Green home designing and building

Green building is now more than a trend, it is a construction method adopted by many families in Quebec and elsewhere in the world. Drummond House Plans would like to help you in your project by offering you this green building guide that covers every stage of planning a new home construction project.

Much more than a trend

Even when ecology and energy savings are not among our priorities, everyone has an interest in thinking "green" for the construction of their home. This is common sense.

Ecological, "green" or sustainable labels are now popular in all consumer markets and the construction industry is no exception. These concepts also have a significant impact on demand, to the point where many housing market actors are devoting a lot of resources to their development and promotion.

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For example, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has implemented its "EQuilibrium" in-house program, which is currently demonstrating green homes based on five basic criteria: a healthy, sustainable, environmentally friendly, energy-efficient and less expensive home to live in and to maintain.


Architectural firms are the gateway for the development of this type of construction and for them, the avenues are almost as numerous as the needs of customers.

In order to inform your choices in your healthy and eco-sustainable construction project, The Drummond House Plans team proposes a three-step report that will follow the process of developing a greenhouse model taking into account the realities of our market and our climate.

The house that will be the basis of this report is a model of contemporary style developed by Drummond House Plans. (See house plan 3950 here >).

In this first article, let's first give a definition of green building and an overview of the elements to consider when you start your planning process, and during your first meetings with your architectural designer. We will also discuss in future editions elements to be respected throughout the realization of a green house.

Green, healthy, sustainable or energy efficient?

Eco-sustainable building, healthy house, energy-efficient building ... Do all these expressions have the same meaning? Let's just say that they represent different aspects of a broader concept: green building. Depending on the source consulted and the target audience, this definition includes a greater or lesser number of elements that govern the management of the techniques and resources used and their environmental, economic and human impacts in the construction of a dwelling or any other building.

The above-mentioned CMHC definition has 5 elements, while the one suggested by the National Association of American Home Builders (NAHB) includes 7 in its Green home building guidelines. In this case, we begin with the ecological development of the sites, the efficient management of the resources (materials), the effective management of the energies used, the effective management of the water, the quality of the internal environment, the efficiency operation and maintenance of the construction and the overall impact of the construction in its environment.

In this area, the reference most often cited in green building is surely the LEED program (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) developed in the United States and now adapted to our market by the Canada Green Building Council ( This program that was designed as a tool for ranking green buildings for the commercial market is also used as a reference in residential and also includes 5 categories of criteria: the ecological development of sites, the effective management of water, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, quality of indoor environments.

Whether you use 4, 5 or 7 different criteria to define a green home, the key is to understand how you can apply these concepts to the construction of your home. This is what you will see in this report. This will help you make informed choices about which elements to prioritize based on your own environmental, economic and human interests.

In this first article, let's first give a definition of green building and an overview of the elements to consider when you start your planning process, and during your first meetings with your architectural designer. We will also discuss in future editions elements to be respected throughout the realization of a green house.

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A construction with many advantages

"Green construction" offers a multitude of options that ultimately will have to respect your tastes and budget, but it must be remembered that the benefits of such a construction are not only environmental. The occupants of these homes benefit directly from the many advantages that flow from them and often deserve investment and effort.

Here are some of the benefits that green home owners can generally enjoy more than conventional home owners.

  • Lower maintenance and operation costs
    The emphasis on energy efficiency and resource economics will reduce energy and material requirements. Energy and maintenance bills will be reduced in the medium to long term.
  • Increased comfort
    Green houses enjoy a more stable temperature and a controlled atmosphere. This also results in better moisture control, and temperature differences are minimized for better comfort.
  • A better environment
    By paying particular attention to construction details, selected materials and mechanical systems used (air handling and others), a green house will contain fewer harmful chemicals and provide a healthier indoor environment.

First step: the site

When building green, and as for any other construction project, the first essential step in your approach is certainly the choice of your neighborhood and your land. And if you have a minimum of interest in green building, it will be important to choose a location and lot that will respect certain basic elements.

