Sustainable housing and real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo Region

The accidental environmentalist.
September 13, 2009, 8:00 am
Filed under: Rebecca Sargent, Sustainability | Tags: , ,

Now you may be surprised to hear this, considering that I write a blog about sustainable housing, but I do not consider myself an environmentalist. I do not feel like I am one of the green, tree-hugging folk.

I do live what most would consider a fairly green and simple life. I haven’t really been shopping in a few years now, aside from groceries and the occasional need for office supplies for my business (mostly 100% recycled paper and re-filling the ink cartridges in my printer). I think very carefully before I make a purchase and try to research its impact whenever possible. My clothes are all second hand from the thrift store or handmade creations by friends. I live in a very minimum square footage, use all non-toxic cleaners (thank goodness for baking soda), and take great measures to reduce my daily energy usage. I grow some vegetables and herbs for the fresh goodies through the harvest and to preserve to last me as far as I can get through the winter. Aside from chocolate (which I can’t imagine ever giving up!), I try to eat mostly a localvore diet, although I’m not extremely strict on this. I dream of the day when I will be able to live in a fully self-sustaining home, off the grid, growing all my own food myself.

So why do I write about sustainable housing, and why do I seem to care about environmental issues so much?

I’ve always considered myself a fairly good person. It has never been my intention nor want to cause another being harm and I have always been concerned with human rights and freedoms. It is with this purpose that my so-called “environmentalism” came to be.

I was once a fairly heavy consumer. I desperately wanted the latest and greatest, and coveted these goodies with great lust. I dreamt of a high-tech, gadget-filled existence and thought the tree-huggers to be unrealistic idealists with their head in the clouds.

That all began to change– slowly, but surely–after extensive world travels and years at university studying about global affairs began to really open my eyes. I read (and write) constantly about human rights and have for at least most of the past decade. I dream of a day where the basic human rights (you know, like those ones agreed upon by many nations–including our own–through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights over 60 years ago) are actually ratified and guaranteed by the governments of the world. A world where everyone has the basics they need to live a healthy and happy existence.

For me, environmentalism coincides with this dream. Pollution, in my opinion, violates my human rights. It affects my health and well-being and the health and well-being of my family. I should not have to endure a barrage of toxins if I don’t want to do so willingly.

Unfortunately, we have little choice in the matter. Our air and water is filled with toxic pollution and it is only getting worse. In some places, people are experiencing severe health problems due to the high toxicity levels in the air, ground or water. Their right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families is being infringed upon by polluters.

High levels of consumerism are having an immense impact on pollution levels. We live in a society where we are expected to shop. We are expected to have a home computer and a cell phone and a big screen TV. We are taught from a young age to value material things. Unfortunately, this value for the material happens to contradict with many people’s value of doing no harm. It was this contradiction that led to my gradual life change.

Not only does the need for the latest-and-greatest cause tremendous pollution, which will harm the planet and the beings living on it, but many of these latest-and-greatest are also incredibly human rights abusing in their production. Now, I’m not just talking about sweat-shops, even thought almost every store in North America probably has at least one product created by sweat-shop labour. The abuses go much deeper.

Think about where your products came from and what it took for them to get from raw materials in and on the ground to your home. They have probably traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles, creating mass amounts of pollution along the way only to wind up in a landfill at the end of it.

If the product has metal components, it is possible that this metal was mined by slaves and you would never even know it. It is quite possible that it also provided financing for a murderous warlord to continue warring. For example, you’d be hard-pressed to find an electronic product such as a cellphone or laptop computer that hasn’t helped in some way to finance civil war or helped to continue the rape, torture or death of innocent civilians.

It is with this in mind, that I began to look into what I was consuming, why I was consuming it and how it was impacting the world. It is with this in mind that I became an “accidental environmentalist”. I started searching out the sources of the products and services I was using daily and whenever I found one that didn’t meet my ethical standards– I stopped using it. As I stopped using all the products and services to such a high degree– I noticed that I didn’t need or miss them after they were gone for a while. As I started looking into environmental issues more and how they were affecting the people of this planet, I started reading about the different renewable and sustainable technologies that exist. I starting thinking– why aren’t we using these? They make so much sense, not only from an environmental standpoint, but they are also more cost effective and efficient.

Reversing or slowing climate change has never been a prime goal for me. Not infringing on other people’s human rights, however, IS.

The next time you think about going green, think about this. Probably the number one greenest thing you can do for this planet and the beings living on it is to STOP CONSUMING SO MUCH STUFF!!

Everything you consume had to be created. It had to use goods mined or extracted from the earth, causing pollution and depleting often non-renewable resources, and is perhaps even using slave labour or causing war and death along the way. When you throw it away at the end of its usage it will probably wind up in a landfill leaching into our water supplies. So think before you buy– do I actually need this? Chances are, you probably don’t, and after a while, you probably won’t even miss it.

