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ARCHIVED - Mike Holmes tackles climate change

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How "doing it right" is good for the environment

Building sustainably means building with an eye on the future. Homes that use less energy, tap into renewable energy sources and incorporate local, sustainable materials can have a real impact on carbon emissions.

Mike Holmes

Mike Holmes is a Canadian contractor whose commitment to doing home renovations right led to his highly successful TV show Holmes on Homes. He created the Holmes Foundation, which encourages young people to pursue careers in skilled trades, and has also been recognized for his initiatives in eco-friendly and sustainable housing.

I’m a contractor — that’s my profession. But it’s also my passion — nothing interests me more than how something is built. When I was a kid, I would take apart my toys to see how they worked. I look at buildings with that same curiosity — I want to see how they work, and I want them to perform in the best way possible.

Building science is always developing, and that’s exciting to me. What was standard construction or even “cutting edge” a generation ago has now been improved. For example, decades ago, R2000 was promoted as the gold standard in building construction, and we all wanted to build our houses as airtight as possible.

It turns out that reducing air movement is a good idea, but if it’s not done right — all the way through the construction process — we end up with houses that grow mould and break down. I don’t know how many houses I’ve had to tear out that were filled with mould because of condensation or moisture becoming trapped in the wall assembly.

But we’ve learned from that and can now build better by using closed cell spray foam to create a thermal break for a superior building envelope. Or by ensuring buildings are well insulated — and especially well ventilated — and made with mould-resistant materials.

Housing that’s better for people and the environment

I believe homeowners should live in the best houses that can be made, and I want those houses to be high performance and the most efficient they can be. They should use renewable energy sources, like wind, solar and geothermal, and use every opportunity to generate and share that power. The more we’re able to produce the power we need on the individual level, the more we’ll take the strain off existing infrastructure so no more generating plants need to be built.

I would like to see entire communities built sustainably, with high efficiency houses alongside businesses and public buildings. And, those communities should be livable and walkable, so we don’t need to rely on cars.

Mike Holmes’s vision includes sustainable, livable communities.

Mike Holmes’s vision includes sustainable, livable communities.

It may sound grandiose — as if I want to save the world through better housing — but I truly believe that building better will have a positive impact on our environment. If we build sustainably, and change our building technologies and the materials we’re using, we can impact climate change.

There are a lot of ways we can do this. First of all, a huge amount of energy is consumed to power homes and appliances in this country. Creating that energy produces millions of metric tonnes of emissions. So, if we build better houses with high-performance building envelopes, we save on the amount of energy we need to heat and cool our homes.

Plus, if we build using locally sourced materials, we cut down on transport costs. And, since the highest percentage of greenhouse gases come from the transportation industry, we win again.

First Nations housing

I have an opportunity to work with the Assembly of First Nations on a pilot project outside Sudbury that will renovate and improve existing homes that were built decades ago and have not stood the test of time. We’ll also incorporate renewable energy and smart home technology, as well as build new sustainable housing that is appropriate to the region.

And finally, if we build with sustainable materials that last several lifetimes, we won’t have to tear out, replace and rebuild every 20 years. By building sustainably, we’ll cut down on the amount of waste we create through building and repairing houses.

That’s why I love to build with concrete. Yes, there is a lot of energy embedded in concrete — it’s costly to the environment to make. But it’s mould resistant; it lasts a very long time, so it’ll stay out of landfills; and at the end of its life cycle it can be completely reused and recycled.

That’s how we should build — with our eye on the future of the house. For every material we use in our houses, we need to consider how long it will last, how it was made, where it comes from and how it can be disposed of. Your house should outlast you — as well as the generations that follow you.

This is not a hard thing to do. This is simple stuff. If all the builders in this country commit to building green, we will make great progress toward reducing carbon emissions. Building sustainable communities that are livable and durable and energy efficient is the only logical thing to do. End