Can This Home Be Greened? A 1930s British Columbia Home

Our eco-expert suggests sweeping changes as a family in British Columbia greens their 1936 home.

| May/June 2008

  • Electric baseboard heaters waste energy and could be replaced with ceiling-mounted electric radiant heat panels.
  • Joanne MacKinnon and Rob Beynon and their children, Rohan and Zoe (with her pet lizard, Ra) want a home that’s healthy, energy-efficient and full of character.
  • Though beautiful, the fireplace loses more heat than it creates.
  • Replacing inefficient doors and windows and beefing up insulation would go a long way toward making this home in British Columbia more eco-friendly.
  • The existing kitchen work triangle is wedged into the corner.

After years of renting, last spring Joanne MacKinnon and Rob Beynon of Vancouver, British Columbia, finally made their dream of home ownership come true. Joanne had always envisioned living in a home with lots of character. And she got her wish—sort of. The 1936 house they bought was extensively renovated in the 1970s. The remodel had altered the home’s vintage flair, but it had also added the second story, where Rob and Joanne’s home office is located. More important, Joanne and Rob could offset the cost of owning a home by renting out the bottom floor, which already has a kitchen, bath and separate entrance.

While the house the family bought is very different from their vision, it does have natural light and good ventilation. And the location is ideal—just eight blocks from fun and funky Commercial Drive and within walking distance of Joanne’s office.

Excited about their new roles as home-owners, Rob and Joanne got to work right away. First they removed the main-level carpets and installed locally milled hardwood floors. Upstairs, where they live with their children, Zoe, 12, and Rohan, 9, they added a new, energy-efficient stacking washer and dryer and gave the interior walls a fresh coat of zero-VOC paint.

Rob and Joanne wanted a long-term plan for green remodeling. Our suggestions tend to be broad strokes, along with several smaller pieces that can be implemented over time.

1. Slow winter heat loss

Problem: As with many older homes, keeping the temperature comfortable during winter—without blowing the bank—is the biggest challenge. Four major elements rob this home of heat: single-pane, aluminum-frame windows; sliding doors from the 1970s; an open-hearth fireplace; and poor insulation. The windows and doors conduct cold in winter, through both the glass and frames. The fireplace hearth vents warm air out the chimney even when there’s no fire. The roof attic has less than 4 inches of fiberglass insulation (12 inches is ideal). And while the upper-level walls are filled with pink fiberglass, the couple doesn’t know if insulation was added to the main and lower levels during the remodel.

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