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Healthy Housing Guide

Having the right information at the right time is key to better decision-making.

That is why we continually gather useful, up-to-date information and tips to help you. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions, or would like to discuss your own design-build, renovation or restoration project.


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Don’t Throw That Wood Away!

I attended a seminar last year sponsored by the Regional Municipality of Ottawa Carleton on waste issues. The conclusion reached by the sponsors, using various data from Canadian studies, was that it was more cost effective to recycle building materials rather than dump them. The net economic benefit in many cases was to save the labor cost of the disposal and the dump fees. And careful planning of material orders will also reduce waste and will save money by reducing the cost of materials purchased for the project. And the greater good was to reduce the amount of material ending up at our dumpsites.

Few industries have as many “green” issues to worry about as the renovation business does. In the past, renovation has been a major contributor of waste to Canada’s landfill sites. However, for many in the renovation industry, the road to becoming more environmentally friendly has begun.

To help renovating home owners respond to these concerns, the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders’ Association (OCHBA) has been working, with other organizations, to educate the renovation industry and home owners with the message that home renovations don’t have to mean truck load after truck load of garbage to the local land fill site.

I think that local renovation contractors, and the local industry as a whole, are leading the country by responding to environmental issues voluntarily, rather than waiting for legislation before reacting. Renovators are seeking solutions to construction waste management, acknowledging that their industry contributes to the problem and therefore is responsible for addressing these issues.

Most renovations include some demolition and much of the removed material can be recycled. The quality of much of the old rough timber is really amazing. Old windows, sinks, cupboards and doors can be offered free to anyone who wants them. And people are usually happy to recycle. Studs and wood siding can often be recycled as strapping or blocking. In fact, our company warehouses heritage building materials and fixtures, many of which are hard to duplicate now. We save brick too – many of the specific types of brick we use for our heritage work are no longer available. We’ll soon be setting up a page on our website to buy and sell vintage building materials.

A lot of construction waste can be eliminated simply with careful planning and ordering of materials. If we all spend a bit of extra time with our calculator to make sure we order exactly the right amount of material required, who knows – maybe we can even save a few trees!

Indoor Air Quality

Indoor Air Quality

I recently took the first part of a two part process of a Residential Indoor Air Quality Investigator Course sponsored by C.M.H.C. (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation). The purpose of the course is to train inspectors in the process of identifying residential air quality problems and offering practical advice and solutions to home owners. My interest in air quality has developed from my observation that most of our homes suffer from a lack of good air. As some of my work now involves suggestions and solutions to improve the air, I wanted a better understanding of the sources of the problems. Although C.M.H.C. has been assembling data for the last 15 years on IAQ problems it is only recently the extent of the problem – and the consequences – of bad air are being understood. We were able to view a couple of buildings with air problems that appeared to adversely and seriously affect the health of the occupants.

People are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact their house has on their health. Many people are experiencing health problems due to pollutants in their home’s air – formaldehyde gas, particulates, radon and other chemical contaminants; molds, pollens, mildews, and other biological contaminants. Even common building materials cause discomfort to some people from woods like pine and cedar and composite materials. Others are affected by certain glues using urea formaldehyde resins, which are found in furniture and particle board. Even carpeting can be difficult for some people because it gives off gases which cause reactions in many people and carpets collect and hold large quantities of dust. Disorders ranging from asthma and allergies to immune system dysfunctions and chemical hypersensitivity are linked to the quality of indoor air.

Once areas that cause bad air are identified, Inspectors offer remediation and construction solutions to minimize or remove the problem before new construction begins. Priority should always be given to eliminating indoor air problems before improvements are made. For example, if the basement has a moisture problem, the renovation should aim to correct the problem before attempting to perform further work. Without removing the problem, the contaminants can be sealed into the new construction.

Many simple and affordable modifications can be easily incorporated into renovation work plans to improve the home’s air quality. It is important to consider the impact on air quality while making any change to your building. Many people experience humidity and air quality problems in their home for the first time following a renovation. New doors and windows, and even new siding, can increase the air tightness of a house.

Many renovations are performed with the intention of improving a home’s energy conservation qualities, by insulating and sealing the exterior walls and attic. However, in achieving this increased performance, a deficiency of fresh air inside the house results. By correcting air quality problems during renovations, when they are easier and less expensive, you may be able to avoid more expensive solutions and better health in the future.

