Sustainable housing and real estate in Kitchener-Waterloo Region

Some criticism of sustainable technologies.

Sustainable technologies such as solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal heating are just really starting to take off. The more these type of technologies are used and become popular, the more efficient they can become, allowing  different and new types of technology to emerge onto the marketplace.

There are criticisms of many of the systems and those who use them will surely tell you they are not without their flaws. Some of the first earthships created, for example, were designed in such a way that they produced excessive, unlivable amounts of heat. They had to be tweaked and perfected in such a way that would address the problems so that they could be livable. As a result, newer earthships are better designed and more comfortable to live in. They needed to be used, tested and tried to even discover what the real problems were to be able to even begin to address them.

Tree hugger

Renewable energy and sustainable technology is really only at its infancy. We are just beginning to realize the true potentials and possibilities that are out there. The best is yet to come.

One of the biggest problems I see with many of the renewable energy technologies (such as solar, geothermal and wind turbines) being truly sustainable is the resources that they require in batteries or heavily mined materials to manufacture them. All batteries require mined metals and minerals that are non-renewable and incredibly waste intensive. Many of the technologies are also incredibly waste intensive during their manufacture, distribution or at the end of their lifecycle, as they wind up in landfills leaching toxins into the garbage soup that may eventually find its way into our groundwater.

Sustainable means thinking about the entire lifecycle of a product, not just how much energy it will save during its usage. How much energy went into its manufacture? How much waste was created? How far did it travel? Where will it go when its done being useful? Will it wind up in a landfill, or can it be recycled? I always like to add to this, was it created/distributed/disposed in a manner respectful of all human rights, because to me, this is also part of being truly sustainable. If a product was manufactured using slave labour or disposed of in a way that will toxify other human beings– it is definitely not sustainable.

So what’s best to use? Which technologies are best? How should we live our lives in the most sustainable way?

There’s no magic answer. Mostly, because the way the world is set up right now, it’s next to impossible to really find out the full details of every product you are using, even if you wanted to. The average product makes at least 10 stops along the way before it ever reaches our stores and we throw it away when its finished its use with little regard for where it will truly end up. This is not being sustainable. There are many great technologies out there waiting to come out and many companies trying to be as fully sustainable as possible, but unfortunately they are being shrouded by all the greenwashing that’s out there.

It’s time to stop greenwashing, and instead really focus on being truly sustainable. This won’t happen overnight, and will take some trial and error. It will take companies looking into the entire lifecycle of their products and finding ways to reduce their impact overall, people wanting to be more conscious and governments strong enough to make responsible legislation.

If you find faulty “green” claims out there or cases of greenwashing- you can report them under the Competition Act.

Do you want to view homes and businesses utilizing sustainable and renewable energy technologies and have all your questions answered?

Hello all!

I will be running a tour of homes and businesses in the K-W region that are currently utilizing sustainable or renewable energy technologies in collaboration with University of Waterloo’s Sustainable Technology Education Project (STEP) so that you can learn about these technologies from those who use them every single day!

The tour will be absolutely FREE and everyone is welcome!

Included in the tour will be solar technologies, geothermal technologies, wind turbines, green roofs, heat recovery systems, straw bale construction and grey water systems, as well as some local community gardens. See how the technologies work and ask all your questions directly to the home or business owners who use them.

You can take the tour with your own transportation, or join a group and tour with others who will be taking the bus, walking, riding bicycles, or using rollerblades and skateboards to get from site to site!

The tour will be running Sunday September 20th starting at 10am.

If you would like to join the upcoming tour or want more details please contact me at or directly at 519-591-4299.

If you own a home or business that is using sustainable or renewable energy technologies and would like to be part of the tour, please let me know about it!

Hope to see you there!

Please be sure to add yourself to the facebook events page!

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.