Urban Sustainable Renovation

Location: Yonge & St. Clair Ave, Toronto

Size: 2,300 SF including the basement

Builders: Greening Homes


This project is a sustainable renovation for a family of four in a house built 20 years ago in Toronto Ontario.  The entire house was renovated from the attic to the basement, with materials chosen to reflect the client’s interest in sustainable building and eclectic taste.

Materials were chosen to address concerns about off-gassing of formaldehyde and VOC’s, therefore the countertop and fixtures used in the kitchen used recycled stainless steel, and complimented the inventive backsplash, which is made from cork flooring, painted glass and a salvaged wood shelf. The backsplash in the Powder Room made use of left over metal flashing from the roof.

The kitchen cabinetry is constructed of locally sourced FSC walnut on the exterior, and FSC Formaldehyde Free MDF shelves on the interior. There is also a bar countertop made from a FSC certified material of post-consumer recycled paper and petroleum-free resin, painted a bright orange colour with LED lighting from beneath the ledge to give it a vibrant glow.

The existing fireplace had not been properly insulated so a new, more efficient fireplace was put in and the surround was properly insulated with recycled denim batting. Alternatives for the new fireplace mantel included trips to salvage stores and antique shops, but in the end, the client opted for a clean-lined surround (built with FSC lumber and high recycled NAUF drywall and finger-jointed mouldings made from off-cuts). The surround was painted (with low-VOC paint) and decorated with reclaimed early 19th century French tiles collected at auction and a 4” thick slab of salvaged Brown Ash finished in natural oils to reveal the grain.

A built-in bookshelf replaces the upstairs banister (which was re-used for the stair leading to the basement). The bookshelf is made of beautiful salvaged white oak which has been hand rubbed with oil/varnish to give it a deep brown tone with lots of character and patina. The back of the bookshelf is backed with steel wire (traditionally used as reinforcement in cement), which helps light pass from the upper floor to the main and provides interest to the stairs.

To reduce water consumption throughout the house, a tankless water heater was installed, as well as low flush toilets and low flow showerheads in the bathrooms. The garden was planted with indigenous plants to reduce the need for watering.

The urban sustainable renovation project has the following features;

  • FSC-certified lumber
  • Toto DualMax WaterSense certified low-flow toilets
  • Recycled stainless steel kitchen countertop and fixtures
  • Heat recovery ventilation
  • Tankless water heater
  • LED lighting throughout
  • Recycled cork stopper shower and backsplash tiling
  • Cork flooring (basement)
  • Carpet removed from basement re-used as concrete slab insulation
  • Refinished original wood floors with low-VOC sealant
  • Ultra Touch recycled cotton denim batt sound insulation (bathroom walls)
  • High-recycled content drywall
  • Custom 6-panel sliding closet doors fashioned from reclaimed and refinished doors
  • FSC-certified custom crown moulding
  • Custom built-in bookshelf, fireplace mantel, and kitchen shelving from reclaimed wood
  • FSC-certified custom bathroom vanity and walnut kitchen cabinetry
  • Eco-Logo certified zero-VOC adhesives and caulking
  • Bathroom tile mosaic from client-supplied pottery and ceramic shards
  • New backyard deck built from small-milled and locally sourced eastern white cedar
  • FSC-certified Paperstone and butcher block kitchen countertops
  • Reclaimed antique French tiles incorporated into new living room fireplace

The builder also has a rigorous system of disposing materials sustainably.  He provide the following statistics on this project;

  • The total waste created from this project was 5.15 metric tons (5,149.9 kg).
  • The total waste to landfill was 3.18 metric tons.
  • The diversion rate from landfill was 38.25%.
  • 0.81 metric tons (810 kg) of drywall was recycled for use in new drywall.
  • 0.91 metric tons (910 kg) of wood waste was recycled for chipping into wood panel products.
  • 0.21 metric tons (49.9 kg) of metal waste was recycled.
  • 0.04 metric tons (40.0 kg) of cardboard waste was recycled.

The client, Bettina Hoar, was so enthusiastic about what she learned in working with us and the builder that we recommended (we set up interviews with 4 builders for her to select from) that after it was finished, she went on to open up her own sustainable renovating and consulting business called ‘Sage Idea Studio‘ with partner Amanda Levey.  Their business  intent is to help Toronto homeowners and small businesses to integrate sustainble design, architecture, products and services.  Bettina was directly involved with the builder selecting materials, picking up supplies at times, finding great recycled products.  She choose her own colours and fixtures and found a new career in discovering her love of working with unique & innovative sustainable ways to create a new home for her family.  We are very proud of this project and the great collaborative effort with all parties involved!