In addition to reducing the source of indoor pollutants, it is common to install a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) during renovations. The HRV uses one fan to constantly bring fresh, outside air into the house, and another fan to exhaust from the house an equal amount of stale air. Like its name suggests, an HRV recovers your precious heat from exhaust air before discharging it to the outdoors. Through a heat exchanger within the HRV, the cooler incoming air is preheated using the warm exhaust air. Most HRV’s use the existing furnace ducting to distribute fresh air to all rooms and occupied areas, so they can be installed as part of a renovation without major ducting revisions.

Renovating to create a well sealed house is actually an opportunity for healthier living. Take this opportunity to install proper, controlled ventilation and then enjoy a healthier indoor environment.

For more information about indoor air quality, I would recommend that you consult the Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporations many good publications. “The Clean Air Guide” and its accompanying video, “This Clean House” are good reference publications.

Damp Basements

Damp Basements

Many of the period homes we visit have unhealthy indoor air, which can lead to health issues. Often the cause of the air contaminates are from high humidity levels in the basement area. Common causes of damp or wet basements include:

Improper surface drainage – usually a result of soil around house sloping towards the house, instead of away.

Solution: Add topsoil around house to provide a gentle slope away from house.

No eaves trough, or downspouts that dump water adjacent to foundation

Solution: Install eaves trough and extend downspouts 10 feet from house.

Leakage around basement windows – basement windows are typically below ground level. Water will run to the lowest point (your windows) and enter around the base of the window.

Solution: Install window wells to help keep water away from window areas. Properly installed window wells will also effectively drain water away water from window areas.

Cracks in foundation walls or basement floor will allow ground water to enter.

Solution: Small cracks (up to 1/4″) that do not appear to grow larger over time, can be patched and sealed with patching compounds available at building stores. Larger cracks are generally indicative of a more serious problem and will require professional assessment as to the cause.

Drainage tiles installed at base of foundation are broken or plugged. Older houses used drainage tiles made from clay to divert water away from foundations. Over time, the clay tiles crack, collapse and get plugged with soil.
Solution: Excavate completely around foundation and replace weeper drainage system. Definitely not a do-it-yourself job. Professional assistance is a must to correctly diagnose the problem and to recommend the best solution.

Fact! All concrete foundations will crack. New concrete will shrink as it dries and produce small cracks. Settling of soil, nearby construction, bus and truck traffic, tree roots and groundwater pressure all put strains on foundations.

Fact! Over 90% of basement leaks can be fixed by keeping surface water away from the foundation. A good soil slope away from the house and properly installed eaves trough are a must. Two low cost solutions to try before considering more extensive & expensive alternatives.

Fact! Ventilation of basement will draw out damp, humid air. Open windows a crack, install a mechanical ventilator and install cold-air return furnace ducts in the basement. A mechanical ventilation system or HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator) will help keep your whole home fresh and healthy.

Sandy Hill Construction will be happy to evaluate your damp or wet basement. It’s as easy as a call or email!

Sick Homes

Sick Homes

Home Inspection Information Series

The catch phrase “Sick Homes” describes homes with poor, even hazardous, living environments. There are several sources which can make homes uncomfortable and unhealthy to live in. And a basic problem is poor air quality, often caused by too little ventilation. Inadequate ventilation may be a combination of things. New houses are insulated and sealed so well that no fresh air enters in. Moisture builds up but can’t escape and that makes a perfect breeding ground for mold. Also, some types of building materials emit vapours that are harmful or discomforting to many people. Such conditions eventually make a house “sick.”

Summary of Problems

“Sick House” symptoms develop because the house literally can’t breathe. As a result, it gets congested with internal pollutants.

Especially in winter, pollutants can be more abundant when airflow is less. Common sources of pollutants in the home are carpets, furnace, fireplace, pressed wood cabinets & cupboards, and excessive moisture.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) consist of a range of chemicals that are released into the air over time. Often described as that pleasant, “new smell,” VOCs can be harmful. Short-term exposure to VOCs can cause headaches, nausea and irritate eyes, throat and nose.

Fact: Older homes, as well as new homes can be “sick homes”. Newer homes are extensively sealed, trapping moisture and pollutants. Older homes, often have poor insulation, allowing moisture to enter and condense in side walls – a breeding ground for mold. A professional assessment will identify what you can do to make your home a Healthy Home.

Fact: Indoor pollutants and mold have been attributed to respiratory problems in children. Adults suffering from fatigue, headaches, irritated eyes and allergies often find relief by addressing their indoor living environment. Ask yourself – Do my symptoms worsen in the fall and winter (when windows are closed) and clear up in the summer months (when windows are opened)?