To choose a place of residence for you and your family, several criteria must be taken into account. In addition to lodging, you must also eat, work and play. It will therefore be necessary to choose a neighborhood that facilitates walking, cycling and public transportation. The parks, schools, shops, and entertainment venues that you frequent will have to be nearby. By limiting your travel, you will reduce your emissions of greenhouse gases caused by motorized transport.

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It remains difficult to minimize the impact of the construction of a house on the environment because first of all, construction is a destructive act. We must clear the ground, dig a hole and modify the fauna and flora present on the site. The development of infrastructure and services causes even more damage when developing a new street, a new neighborhood, and the manufacture and transport of materials also produce pollution. On the other hand, if the use of such materials or techniques allows an infrastructure or building to last much longer, in fact, we will save energy and reduce pollution by using them in the long term.

The search for the ideal location to build in a chosen area is also a difficult task, which is why new housing developments are increasingly distant from the centers. However, from an urbanistic point of view, it is essential to densify the lands still available to curb urban sprawl. The valorization of old industrial lands is an excellent avenue to avoid developing virgin lands and to modify the zoning of green or agricultural spaces.

Construction is also easier in developed sectors as services and infrastructure are already present. Street design should also take into account prevailing winds and sunshine to create efficient infrastructure and maximize their effects on housing. The living environment will be all the more enjoyable and the streets can be developed safely and promote social interaction.

Orientation and implementation

Once the lot and location are chosen, it is now necessary to implant your home optimally. Maximizing the benefits of the sun is relatively easy when the building is well oriented. Exploiting the south side of the house allows you to enjoy the light and the warmth of the sun. Passive lighting and heating provided by the sun are basic elements of your green building, and their effectiveness depends mainly on this orientation given to the building. Similarly, a garage built on the north side will serve as a barrier against cold and wind, windows located to the south will provide warmth and light in the living spaces. In winter, the sun is lower and will thus penetrate further into the house. In summer, pronounced eaves and awnings will prevent the sun, higher up in the sky, from entering and overheating the house. In the project described here, we have an ideal situation where it is possible to orient the living spaces to the south. It is not always possible to choose the perfect lot based on this important criteria, but you should still pay particular attention to it as many elements of your green building will depend on it. When planning the development of the land and the location of the house on it, and to maximize the energy efficiency of a green home in a cold and temperate climate, we must make sure to use maximum heating effect of the sun's rays in winter and create enough shade in summer. The effect of the wind should also be minimized in winter and still allow fresh air movements in summer. To achieve this, the location and orientation of the house are key elements that must be combined with appropriate landscaping.

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Pay special attention to the plant species present on your land and clear only the space needed for construction by protecting as many local trees and plants as possible. The trees will serve as a barrier against wind and cold in winter, while tempering the surroundings of the house by creating shaded areas in summer.

The use of tree species and plants specific to your land will also provide you with an easy maintenance landscaping that will save you time and money, in the short and long term. On the other hand, the use of plants and flowers from a different environment will require much more watering and maintenance time.

Passive solar energy

Passive solar designing is essential to the realization of an ecological home. By simply adding windows to the south side of a residence, its interior will benefit from the free heat of the sun in winter. An excellent way to benefit more from this energy is the use of a good thermal mass against large windows that will store solar heat during the day to irradiate it at night. This mass should ideally be on the ground because that is where sunshine is the strongest. Concrete, thick ceramic and natural stone are good choices.

Sufficient windows to the south will allow for maximal exposure of thermal mass in winter. On the other hand, in summer, it should be protected from the sun by eaves or a flexible sunshade device and ideally motorized. This will prevent overheating of the building in summer and minimize air conditioning needs while reducing visual glare.

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Natural lighting should therefore be studied to avoid overheating and glare. In the field, the main strategy is to plant leafy trees in front of the windows in the south while in winter, the absence of leaves will favor the passage of solar rays.

Buildings built with consideration to prevailing winds and the sun's course will necessarily be more comfortable and technically efficient.

To take advantage of the free energy of the sun even more efficiently, it is possible to install a system of solar panels to produce electricity. The energy produced, if not immediately required, may be stored in accumulators or batteries for later use. It can even be sent to the local electricity grid and give credit to the owner.

