing starts primarily happening in transit-unfriendly single family or duplex units (just less than 2/3 of the housing stock), and few incentives to use the transit lines, this switch is having only minimal affect. We received a D overall in the Green Apple SMART Transportation Ranking in the past two years.

The region is taking some steps. Residential building starts were 17% more dense in 2008 than in 2007. The Region of Waterloo has also started a growth management strategy to help ensure that density is encouraged, but these steps alone are not enough. We must make a more concerted effort to be sustainable.

The Kitchener-Waterloo region is not new to sustainable technology. We are home to Arise Tech, a major solar technology company (http://www.arisetech.com/) and one of the best urban planning schools in the country (University of Waterloo). We also have energy auditing service grants available for low-income homes (http://www.reepwaterlooregion.ca/documents/assistance_brochure_waterloo.pdf), and several sustainable building housing projects to use as examples such as the KW YMCA (http://www.kwymca.org/Contribute/camping/OurFacilitiesandBuildings.asp), the little city farm (http://www.littlecityfarm.ca/sustain-5.php), the REEP homes (http://www.reepwaterlooregion.ca/prog_house.php), and several other initiatives.

Are we in position to be more efficient overall here in the K-W? Absolutely. So let’s take advantage of what’s available and make an effort to be more sustainable.

Remember though, of overarching importance to sustainability in the region (and the earth)  is the human lifestyle factor. Wasteful human lifestyle (being water usage, energy usage, waste, etc.) is something you can change. Make an effort to just use less. Conserve water and energy. Make baby steps  to be more sustainable. One thing at a time.



Renewable energy in housing

Most of our energy comes from non-renewable resources such as coal, oil, natural gas or radioactive elements. Once removed from the ground and used, these energy sources can take up to millions of years to reform. At the rate we are going, most of the resource deposits in the earth will be completely used up in less than 200 years (and maybe faster).

Renewable energy replaces itself quickly and can come from the natural flow of sunlight, wind or water. We need to spend more time and energy developing ways to harness these natural energies and to do so using sustainable resources. There are actually relatively cheap and easy ways to build yourself energy collecting devices You can check out www.re-energy.ca for some ideas to get you started. They can also be installed or retrofitted into your home so that you can create as much energy as you use and be more sustainable. This can result in great energy and money savings!

Did you know that Natural Resources Canada, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and National Research Council Canada have been working together to export innovations in energy efficient housing (http://www.super-e.com/)?

We do have the research abilities here in Canada. In fact, we even have a Canadian Centre for Housing Technology to help test it out for us (http://www.ccht-cctr.gc.ca/). Many of these energy-efficient houses look just like any other suburban or city area from the outside. They have been working on these projects for over a decade, why are they not yet reaching the market?

Consumer choice and lifestyle will have a huge impact on the housing market and it’s progression. Look into other energy options. You might find out that an intitial investment will actually save you in the long run. You might even be able to help fund it through governments grants and incentives.

If you want more details, please ask me.



Toxins in the home.

Now don’t panic, but many different types of toxins are found throughout the average home. These toxins can be extremely harmful to our health. While it is incredibly difficult to remove all the toxins from our households immediately, it is something you should be aware of and begin to take steps towards reducing. Many of these toxins are carcinogenic (meaning cancer causing), and fatal or life threatening to humans in certain doses. They can cause severe health issues. Many are not naturally eliminated from the body and can be stored over time with each exposure, eventually reaching potentially dangerous limits. Many of these toxins are accumulated in our bodies and can be passed on to our children. Some of these toxins can accumulate in our fatty tissues and only become more highly concentrated as they move up the food chain. This is something we should be concerned about. We can take steps to reduce the toxicity of our home ourselves, which I will detail shortly.

 The building industry needs to be aware of this issue and make some changes to ensure housing is less toxic and that toxic materials are not used in its making. They are slowly becoming more aware. Some companies have switched to using more environmentally friendly and non-toxic products. The government has taken steps to prevent some of chemicals (such as asbestos) from now getting into our buildings, but have not taken enough steps to fully protect us.

 Some carpets, electronics, furniture padding and mattresses, and other materials contain brominated flame retardants (BFR’s). These chemicals can disrupt hormone and reproductive systems.

 Pesticides are often introduced into the home to get rid of insects, weeds and moulds. Different types of soaps, household cleaning products, paints, wallpapers and other materials can be sprayed or coated in pesticides prior to sale. Pesticides can cause disruption of hormones, reproductive systems and are also very carcinogenic. Some also contain heavy metals, which can be absorbed, inhaled or ingested into the body. Pesticides are poison, meant to kill living things.

 A range of products contain perfluorinated chemicals such as perfluorooctanyl sulfate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). These are often found in floor polishes, denture cleaners, shampoos, herbicides, insecticides, adhesives, and for surface treatment of clothing, carpets and cookware. Perfluorinated chemicals are carcinogenic and can also disrupt horomone and reproductive systems.

 Many cleaners, paints, textiles and leather treatments, pulp and paper processing and agricultural chemicals contain alkylphenols which can also disrupt hormone and reproductive systems.

 Many of our electronics products are full of toxins that are highly dangerous to humans, especially during the manufacturing processes. People should take caution when repairing, breaking or disposing of these products so that they do inhale, ingest or expose themselves to toxins or leach the toxins into the ground water systems. Certain light bulbs can contain mercury, so can several newer electronics devices. Cadmium can be found in SMD chip resistors, infrared detectors, semiconductors, older types of cathode ray tubes, and some plastics. It concentrates over time in the body and can cause severe health problems. Electronics can also contain BFRs, barium, beryllium, hexavalent chromium, dioxins and furans; all highly toxic to humans and animals.

 Also toxic in the home: most paints, furniture polish, spot remover, varnish, glues, drain cleaners, oven cleaners, floor cleaners, disinfectants, ammonia, scouring powder, bleach, laundry detergents, flea sprays, fertilizers, air fresheners, aerosol sprays, batteries, and motor oil.

 There are easy (and usually cheaper) alternatives that are easy enough to make. Baking soda, washing soda, vinegar, lemon juice, cornstarch, table salt and borax when mixed in the right proportions can work fabulously in place of many cleaners, polishes etc. You can check out http://www.greenaction.org/toxics/home/index.shtml for more details or ask me for recipes or suggestions.

 When painting your home, you can look for paints with low volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are now offered in many brands, colours and choices. They do not release toxins into the air.

 Avoid using no-pest strips as they can contain pesticides which are released into the air. Get good screens, and fix cracks and doorways. Cedar blocks or bags of cedar chips hung with clothes work to prevent mothballs. Placing dried bay leafs around the corners, cracks, windows or doors will help to prevent spiders from coming in and taking up residence in your home. There are lots of natural alternatives to pesticides.

 When buying new furniture or remodeling, consider using a company that is more environmentally friendly or that uses non-toxic materials. There are many sustainable and healthy choices now available. If you don’t know, ask. If they can’t tell you-look elsewhere. You don’t have to make giant leaps, take baby steps.

 If you want more suggestions, please ask me!