Summary of Solutions

All those creepy dust mites, molds and organic chemicals make a house unfit to live in. Thankfully, there are some simple, cost-effective solutions to reduce/eliminate many pollutants.

  • Change furnace filter once a month.
  • Run bathroom vent fan when showering to discourage mould growth
  • Open some windows – let fresh air in!!
  • Clean humidifier and air conditioning drain pans
  • No smoking
  • Let new carpet, drapes, furniture “air out” before bringing inside
  • Keep gutters clean to avoid moisture penetration
  • Repair cracks in basement/foundation
  • Regularly clean and tune all fuel-burning appliances/fireplaces

One of the best ways to enhance air quality is to install a whole house Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV). A HRV extracts harmful moisture and pollutants from the house and delivers a continuous supply of fresh, healthy air. Your family will benefit from a healthier home environment. Your house will benefit by reducing moisture that can cause structural problems and create building contaminants.

Healthy Basement

Healthy Basement

If you’re one of thousands of Ottawa home owners planning to renovate or finish their basement in the near future, consider going one step further to make the basement more environmentally friendly and better for your health. That’s the message from the Ottawa- Carleton Home Builders’ Association (OCHBA) who are performing a demonstration project to show that home renovations and basement improvements provide an excellent opportunity to make your home more energy-conscious while creating a healthier indoor environment.

The OCHBA Renovation Demonstration house basement will have the ECHO System, winner of the 1994 Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders’ Association technical innovation award.

With this system, the perimeter R20 stud walls and R4 subfloor will be constructed so they will be ventilated and depressurized throughout by a small blower exhausting fom the floor at only two points. This ventilation will dehumidify the basement, preventing mold growth and odours all too common in conventionally insulated and carpeted basements. The ventilation system will also stop radon gas entry into the basement. (Exposure to radon gas in homes is the second leading cause of lung cancer.) The basement floor will be finished with hardwood, an option definitely not recommended without the ECHO System.

There are many ways in which local basement renovations can be performed healthier:

Protecting Occupant Health
  • Protect against water leakage. Water leakage will lead to the development of moulds and mildew. Minor leaks can be from the interior. Significant leakage may require excavation around the foundation to remedy the problem.
  • Protect against entry of soil gases and vapour. A moisture barrier over the interior surface of the foundation wall should extend from the slab to grade. Seal around all openings and joints in the slab. In areas with high radon levels, install a sealed floor trap. Ensure an effective seal over sump pits.
  • Use low emission materials and products. When selecting materials for the interior of the converted basement, minimize the use of materials with high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Specify water-based paints and adhesives.
  • Ensure effective ventilation. When converting your basement, ensure that your existing heating and ventilation system has adequate capacity to serve the new space -providing adequate heat and fresh air white allowing for the exhaust of stale air. Provide direct venting from areas used for crafts, or for storage of toxic materials such as solvents and paints.
  • Protect against by-products of combustion. Make certain that your furnace is properly vented and that there is an adequate supply of combustion air to prevent backdrafting and spillage of combustion gases.
  • Use low emission materials and products. Concrete slabs can be finished with a water-based wax sealer to contain concrete dust. Kiln-dried spruce lumber has lower moisture and lower chemical content than other green softwoods. Most particle boards have higher emission levels than exterior grade forms of plywood or oriented strandboard (OSB).
  • Specify paints, sealants and flooring materials which don’t emit Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). An EcoLogo approval means the product will provide a healthier interior environment.
Improving Energy Efficiency
  • Upgrade exterior walls. Basements can account for as much as 30% of the heat loss from a home. Higher insulation levels and effective air sealing at the foundation/floor assemblies will improve energy performance.
  • Install rigid insulation over concrete floor slabs before the new flooring to enhance comfort levels.
  • Install high-performance windows. Better performing window units will enhance comfort and provide long-term energy savings.
  • Use energy efficient, task lighting. Compact fluorescent fixtures are four times more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs. Task lighting principles will allow for extra light when, and where, it’s needed.
Resource Efficiency
  • Use resource-efficient products. Manufactured wood products and finger-jointed or birch trim all represent means of reducing the burden on old growth forests.
  • Use materials with high recycled content. Glass-fibre batt insulation, drywall, and a variety of flooring products are available with high levels of recycled content.
Environmental Responsibility
  • Practice efficient space planning. Careful attention to design can result in optimal use of purchased materials and reduced construction wastes.
  • Use more durable materials that are moisture-resistant and last longer, minimizing future burdening of landfill sites.
  • Manage construction wastes. In many markets, scrap wood, drywall and metal can be either reused or recycled.
  • Consider a Life Cycle Analysis. Improving the energy efficiency of your basement can significantly reduce your home’s operating costs. Ask your contractor about converting unused basement space into efficient, usable space — it will improve the resale potential of your home.

