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Blogs | Walking the Talk


Building Environmental Systems Training (BEST), at Douglas College, for Building Operators and Managers

BEST 1100 Practical Overview of Building Systems BESS 1100 CRN 16030, Term 200716, Thursdays from 4: 30 PM to 7: 30 PM, starting February 8, 2007 and continuing to April 19, 2007.

This course reviews basic building science required for trouble-shooting and analyzing heating, air-conditioning, air handling, electrical, plumbing and control systems. The goal of the course is to provide students with a “Continuous Commissioning” approach to sustainable operation and maintenance of existing buildings. The essential topics in the course all presented and discussed from the perspective of implementing Energy Management strategies and performing Best Practices Operations and Maintenance on existing buildings.

Today's Stewards for Tomorrow.

I thought posting this would be an excellent way to share my Leadership Victoria Community Action project, get feedback, and potentially some help.     

part-time work for sustainability educators

I thought the following might be of interest and very relevant to some of you...


Call for teachers, part-time ($30/hour) and Call for Education for Sustainable Development Classroom Resources

I am a professional. Made a lot of hand sculpted cob houses. My interest now is to learn rooves & floors

properly.  WE`ve already done about 5 earthen floors & 2 with radient heating.  My main accomplishment was on Maine Island near Vancouver/Seattle.  In  2 months we made a Biggish house.   

eco virgin

i just came across this. wow. bring it on. 


an inconvenient truth

i just saw "an inconvenient truth" last night. wow. everyone needs to see this movie. i am totally blown away by how good gore is able to explain the problems. i understood global warming beyond a resionable doubt within 3 minutes. it took me 30 years to gain that clairty.

New "buddy" feature on walkingthetalk

We've just implemented a new feature on the site where you can keep a list of your contacts as "buddies" after you view their account/get in touch with them. The buddy list allows you to contact and keep track of people in your area of interest or who are in working and living in your part of the province.

Sunshine Coast - Sustainability Educators Gathering Dec 9, 2006

Jennifer Gr oves and Simon Hocking hosted a wonderful gathering at the Rolling Earth Center in Roberts Creek, B.C. this afternoon and evening with the intent to create a network for people committed t

Long list of links and resources...from Germany

Last year I was able to visit Luneburg, Germany to attend a conference on sustainability in higher education. I was just revisiting their site and found this great list of resources. I'll add them to our web resources when I get some free time. For now here they are: Links from http://www.uni-lueneburg.de/infu/chair/links/links.htm

