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BC Election: Sooke All Candidates Meeting – May 4th, 2009

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I received an e-mail from BC Liberal candidate Jody Twa‘s campaign office informing me of an all candidate’s meeting here in Sooke. The meeting will take place at Edward Milne Community School on Monday, May 4th, at 7:00pm.

The panel will consist of Jody Twa of the BC Liberals, John Horgan (incumbent) of the BC NDP, and James Powell of the Green Party of BC. The moderator will be local Sooke lawyer Peter Faulkner.

Jody Twa, James Powell, and John Horgan

Jody Twa, James Powell, and John Horgan

I’d encourage all Sooke residents to attend and hear what the candidates have in mind for our region. The Juan de Fuca riding is very diverse, stretching from the urban centres of Langford and Colwood all the way out to the sparsely populated areas of Port Renfrew and Jordan River (map). The needs of our residents are as diverse as their communities, and you should be asking the candidates what their plans and vision are locally if they are lucky enough to be elected, instead of giving too much thought to the spectacle that is the leaders’ campaign provincially.

In my view, the party vs party, leader vs leader portion of the campaign has thus far been an unmitigated disaster. It’s been a boring, childish, name-calling affair, with no real issues. Both major parties seem more content to sling mud and dig up dirt on each other’s candidates on Facebook and the Provincial Court Registry than talk about real issues. It’s painful and it doesn’t do us, the electorate, any good.

Hopefully, voters will get involved at the local level and give their candidates some issues to take to Victoria. This is the way our system is supposed to work – regional representatives actually representing their constituents instead of spewing party gibberish.

How do Juan De Fuca constituents feel about the campaign? Care to share who you’ll be supporting? Both Langford and Sooke mayors have endorsed Jody Twa – do you agree?

What about BC-STV? Do you think this is a solution to our voting system’s flaws?

Tim Ayres – Sooke Real Estate Professional

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Victoria Real Estate Board Green Task Force Tours Eco-Sense Sustainable Home

The Eco-Sense House in Victoria, BC

The Eco-Sense House in Victoria, BC

As a volunteer on the Victoria Real Estate Board‘s Green Task Force, I was fortunate enough to visit a truly one-of-a-kind project in the Highlands District near Victoria yesterday. Ann and Gord Baird are the people behind Eco-Sense. Part lifestyle, part science experiment, part eco-pioneering, this truly amazing and simply fascinating home is nearing completion atop a rocky pinnacle in the rural municipality about 20 minutes outside downtown Victoria.

What’s so special about Eco-Sense? The short answer: Everything. Ann and Gord have invested myriad time and energy to research, design, and build North America’s first code-approved, seismically engineered load-bearing insulated cob house. As if that wasn’t enough, the home features a BC Hydro grid intertie system, meaning that their electrical meter flows both ways. When their solar and wind energy array is producing more power than the home requires, it reverses the flow of electricity, selling the excess to Hydro. Furthermore, the house is also heated by the sun with a solar hot water system, which also provides the hot water for the plumbing.

Ann and Gords Living Room

Ann and Gord's Living Room

From the foundation up, every detail has been thought about and constructed in a way that is not only environmentally sound, but also economically so. The foundation was poured with high fly-ash (a by-product of Albertan coal-fired power plants) concrete, and fabric forms were used to reduce waste wood. Total cost of forms? $300.

What’s cob? Cob is a building material; a mixture of sand, clay, and straw. Ann and Gord took this one step further and introduced pumice (lightweight, porous volcanic rock) into the mix to decrease the weight of the mixture, and to increase the insulative value. The cob is structural; there is no load-bearing framing in the walls of the home. One of the parts I found most interesting is the wiring and plumbing. Channels for the wires are carved out of the walls, the wiring installed and inspected by the city, and then simply filled over with more cob or plaster. It’s simple, seamless, and it works! Not only is the cob functional, but when finished in a lime-plaster it is also beautiful.

The house features lots of natural light. Light pipes direct sunlight from the roof into a dome-light-like fixture in the ceiling. Also, embedded in the walls are old glass bricks, and wine and beer bottles (my favourite were the blue ones). Other lighting is LED. While the bulbs cost considerably more than incandescent or compact fluorescent, they’ll last quite literally a lifetime, and use a mere fraction of the electricity.

Ann and Gord explain about their home.

Ann and Gord explain about their home.

Nearly all wood in the house is recycled, from local sources including the demolished Mayfair Lanes bowling alley (they even used the nails!).

The house has a composting toilet (no water use), a rainwater collection system for gardening, and a greywater (from sinks, laundry, and showers) treatment system, which is also used for irrigation.

It’s not easy being an eco-pioneer. Since no one has ever done the things that Ann and Gord have been doing, they have had to get each little step approved by the municipality. In fact, they had to shop around for a municipality that was willing to work with them to see this project through. Everything has been done to code, and that meant a few sacrifices. To appease the plumbing inspector, they had to install a flush toilet which has now been removed. They even had to install a $30,000 septic system, even though they aren’t going to be using it. Their toilet uses no water, and the rest of the wastewater is grey water, which is being treated and used for irrigation. Their modified cob mixture had to be strength tested in the lab. However, a nice by-product of building walls out of a non-flammable material is that you get a nice discount on your insurance.