Many healthy materials and products today are competitively priced with those of yesterday. Consider their longer term benefits to your family.

Five Housing Essentials

Five Housing Essentials

A few years ago these Five Essentials were considered trend setting. Now all of these ideas are typically incorporated into most aspects of the renovations that we design and build. This list can maybe serve as a template as we work together considering the design and implementation of your renovation.

Occupant Health
  • High efficiency ventilation system to ensure superior indoor air quality
  • Low emission paints to reduce vapours
  • Hardwood and tile floors which are easier to clean
  • Cabinetry and shelving from special products that do not emit formaldehyde and other vapours
  • Storage rooms ventilated to exterior
  • Radon gas remediation
Energy Efficiency
  • High efficiency on demand hot water heating system to reduce fuel consumption
  • Increased insulation levels in walls and attic
  • High efficiency windows and doors
  • Energy efficient appliances
  • Energy efficient lighting like compact fluorescents, LED’s
  • Generous windows to reduce lighting costs located in relation to seasonal light
  • Power generation to supply electricity back to the grid
Resource Efficiency
  • Low flow toilets and plumbing fixtures to conserve water
  • Efficient use of building materials to reduce construction waste
  • Extensive use of recycled building materials
  • Use of rapid growing woods like poplar, spruce, bamboo and maple
  • Locally produced materials to support local economy and reduce haulage
Environmental Responsibility
  • Recycling of old building materials through donation (Habitat For Humanity)
  • Recycling center in the kitchen
  • Exterior composter
  • Better use of site by increasing occupant density
  • Use of building products that require lower energy to manufacture
  • Home office for reducing vehicle usage
  • Minimization of materials going to landfill
  • Use of products that are readily available at reasonable cost
  • Flexible design can reduce future renovation costs
  • Low maintenance, long lasting materials and finishes
  • High indoor air quality for better occupant health and lower health care costs
  • Energy efficiency lowering heating and electricity costs
Electricity in the Home

Electricity in the Home

It has been over 200 years since Ben Franklin flew his kite in a thunderstorm. To this day, the discovery of electricity continues to shape and change our lives. Electricity continues to enrich our lives, deliver comfort and productivity. Electricity can also injure, kill and destroy.

An assessment of a home’s electrical system ensures it is capable of meeting the demands of your family, in a safe, reliable manner.

Assess your family needs

20 or 30 years ago we did not have computers, VCRs, photocopiers, microwave ovens and many other appliances now common place in the home. The electrical system of an older home may not address the present needs of your family. Even in a newer home, the electrical system may not support the recroom renovations, home office or the new pool you plan to install after you move in. A professional home inspector will take time to understand your family’s needs and plans for the future.

Identify hazards

In Canada, over 10,000 residential fires annually are attributed to electrical malfunction. A professional home inspector will look at the general condition of the wiring and assess the materials and quality of workmanship. Many do-it-yourself electrical upgrades are poorly performed, or down-right dangerous. The inspector will also look for important safety features, including the use of Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) outlets in locations such as bathrooms and outdoor areas. A GFCI outlet provides unsurpassed protection from electric shock for less than ten dollars.

Basic Inspection checklist
  • Identify type, size and integrity of outside service entering house
  • Assess electrical panel capacity and requirements of home
  • Assess age and condition of electrical wiring and devices
  • Identify if aluminum wiring is installed
  • Look for warning indicators such as scorching on wires, outlets and switches
  • Check for GFCI outlets in damp locations
  • Test to insure wiring is properly connected

Improper, inadequate or amateur wiring is the second most common problem in a resale home. If you have any questions regarding your existing wiring or the changes that might be necessary for your renovation, please give Sandy Hill Construction a call.

Caution: Electricity in your home can kill. Do not open or inspect any electrical wiring, device or appliance. Contact Sandy Hill Construction, a professional home inspector or qualified electrical contractor to assess your electrical system condition and home’s requirements.

Increasing your home's ventilation

Increasing your home’s ventilation

Many people experience humidity problems in their home for the first time following a renovation. New doors and windows, and even new siding, can increase the airtightness of a house. A prime fuction of many local renovations is to improve the energy conservation quality of the exterior walls and roof. In achieving this increased performance, a deficiency of fresh air inside the house results. There are three main requirements for fresh air in your house: Make-up air, combustion air and ventilation for occupants.

