Fin MacDonald

Information on me and my current projects

Category Archives: My House

No Fracking Way – Reducing my household heating impact through bio-gas offsets

My family recently moved into a new townhouse in Ottawa.  Our house has a Goodman natural gas furnace which is only a couple years old.  It has an annual fuel utilization efficiency of 95% and is Energy Star certified.  Despite its high efficiency I’m still worried about our consumption of natural gas (otherwise known as Methane).  Methane burns cleaner than most fuels however the hydraulic fracking process used to extract it from the ground can damage the water supply, and it also creates fugitive methane emissions which are very difficult to measure and therefore largely unaccounted for in current greenhouse gas accounting programs.

The alternative to using methane from hydraulic fracking is to get it from landfill sites.  Landfills and composting facilities produce methane from organic waste.  Things like rotting fruit, vegetables, or other biomaterials produce methane.  The conventional practice was just to vent this methane into the atmosphere so it doesn’t build up and cause a risk of explosion.  Venting it to the atmosphere contributes to global warming much more than burning it would (20-80 times as much).  This methane can be captured and injected into the current utility pipeline for natural gas.  Methane is much more potent of a greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide, and when methane is burned it produces Carbon Dioxide.  This means that by capturing and burning the methane that landfill sites produce, we are not just reducing the global warming potential of landfills, but also providing a source of fuel.

Most fuel providers don’t sell landfill gas, however Bullfrog Power now provides green natural gas from bio-gas facilities.  As mentioned above they harvest the waste gas from rotting bio materials and inject it into the natural gas pipeline on your behalf.  The facilities that they use are both local and innovative, and the cost premium you pay directly funds this innovation.  They are currently funding three bio-gas locations in Ontario, including the Toronto Zoo’s Zooshare project which captures methane emissions from “animal poo”.  The cost of offsetting your home’s natural gas consumption with natural bio-gas is approximately $20-$30 each month.  Its even cheaper for us because we have an Energy Star certified furnace and our home is a semi-detached townhouse.

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Protecting Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) in the Nursury

Having just moved into a new house, and with a baby on the way, its time to set up the nursery.  While many people base their decisions on appearance and utility, I think the health aspect could use more attention.  I wanted to create this blog entry to share some of the decisions we made, and why we made them.

Low Emission Furniture

When buying food people pay close attention to the ingredients, however this is seldom true for furniture.  In many cases the furniture we place inside our homes contain toxic ingredients.  This is especially true of composite wood products and mattresses.  The glues and resins in these products often contain formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Formaldehyde has a boiling point of -19 degrees Celsius which means it vaporizes at room temperature and enters the air.  We know for certain formaldehyde causes cancer, so you don’t want baby breathing that in.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has created standard 93120 that place limits on the amount of airborne toxins including formaldehyde emissions allowed for different types of composite wood (man made wood products like particleboard, plywood, veneers etc).  If your crib, dresser, or change table is CARB phase 1 or CARB phase 2 compliant then you know it is under the safe emission level.  If not then there is no limit to the amount of formaldehyde that might be present.  Our crib had a solid wood core and featured veneers of a different type of wood.  These veneers were glued on, so we made sure that the crib met the CARB requirements.  The is no legal requirement for manufacturers in Canada to meet CARB.

One step up from CARB would be GREENGUARD Gold certification (formerly known as GREENGUARD Children & Schools).  The emission limits for products certified to either of these standards is even lower.  This is especially important for items a baby will have direct contact with, such as a crib mattress.  We found a GREENGUARD Gold mattress and purchased it.

No-VOC Paint

Paint is another item that has a big impact on the indoor air quality.  Similar to formaldehyde, other VOCs also have a very low boiling point which allow them to vaporize at room temperature.  Paint that is manufactured without VOCs won’t cause any fumes or other IAQ pollution.  This means that you could literally paint with the windows closed and not get a headache because there are no dangerous fumes from the paint.   If you don’t want to go for no-VOC paint, you can look for low-VOC paint.  We chose to use Olympic Icon paint which is not just no-VOC but also Ecologo certified.

Mercury Free Lighting

We installed L.E.D. bulbs in the nursery lighting.  When buying bulbs you typically have two choices when it comes to energy efficiency.  L.E.D. or Compact Fluorescent (CFL).  What many people don’t know is that CFL bulbs contain mercury, and the amount of mercury is not regulated.  When these bulbs are burnt out they need to be taken to a toxic waste disposal site.  This isn’t something you want in your nursery (or your house at all).  If one of these bulbs were to break indoors the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends you open a window, shut off your forced air heating or air conditioning system, and leave the room for 5-10 minutes before attempting to clean (more info).

Flush-Out

Finally, once the room is finished you can flush out any toxins that may have snuck into the room.  You do this by airing out the room for long periods of time.  Any toxins that may enter the room’s air can leave throught the window.  Its important to assemble any furniture well in advance of the baby’s arrival to allow for any toxins to off-gas and be flushed out.  We assembled our furniture two months before the baby arrived and aired the room out for a few hours once a week.