Sustainable housing and real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo Region


Is Rapid Transit in the future for the K-W region?

The need for a Central Transit Corridor that would link the three cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge was first identified in 1976 and it seems that an active plan is finally underway to start to really connect them. The region is currently connected by a bus system or by hopping on one of the many roads, highways or walkways. The growing population makes congestion a real issue as nearly three quarters of a million people are expected to be living within the K-W  in the next 25 years.

The region has proposed a light rail transit (LRT) route starting at Conestoga Mall in Waterloo (and possibly extended along King Street to St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market) all the way through the city in a southerly direction to the Ainslie Street Terminal in downtown Cambridge. The system will possibly also feature a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. Think of the LRT system like the streetcars in downtown Toronto. The LRT vehicles use rail technology that travel in dedicated lanes, using overhead electric or on-board diesel/hybrid propulsion to make their way through the city. It would be quicker than a bus, but services a smaller, and more direct line. The BRT system uses buses that travel in a dedicated laneway. It would mean there would be an extra lane on the streets with the BRT system dedicated solely to the bus route, allowing it to move much more rapidly through heavy traffic.

The benefits these systems are to be weighed and evaluated and on June 24th, the Preferred Rapid Transit System will be presented to the Regional Council for consideration. If passed and incorporated it would mean another alternative to get around and within the three cities (Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge) without having to use a car.

There are many advantages to these types of systems from an environmental standpoint. A single LRT train could reduce the traffic of nearly 200 vehicles, severely curtailing traffic, congestion and idling within the city. This would mean less smog, and less pollution. If made affordable, an expanded tranist system could also be a cheap option for many people to get to and from work.

I currently ride the #8 bus on almost a daily basis to get to where I need to go during the day. Unfortunately, I still need a car for my business, but I try to use the bus for social events, or many other things I need to do during the day. It comes almost just outside my door at most every 15 minutes and at worst every 45. Depending on the time of day and where I am on the line, the bus can be completely overcrowded or almost completely empty.It’s easy. It ‘s fairly cheap. It gets you where you need to go.

My biggest complaint with this type of system is that they do not run completely responsibly. A service that is carrying people across locations should be accessible when people need it. There is currently almost no service earlier than 5:30 in the morning or 12:30 at night. For someone starting work very early in the morning, tranit is not a good option. It also leaves little option for late night party-goers  to choose a responsible way home. I have been saying this for years:  If you want people not to drink and drive– give them a cheap and reliable way to get themselves home! Keep the buses running an extra 2 or 3 hours or add a few late night options to get people across the cities.

If we are beefing up the transit between the tri-cities, we should also seriously consider beefing up the transit options between cities like Toronto, and London with the K-W. The current round-a-bout system of buses, or trains from Kitchener to Toronto makes inter-city travel between these two cities a tedious and rather costly affair. If the government wants to encourage people to use transit instead of cars, they should subdidize transit to be more affordable. If a ticket from Kitchener to Toronto costs more than the gas to get there and takes at least 2 times as long to get there– who wants to take it?

Do you think the proposed LRT is a good idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Welcome aboard the earthship!

What is an earthship, you ask?

Earthship in Brighton

Earthship in Brighton

Let me tell you. The earthship was the brainchild of one American man named Mike Reynolds who began experimenting with different types of architecture in the 1970s.

Reynolds dreamed of a home that would be entirely self-sustaining, using natural materials indigenous to the area or recycled materials for building, with the home being able to generate its own electricity, heating and cooling, as well as cleaning and collecting its own water, and in many cases even incorporating greenhouses within the space to grow some or all of its own food. These homes would be entirely “off the grid”, so to speak. As the concept developed over the years, Reynolds began even creating subdivisions of these homes that from outward appearance, looked much like any other neighbourhood. The difference is, the people living in these suburbs had annual combined utility bills of $0-100, cheaper building costs and healthier indoor space.

Interior

The idea experienced a lot of flack in the beginning. The American government nearly shut down construction and research permanently as it hammered Reynolds with red tape involving what a  legal subdivision should entail and denying him permits or permissions to build any new structures. As with any new technology, some kinks needed to be worked out. The technology is getting better everyday, as more homes are built and more people learn the trade.

Recycled bottle bathroom

The first homes had difficulty being entirely “off-grid”; some complained about extreme temperatures or lack of water or other comfort issues. Many of the first homes had composting toilets, but are now mostly using a system involving a solar-enhanced septic tank with leach-field and planter cells. As time went on, these kinks started to unravel and the technology got better and better and more comfortable to live within.

Rammed tire walls

Mike’s most common design involves using recycled tires and ramming them full of earth until they have great load-bearing capacity, thermal mass and resistance to fire. They are then plastered and decorated. You would never know they were once old tires underneath. So why are we not building most homes using these types of technologies yet?

Interior

It’s coming, slowly, but surely. People seem reluctant to invest in something they consider “experimental”, especially when they themselves and their families will be living within it. Earthship rental properties available in Taos, New Mexico that offer people the chance to see what it’s like to live in this type of home seem to be an encouraging idea.

There are several under construction right now in Ontario. Check out here and here for some more details.  Want to learn some techniques how to build your own earthship in Ontario? Check out here and here.

A different design

Mike even exported this idea to tsunami victims in Southern Asia to help the local population rebuild cheaply, sustainably and in more weather-resistant ways. This technology is now sprouting up everywhere, with earthships from Nicauragua to India. There is a really great documentary now available on Mike’s struggle to bring out this technology called Garbage Warrior. I highly recommend you check it out!

WBuilding an earthhip in Nicaragua.

Want to try living in an earthship of your own? Check out this earthship for sale in Ontario.



May was definitely blooming! K-W monthly update.

May was a strong month for real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo region, as the number of residential sales saw a nearly 10% increase over May 2008.

Home ownership incentives introduced in the new budget such as the changes to the RRSP savings program, the First-Time Home Buyer’s Tax Credit, the temporary Home Renovation Tax Credit, and the ecoENERGY Retrofit program, seem to be encouraging more home ownership.

The average residential sale price for properties sold in May has seen a 24% increase in value over the past five years, now resting at $295,968 for single detached homes, $207,682 for semi-detached, $229,724 for freehold townhomes, and $166,814 for condo units. It appears overall values are remaining relatively steady. Single family detached homes are moving the fastest with 358 unit sales in May, up 15.1% from this time last year. There were 28 semi-detached homes, 41 freehold townhouse , and 98 condo units sold in May.

Homes in the $225,000 to $249,999 price range sold in the highest volume, with nearly 18% of all sales in this range. 71% of all sales occurred in homes priced between $200,000 to $400,000. 8% of sales were priced higher than $400,000.

Kitchener west of King Street had the most sales for the Kitchener-Waterloo region with 216 units sold in May in this area. West Waterloo had the next highest sales volume with 122 sales in May, followed by Kitchener East with 104 unit sales, and Waterloo East with 85 unit sales. Hespeler had the most sales for Cambridge with 18 units sold, followed by Preston and North Galt with 4 unit sales each, and Galt East and West with 3 unit sales each.

There are plenty of stock available for those looking to buy with 677 new residential property listings processed in May and nearly 1,500 active residential listings to choose from.

Historically low interest rates won’t last much longer.Now’s the time to buy!