Make-up air is the air required to replenish that which is exhausted by household equipment such as exterior exhaust central vacuums, cook top fans, bath fans and clothes dryers. If all these fans are running at the same time, they can require approximately 750 cubic feet per minute of make up air brought into the house. Without make-up air, a down draft from fuel burning appliances such as furnaces and fireplaces will result, forcing deadly carbon monoxide gas into the house.

Combustion air is the air required for the burning of fuel in appliances such as furnaces and fireplaces. Without oxygen the fuel will not burn. The building code requires the installation of an outside air supply to all furnaces, woodstoves, etc. If your furnace or fireplace currently does not have an air vent to supply it with outside air, make this part of your renovation.

Ventilation for the occupants is the least understood requirement of air. The Ontario Building Code requires one third of the air in the house to be changed every hour. Given that renovations can improve energy conservation in a house through the installation of new windows, insulation, vapour and air barriers and high efficiency furnaces, the natural air infiltration into the house is reduced. When renovating, the objective is to introduce fresh air in a controlled manner and distribute that air throughout the house.

The purpose of fresh air is to reduce pollutants within the house, be they high humidity, odours or toxic gases. (Common items like carpeting, kitchen cabinets, flooring adhesives and paint all give off toxic gases such as formaldehyde.)

The most common method of increasing a home’s ventilation is through the installation of a heat recovery ventilator (HRV). The HRV uses one fan to constantly bring fresh, outside air into the house, and another fan to exhaust from the house an equal amount of stale air. Like its name suggests, an HRV recovers your precious heat from exhaust air before discharging it to the outdoors. Through a heat exchanger within the HRV, the cooler incoming air is preheated using the warm exhaust air. Most HRV’s use your existing furnace ducting to distribute fresh air to all rooms and occupied areas, so they can be installed as part of your renovation without major ducting revisions.

Renovating to create a well-sealed house is actually an opportunity for healthier living. Take this opportunity to install proper, controlled ventilation and then enjoy a healthier indoor environment and a healthier life.

New Homes Offer Healthier Indoor Environment

New Homes Offer Healthier Indoor Environment

The increasing interest in a healthy indoor environment among both new homebuilders and buyers reflects some hard facts. According to Statistics Canada, more than 25 per cent of the population has an allergy or a chemical sensitivity of some kind. About 6 per cent of adults and 20 per cent of children suffer from asthma.

Whether someone in your family has special environmental sensitivities, or you simply want to ensure a healthier living environment for everyone, your builder will be able to take specific steps to ensure good indoor air quality in your home.

Through the Healthy Housing initiative, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has identified innovative designs, construction practices and products that can make homes healthier for occupants, better for the environment and, at the same time, practical and affordable.

When the standard for the R-2000 Home Program was updated recently to advance the energy-efficiency of R-2000 homes, it also included measures to improve indoor air quality. The R-2000 Home Program is a joint effort of the Canadian Home Builders Association and Natural Resources Canada as well as many other partners across Canada.

Common products and approaches include clean-air manufactured wood products for sheathing, flooring underlay and kitchen cabinets; low-toxicity glues, caulking compounds, paints and varnishes; and reducing the area of carpeting in your home and increasing the use of natural wood and ceramic flooring.

Ventilation is essential for maintaining good air quality in your home. In older homes, accidental ventilation through cracks and leaks in the house was considered enough to bring in new air and get rid of old, stale air. Unfortunately, it also meant higher heating costs, dust and drafts.

Many of todays energy-efficient homes are well equipped with controlled mechanical ventilation systems which do a much better job. Whole-house ventilation systems provide a steady supply of fresh air to all living areas in your home and expel stale air to the outside. Heat recovery ventilators are designed to transfer heat from the outgoing house air to preheat the incoming air, helping you to cut down on heating costs.

And finally, homeowners themselves have a tremendous impact on the air quality in their home. By making informed decisions about your lifestyle and the products you bring into your home, you can minimize the irritants in your personal living environment and enjoy a healthier home. Sandy Hill Construction will be happy to discuss your ideas and implement them so that you can enjoy a home that is built for your specific needs and your comfort.

For more information about Healthy Housing, contact CMHC s Canadian Housing Information Centre at (613) 748-2367.

For more information about R-2000, contact the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association (613-723-2926) or call the R-2000 Home Program, Natural Resources Canada, toll-free at 1-800-387-2000.

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Tel: (613) 832-1717
Email: sandyhill@sandyhill.ca

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Sandy Hill Construction specializes in whole home renovations that respect your home’s original character and are faithful to your neighbourhood’s unique building style.