Interior layout

Since your home is your main living environment, interior design must first meet your needs and lifestyle. The ecological approach, however, wishes to limit unnecessary spaces that require maintenance and generate additional costs. It is not only a question of choosing materials that are healthy and not harmful for the environment, but also of using as little as possible.

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A rigorous analysis of your needs in number of rooms and their areas is essential at this stage of planning. Your conceptual designer should be able to advise you properly to get there. Among other things, the development of multipurpose rooms will be encouraged. In addition, sufficient mechanical space should be provided to install the various systems already required for your construction in addition to additional technologies that can be integrated into your green house (accumulators of electricity, gray water recycling ...).

It is not suggested that you deprive yourself of spaces that you consider essential, but a good green house design should allow you to reduce the use of resources. The best way to do this is to maximize the use of spaces. If you need 4 bedrooms to house your family, you will need to consider this, but you should also be able to do this by occupying a smaller area than a conventional home. A good technique is to evaluate the dimensions of existing homes in your area and try to do better for your construction.

Obviously, the main living areas will be located south of the house to enjoy natural lighting. The model we present here includes a three-story layout that uses full fenestration on its three floors on a sloping lot.

A healthy home must also take care of its inhabitants, so you need to know if a two-story house is appropriate to your lifestyle. People with reduced mobility will benefit from a single-story style home (bungalow), and even if it's not your case, it's always important to think about the future if you want to live in your house for many years.

Starting construction

The next step is the choice of materials before the start of construction and this is what we will discuss in a future article. An energy-efficient, sustainable approach, and healthy materials will ensure occupants will take full advantage of green building.

It is not an easy task to design a green home and meet all its requirements. We will have to compromise, prioritize our needs and try to look ahead to assess the long-term impacts. This house will not be a laboratory and especially not futuristic. On the other hand, it will be healthy for its occupants, ecological to help preserve the planet and sustainable to minimize ecological impact.

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High ecological potential

More concerned about their health and the environment, Quebecers have changed their perception of their home in recent years. They want to live in homes that are healthier, greener, more energy efficient and more sustainable to save resources and the future.

Green construction begins with the choice of land and architectural plans that take into account many criteria. The organization of rooms to maximize space and reduce the use of resources is as important as the orientation of the house depending on the nature of the lot, sunshine and prevailing winds.

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Starting the construction of a green house

The Drummond House Plans team will help you select the materials that will be used to build the frame and envelope of your home. Remember that the main goal of green building is to preserve the resources of our planet while providing a healthier environment for its inhabitants. As a result, recyclable materials with a minimum ecological impact and durability will be promoted.

A healthy and sustainable home will, by definition, have a long life; the longer it takes for natural resources to be replaced, the more ecological it will be.

Building structure

The construction of the main structure is the stage where the greatest quantity of materials with ecological potential can be used. Before starting the construction, several choices must be made concerning the materials and techniques used. Here are the main components with some recommendations.


Although cement production is highly polluting (about 5% of global carbon dioxide production), a good concrete foundation is essential because it has an unlimited life and will allow the building to last through the years without moving. New types of concrete known as "Ecosmart" are now on the market, in which a percentage of Portland cement is replaced by other less polluting (ash or other) cement additives. Similarly, one of the aspects not to be overlooked when erecting foundations is the choice of a hydrocarbon-free release agent. To facilitate the removal of foundation formwork, most formers coat the plywood parts of their formwork with motor oil. Since this oil is used on both sides of the foundation, traces can be found in the basement for a very long period of time. Today, there are low-emitting water-based release agents. In addition, to increase basement comfort and the overall insulation level of the home, it is recommended that 2 "of extruded polystyrene be installed on the floor before pouring the concrete floor slab.


The framing is usually made of 2" x 6" wood. Wood is a renewable resource, but we need to encourage responsible harvesting of our forests. FSC Canada (Forest Stewardship Council, suggests to always look for products (wood, furniture, paper ...) bearing the FSC logo, which ensures that the forest of origin of the product has been developed in a responsible way for the environment and the human communities that depend on it.

Another essential rule of green building is the preservation of resources by limiting waste. Traditional construction results in 3% to 5% loss. In a green building, steps must be taken to minimize the amount of rejected material.