Sustainability in the housing market.
January 13, 2009, 2:58 am
Filed under: Market Conditions, Rebecca Sargent, Sustainability | Tags: ,

More sustainable living options are available, but the real estate market has been slow in responding to these options. Perhaps people are unaware of the options that are avilable to them. The market is based on the demands of the people, and the people aren’t demanding it. Realtors aren’t advising their clients to upgrade to more sustainable solutions because many improvements don’t increase the value of properties in the market by as large amounts as other more cosmetic upgrades. Not all builders or contractors are salvaging and recycling their materials or using more sustainable solutions in their building practices because they don’t know they exist or believe it is too costly. The government housing structures and policies have not legislated enough to ensure that more sustainable housing is mandatory. It is a complicated system that is influenced by many factors, but you as buyers and sellers of real estate property can help sway the tide.

Not only are sustainable living measures looking towards the long-term health of the population, and the planet, but most also make long-term financial sense. A more efficient home, that uses sustainable options wastes far less energy, and therefore money. Many simple and easy solutions result in instant savings. Caulking windows, adding insulation, turning off lights, unplugging unused appliances or switching to a programable thermostat are cheap alternatives that can save you a bundle. There are low-flow toliets, and shower-heads for the bathrooms; even fixing simple leaks or drips is important. There are tons of energy-efficient appliances that reduce energy waste. You can insulate your hot water heater and pipes. There are soo many options for you to reduce your consumption in your home for little to no cost (and actual savings on your energy and hydro bills)! If you want to know more, please ask me!

An initial moderate investment in more efficient heating systems, windows, roofing, etc. can result in significant difference in energy usage resulting in great savings! A more significant investment into sustainable energy solutions such as solar panels, wind turbines or geothermal powering can reduce your energy bills to zero, and possibly even result in rebates if you sell your excess back to the system. Wind turbines can start at as low as $2,500.

Did you know that can switch over to sustainable power in your home today? It is slightly more expensive than traditional energy supplies, but means that you are not using polluting and non-sustainable solutions such as natural gas, or coal; or using potentially dangerous raditation producing nuclear supplies. Bullfrog power supplies Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge with alternative sustainable power supplies. Check out to learn more.

The governments of Canada and Ontario offer rebates and programs to help assist you in retrofiting your home to be more energy efficient and sustainable. There are nearly $10,000 worth of grants available to many households to do this. Take advantage of them. Check out Natural Resources Canada at to learn more about these programs or ask me!

If the market (YOU- when buying or selling a home) begins demanding these changes- they WILL happen! We all have a part in this, and can work together to make change happen!

Suburban sprawl and sustainability
January 13, 2009, 2:54 am
Filed under: Rebecca Sargent, Sustainability | Tags: ,

Air rights become increasingly important as the population increases. When there is no more room to build, the only optionĀ becomes to build upwards into the sky. The ongoing pull of suburbia is incredibly land intensive. Each person now requires more space to live than they did 50 or 100 years ago. With the ever increasing amount of space needed, where do we go from here? Once the land runs out, the only place to go is up.

At the early part of the 20th century, families were larger and homes were smaller than they are today. We now have ourĀ 2.5 children and dog living in 2000+ square feet of space on tiny postage-stamp size lots where we can practically touch our neighbours from our window. Why do we suddenly need soo much more indoor space than our parents or grandparents did? Why do we not care as much about the outdoor space around us?

Perhaps we need this space to hold our increasing amount of “stuff”; the overwhelming amount of material goods we now “need” to live our modern life. Perhaps it is because most families buy their groceries and do not need gardens to grow their food. Perhaps it is the government policies and development propaganda that tells us this is what we should want. Whatever the reason, the trend is concerning for many.

We separate the land use in suburbia, with areas for shopping, schools, work and residences all spread out and far away from each other. This increases our need to use our cars to get around, even if it’s just to pop over to the store for some milk. Studies have found that those living in suburban areas are more likely to report high blood pressure, arthritis, headaches and breathing difficulties than those living in less sprawling areas. There is also increased use of polluting fossil fuels as people must commute to work, or use vehicles to visit friends, go to the store or get around the community.

Every year I see new developments springing up where farmland used to be and it is very concerning. Southern Ontario has some of the most prime farmland in the province, and it is slowly but surely being replaced by the ever growing population, with little thought to the future. If we want to continue our suburban sprawl, we must do it in responsible and sustainable ways. We must begin to look to the future and redesign these areas with the health of the community in mind. Farms feed us; we need them to survive. If we must build suburban spaces, we should also look to build more green spaces or community gardens within these spaces. Mixed use spaces are recommended, but what else can we do?

Urban areas are expanding at about twice the rate that the population is growing. Interestingly, many developers continue to expand suburbia, expecting the government to foot the bill for infrastructure like roads and sewer lines- increasing our taxes, while making substaintial profits for themselves. Part of the problem is the policies in place for development that focus primarily on profit, and not on the health and sustainability of communities. Redeveloping land currently in use to better suit the needs of the population instead of spreading out further and further is one way. Taking time to plan new developments in more mixed and sustainable ways is another. We are doing a lot of action and very little thinking. If we do not learn from our history, we will continue to make the same mistakes. It is time we took a close look at the housing industry and made regulations to ensure the health and sustainability of our population.