Weather or Not : Eco-Sense November Update

Weather or not…  how fitting a vision of our future home in relation to what we have just been through.  Thoughts of being snug and safe in our earthen home, drawing on our 5200 gallons of rain water using stored solar electricity to power low voltage pumps, using our composting toilet, excited about the wind and selling power back to BC Hydro.  Even on the cold clear (sub zero) days we will be making 180 degree Celsius water to heat our floors and showers.  In our new house weather is not an issue just a resource,  but this month we have not been enjoying these future resources. 
As everyone has experienced, November has had unprecedented amounts of rain, wind, snow, and freezing cold; we have been fully at the mercy of the weather.  Our sanctuary has been the cob woodworking shop where the wood stove has dried our clothes, melted our snow for drinking water and warmed our bodies.  We’ve been some of the most fortunate ones here in the Highlands of Victoria where power has been out for 6 days now, phones have been gone for three, temperatures dipped to minus 13 before windchill and the heavy wet snow reached 45 cm.  Our trailers are well equipped with propane for the furnace, water storage tanks, and batteries for the 12 volt system; sounds good… when all systems function.   In the extremely cold temperatures pipes have frozen and batteries have died; the trailers have no thermal mass and lose heat immediately after furnace fans quit.  So we were faced with whether or not to use a generator and burn copious quantities of fossil fuels, spewing even more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.  We did what any human being would do to keep their family from freezing in the dark…we fired up the noisy beast. 
A subject that doesn’t even make us flush when we talk about it is our composting toilet system.  We have been lucky, most of our neighbors had to pack water or melt snow in order to go to the bathroom.  Composting toilets continue to provide a superior solution to flush toilets.  No smell, no mess, no fuss, and as long as you work the toilet works.  
When is it time to change our way of living to become sustainable?   How do you know whether or not it is time to change?  When we were pushed to join the chorus of generators in the neighborhood, when we realized we were fighting nature to survive and hold our ground.  We already knew it was time to change but this whole experience has fueled our fires for our project, and has increased our sense of urgency to not only create a safe and climate friendly home for our family but to share this knowledge and sustainable way of living with others.  When the big energy crunch hits in full force what will people do?  They will go into survival mode just like we had to and do whatever it takes to keep their families safe, warm, and fed and in doing so, increase the rate of consumption of the dwindling resources.   The transition away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy has to happen now…before people go into survival mode.
This extreme weather has challenged us…but what about all the other creatures.  Our land has been hit hard with the early and heavy snowfall accompanied with unseasonable cold and sustained low temperatures.  We have lost too many arbutus trees to count, and the poor young cedars have been flattened. All this comes on the heels of the driest summer on record.  The earth is speaking and we need to listen.
We recently wrote to Saanich on our observations about green and sustainable building for their first workshop in a series called The Sustainable Saanich Series.  Saanich made our four pages of notes/rants available to the rest of the participants and included our cover page with a photo of the American Bullfrog.   Those that approached us laughing about the picture got the message… just because you’re “green” does not mean you are “sustainable”.  A copy of this is also available on our web page in the log section.
Jessica Woolliams from the Cascadia Institute (www.cascadia.org) was a presenter at the Sustainable Saanich workshop; during her presentation she also noted “green building” does not equate with “sustainable building”.  Green building as seen in the construction, architecture, and engineering industries is about being “less bad” with more efficient appliances, more insulation, less air leaks, more technologically complex heating/cooling systems, with minor attention paid to the embodied energy required to make the building itself or the systems.   Sustainable building is as much about the embodied energy required to build the building as the energy required (over the course of the buildings life span) to make it habitable; a truly net zero emission home.  Sustainable does not mean more efficient or more complex, it means that the inhabitants enjoy a level of comfort without compromising the ability of future generations to enjoy the same.  Sustainable buildings and systems are made from lower embodied energy technologies/materials and the energy/products used are sustainable and renewable.  Green building is a step in the right direction, but it is far from where we need to be.  The LEEDs program is primarily focused on “green” building with different level of greenness.  The Cascadia Institute, acknowledging the difference between “green” and “sustainable”, has just launched the next level above the LEED Platinum rating calling it “The Living Building Challenge”.  Our project meets the requirements of this new challenge on almost all levels and it will be interesting to find out more.  Perhaps our Eco-Sense home will be the first “Living Building” under this new program.
October was a physically busy month, but with the weather episodes in November we had to change gears and work on the systems design.  The heating system is not as daunting or complex as we thought.  It consists of the solar thermal collectors, a large hot water tank, radiant floor heating system, and a backup heating unit.  The system requires three small low voltage assist pumps, one for the solar loop, one for the floor, and one for the back-up heating loop.  Pumps are very efficient especially on low voltage DC.  Thanks to the folks at SolarCrest for all their help so far.  The backup system will be a wood boiler, most likely a Greenwood boiler out of Washington that has an 87% efficiency rating.  The boiler on one armful of wood will produce 90,000 BTUs per hour for 12 hours.  The amount of wood required is rather minimal, and the only time it will be required is during extended periods without sun.  The tree fall on our land from the past snow storm probably amounts to three cords of wood, and it is my guess that with our systems, we may use about a cord per year or less as back-up to the solar.    
In addition to the solar thermal collectors heating our hot water, we will have an opportunity to transfer the excess heat energy somewheres else during the summer.  We would prefer to use this energy to make electricity for the grid, rather than shunt it off as excess.  We are open to any ideas, suggestions or other to make this happen.  If you would like to be involved in this please contact us.   gord@eco-sense.ca .
The rain water system has also been very simple to design.  Domestic water storage consists of two 2000 Gal tanks at the house site of which we want to draw from both, one, or the other; to pump one into the other if required to perform cleaning; be able to re-circulate either one through a sand filter, and ensure that all water drawn into the house comes through the sand filter and UV sterilizer.  Sounds complex but when put on paper it is very simple.  We have decided to have a standard float switch in one cistern hooked up to our well, where when the level drops quite low in the cistern the switch will send 72 volts DC (straight from the solar panels) to the Grundfos SQ Flex pump and top up the cisterns to a set level (also determined by the float switch).  This means when the sun shines and the water is low the cisterns will be topped up automatically to meet our needs.  Our need will be much less than a conventional home with no flush toilets, a water saving shower, and water conserving clothes washing machine. 
The greywater system was also simple as pie.  We plumbed the house site for separate grey water and septic and in a junction box out front we put in a valve to divert grey water into the septic (for code) or through a living worm bio-filter before it goes down to the mulch basins to water the apple trees for the pie.  We had the inspector come up to view all the pipe work before backfilling.  All was good. 
We have tried hard to engage BC Hydro into discussions on the grid inter-tie program.  Over the past three months we have had no response.  Very disappointing!  Speaking of difficulties, Sara Cassidy of Focus Magazine has written an article in December’s issue on hurdles of sustainable building.  We will post a copy on our web page if we can. 
For those who have shown interest in future workshops, we are just starting to organize a spring, summer and fall schedule with Elke Cole.  Our goal is to get the walls up three feet or so before the first workshop, so participants have some exciting stuff to work on. We will also be looking for experienced cobbers to engage in some paid labour.  Send us an email if you are interested.  ann@eco-sense.ca
One final rant completely off topic.  As we were huddled in the trailer with the wind up radio, we listened to CBC On The Island repeatedly discuss the power and phone outages, then in the same breath repeatedly discuss what number to phone in case of an emergency.  If something does not sound correct, you are right.  There is a disconnection between not having phone service and phoning for help, literally.  In situations like this it is so important that able bodied individuals check on their neighbors…it is acceptable for technology to fail but no excuse for community to fail.  As the snow clears we truly hope there has not been someone forgotten for days in the cold.
Ann and Gord


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