The use of factory-made components is therefore an excellent "sustainable" alternative that offers two major advantages. First, it saves resources by optimally managing factory-made materials. Also, factory-made work under controlled conditions helps maintain excellent assembly quality that improves the life of the building.

Some structural elements such as roof trusses and floor joists are already mostly prefabricated. The industry of prefabrication of these components, which reuses its own residues and even those rejected by other assembly lines, is an excellent example of responsible resource management.

In addition, one could also use engineered wood whose performance, determined very accurately, is much more reliable than traditional wood pieces. Despite a higher purchase cost, greater use of engineered wood would save significant amounts of materials.


In regards to insulation, polyurethane spray is a very advantageous and ecological solution both outside the building and inside foundations. The product selected should be made from recycled plastic, oil and soybean residues. This insulation will certainly give a healthy, efficient and sustainable building structure.

Rockwool is also an excellent insulation option. Rockwool is made from basalt (a volcanic rock) and in addition to being an excellent thermal and acoustic insulator, it is non-combustible, water repellent and permeable to water vapor. In addition, its fibers are considered less harmful to health because they have a greater diameter than that of fiberglass.

To fill the cavities between the amounts of the structure and the attics, another alternative will be cellulose fiber. It is 100% natural and contains 80% fiber from recycled newsprint. It is also very efficient from a thermal point of view and infiltrates the small interstices of the structure to form a homogeneous cushion.

Whether your building is green or traditional, superior thermal insulation is without a doubt the best investment we can make. In addition to increasing your comfort, it will reduce your energy consumption.

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For Drummond House Plans, fieldstone is certainly the undisputed champion of green products in this category. Fieldstone does not require processing, which is not the case of the cut stone that is extracted and carved mechanically.

The benefits of natural stone (cut or fields) are many, even when considering its higher price. It is first and foremost the most durable option with unlimited life expectancy. It is also a neutral material that emits no harmful substance and is completely reusable. It requires no maintenance and withstands the worst weather. A stone wall also offers superior thermal and acoustic insulation. The only drawback associated with natural stone is the distance it will have to go to get to the site, since its transport requires a lot of fuel.

Bricks and manufactured stone are also good choices because they offer the same benefits as stone, but with a larger ecological footprint, however, since their manufacture based on concrete is more polluting than natural stone.

Natural wood - ideally untreated, stained and protected with natural products - remains a valid choice. It is relatively durable, easy to repair or replace and recyclable. Torrefied wood is also an excellent ecological option. Highly durable and mildew resistant, no chemicals are used in its processing. However, it is a little more demanding than natural wood from an environmental point of view since torrefaction consists in heating the wood to more than 200oC in an oven. Thus torrefied, the wood becomes waterproof, rot and very hard, which will give it a very good life.


Although traditional asphalt shingles are now more and more recovered and recycled, the most environmentally friendly choice still seems to be steel roofing or lightweight steel shingles. This material is much more durable and resistant than asphalt shingles and is fully recyclable.

It is also recommended to choose light colors since they will reflect more sunlight, which will avoid overheating the attic. In addition, some types of steel plates will not require support such as plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), which also decreases wood consumption.

It should be noted, however, that Oriented Strand Board (OSB) can also be used as part of a healthy home, as many are now made without a formaldehyde binder. The chips used are also residues of recycled wood which avoids having been being thrown out or put or the wood stove.


As part of an ecological construction, the main function of the windows is to allow us to enjoy a free and inexhaustible energy: solar energy. Energy Star windows with "Energy Star" ratings must first be selected. These certified windows minimize thermal losses while filtering UV rays and are more durable.

As for the type of window frames, the most ecological and sustainable choice would be the fiberglass frame, but very few companies offer this option. Other materials have either higher environmental costs or are difficult to recycle. In addition, fiberglass is an excellent insulator.

A green house aims for optimal use of solar energy in all its forms. Abundant, well-oriented (south-southeast) fenestration should be paired with a clever general design that includes, among other things, staircase assemblies without risers to allow sunlight to pass in addition to improving the flow of air between floors.