The low-slope roofs will be living roofs, planted with native species. This replaces the vegetation that is lost where the house sits, and also helps insulate the home and purify the rainwater which also flows more evenly and slowly because the soil retains some water before it drains out.

Cob floors, before finishing

Cob floors, before finishing

Now, one thing that’s always bugged me about so-called “green” buildings is that they cost ever so much to build, that it’s hard to get people to buy into it. Every system in the Eco-Sense house has been evaluated on a triple-bottom-line basis. All things considered, Ann and Gord figure that their per-square-foot cost is around $140. Standard construction starts around $150 as I understand it. This is also including an estimate of their labour cost over 15 months, and a very pricey $60,000 alternative heating system. Therein lies the beauty of what Ann and Gord are doing. They are building Eco-Sense the way they see as best for the planet, but realize that other people might have different ideas. You could do more or you could do less. The point is that there are alternatives to frame construction for single family, two-storey dwellings.

This was the kicker for me. It made sense to my logical business brain. Here are two people, who have a

Recycled glass is used extensively in the home.

Recycled glass is used extensively in the home.

lifestyle they want to live that has less of an impact of the natural environment, and they are demonstrating that it can be done very well while remaining with reach of the average family. Once municipal codes and building techniques catch up with the innovation that these two eco-pioneers are forging in the Highlands District of Victoria, it will become even easier and more within reach of the common man.

Why should only the rich be able to afford to be nice to our planet when it comes to housing?

Tim Ayres – Sooke Real Estate Professional

For more information, check out Eco-Sense.ca. Ann and Gord offer fascinating tours for the general public, as well as private tours for technical/tradespeople. Many thanks to Ann and Gord for sharing their work with us. More photos can be found on my flickr page.

EDIT: For even more, check out Gord’s Flickr page, and the eco-sense blog

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Westhills, Victoria BC – A Green Revolution

Langford Master-planned Community Has a Vision For a Green Future.

As a volunteer on the Victoria Real Estate Board‘s Green Task Force, I was invited to a presentation at the WesthillsThe Westhills Master Plan Community Planning Office, at 957 Langford Parkway. The 20-year plan, which envisions an eventual 6,000 housing units made up of condominiums, townhouses, and detached dwellings will sit on a massive 517 acre site on the shores of Langford Lake.

This ambitious development is unique in that it is a large-scale master-planned community, based on sustainability, both resource-based (green building) and social-based (traditional neigbourhood design). The project will adhere to Built Green™ standards for residential construction, and LEED™ (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) standards for commercial buildings. The development is also a pilot project for LEED-ND (neighbourhood development), helping to set a standard for residential construction under the LEED™ guidelines.

The overall idea is to create a community that fosters green living, and healthy social interaction. Sustainable building practices and stormwater management will be used. There will be no asphalt paving in the development; all roads and sidewalks will be paver-stone or a similar permeable material, allowing storm water to seep back into the water table rather than having to manage it through drainage culverts, which can lead to unnatural erosion of the landscape. Two commercial nodes and one town centre will have all the amenities within walking distance of every front door in the community. A network of cycling and walking trails will criss-cross the development. And its location right along the E&N Railway line will enable a future train station for any eventual commuter rail service into downtown Victoria. Homes will be closer to the street, and will feature outdoor living spaces at the front of the house, to foster human interaction. Also, the idea is to have a mixture of different types of housing in the same area, ensuring that the neighbourhood is populated with people of all ages and socioeconomic status.

The master plan calls for 40% of the total acreage to be left untouched, including several forested areas, natural marshland, mountains, hills, and lakes. It is hoped that paradise falls, a small waterfall between two lakes on the property could be harnessed for hydroelectric power.

The property is still in the early stages of development; there are no homes for sale just yet, but the team is just putting the finishing touches on the initial floor plans, and hope to have the first neighbourhood started by the fall.

As green building becomes more and more mainstream, the extra cost associated with building green will gradually fall off. This is the hope of the development team, who struggle with the dilemma of reaching the standards of Built Green™ and LEED-ND™ without putting costs out of the reach of home owners. For example, metal roofs would be the ideal choice – no toxic chemicals leached into the runoff, etc – but as of now it is cost-prohibitive. They are also exploring the possibility of using a geothermal heating and cooling system, which would greatly increase energy efficiency.

The Westhills team is certainly practising what they are preaching. Their office is built just how they want their homes and commercial spaces built in the development. A comfortable flooring material made from recycled rubber tires lines the presentation area. Special care was taken to use low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) adhesive to fix it to the floor. There is recycled/recyclable carpet over a cork underlay. The sitting area has a floor made from the refinished glu-lam beams from the recently-demolished Mayfair Lanes bowling alley (how cool is that!?). All paints, stains, adhesives, etc are low-VOC. Even the office furniture and cabinetry is all sourced from sustainable or recycled product. And of course, lighting is provided by low-voltage halogen or compact fluorescent.

This ambitious project will hopefully highlight how builders and developers can handle future growth, while simultaneously maintaining a strong bottom line and protecting our environment. For more information about this remarkable community and the principles and standards to which it will be built, please visit their website, and check out the various links at the top and left side of the page.

Tim Ayres


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