To ensure the comfort of the occupants, avoid overheating and reduce air conditioning costs, it is also essential to install a sunshade device, such as a motorized awning or awnings, which will control solar radiation according to the needs of the moment or season.

As for the type of chassis, the most ecological and sustainable choice would be the fiberglass frame, but very few companies offer this option. Other materials have either higher environmental costs or are difficult to recycle. In addition, fiberglass is an excellent insulator.

A green house aims for optimal use of solar energy in all its forms. Abundant, well-oriented (south-southeast) fenestration should be paired with a clever general design that includes, among other things, staircase assemblies without risers to allow sunlight to pass in addition to improving the flow of light.air between floors.

To ensure the comfort of the occupants, avoid overheating and reduce air conditioning costs, it is also essential to install a sunshade device, such as a motorized awning or awnings, which will control solar radiation according to the needs of the moment or season.

Choices to consider

It must also be remembered that for all the products we buy, transportation is an element that adds a lot to the ecological footprint we leave behind. It is always better to promote the purchase of local products as much to preserve our environment and our wallet.

Building the main structure of your home is a step that requires large amounts of materials. So it is at this stage that several green techniques and sustainable materials should be used if you want to preserve the resources of our planet while providing a better environment for your family.

Once the main structure of the house completed, we will move on to the installation of mechanical systems and the interior finish. In our next article, we will see how a number of mechanical elements can help reduce our ecological footprint.

The interior finish

The choice of materials is essential to constitute a healthy interior for the health of the occupants. In particular, we must try to eliminate toxic products and materials. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from particle boards, coatings, insulation, paints, varnishes and adhesives are frequently the cause of allergies and respiratory problems in hypersensitive individuals. Ideally, one should learn about the composition of each material and remove solvents and materials containing formaldehyde.

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It is preferable to use VOC-free paint, water-based adhesives, and built-in solid wood or formaldehyde-free chipboard furniture. Floor coverings will be hardwood from a well-managed (FSC), bamboo, cork, laminate, ceramic or natural stone wood installed with a water-based adhesive.

Ventilation and heating

To have a truly healthy home, ventilation must be effective. In a super-tight house, a heat recovery mechanical ventilation unit (HRV) must be installed. Although more economical to buy, a simple air exchanger is not enough. An HRV consumes very little electricity and can recover at least 80% of the heat of the expelled air. Some models also help to recover moisture to avoid drying out the air in the house.

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In addition, the distribution of fresh air must be ensured in all bedrooms and in the living room. The exhaust air will be evacuated by air intakes in the kitchen and bathrooms. Proper ventilation is the guarantee of healthy indoor air for its occupants.

Since it saves 65% on the heating bill, geothermal energy is the most environmentally friendly heating method. However, the efficiency of geothermal energy is obtained at the cost of a very important investment that is difficult to justify in the context of a green building. In Quebec, the installation of an electric heating system (forced air or electrical baseboards) remains an ecologically responsible choice. In the case of electrical baseboards, electronic thermostats will make you save around 10%.

Air infiltration

Air infiltration can be a big part of the heating bill. A good airtightness will maximize the conservation of thermal energy. Only Novoclimat houses have a tightness rate verified by a blower door test. A Novoclimat house will save you at least 25% of your energy bill compared to a standard building.

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The Energy Star symbol

When buying appliances, electronics, doors and windows, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning appliances, look for the Energy Star symbol. Energy Star appliances are not necessarily more expensive and will save you money while protecting the environment. Note that Energy Star doors and windows are mandatory in Novoclimat homes.

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Water consumption

The rational use of water is also part of an ecological house. Water-efficient sanitary fixtures such as 2-flush toilets (3L and 6L), as well as temperature and flow controllers for the shower and bath will be installed. In addition, a rainwater harvesting system should be used to water the garden and the plants of the landscaping.

In short, it is not an easy task to build an ecological home and meet all its requirements. Compromises will have to be made and the residues and garbage will be given a second life when the house is erected. Our homes must be healthy for residents and sustainable to minimize our ecological footprint on the planet.

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Have a look at our green house, house plan # 3950


We also invite you to visit the following sites that we have selected for their informative content on green building.

U.S green building council :


Canada Green Building Council :