One of Alberta's newest home-building supply companies aims to lighten the decision-making load carried by consumers and contractors who want to build or renovate a home using environmentally sustainable building materials and practices.
"I would be happy enough if some of the big developers just offered (these kind of products) as an option," says owner Roxanne Calver.
A licensed real estate agent and experienced homebuilder in Calgary, Calver's life-long interest in healthy home environments and ecological sustainability gained practical momentum when her youngest son, now an adult, experienced ongoing health problems related to the off-gasses produced by traditionally manufactured home products, including carpets, paint and furniture.
Now, she's offering a kind of one-stop-shopping experience for the ecologically aware (or afraid, as the case may be). The Healthiest Home and Building Supplies retail store, located in the Calgary community of The Bridges at 833 1 Ave. N.E., opened in mid-February of this year.
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|Roxanne Calver's store offers alternatives to traditional household products and building practices, placing more emphasis on health and sustainability.|
The first-ever franchise outlet of an Ottawa-based company that started in 2003, The Healthiest Home stocks an aesthetically pleasing selection of 'green' building supplies that range from eco-friendly flooring to non-toxic paints, water-saving toilets, water purification systems for homes and RVs and kitchen cabinets made of strawboard and reclaimed wood veneer.
In addition to recycled wood, cork, bamboo and rubber-tree flooring, the outlet offers wool carpets with a biodegradable underlay of hair and jute (a plant fibre), an ecologically safe selection of home cleaning products and glass tile and dinnerware made of 100-per-cent post-consumer recycled glass.
Calver, whose clientele include buyers from Edmonton to Lethbridge, sees the store as a practical response to growing consumer interest in healthy homes. And she notes the store's physical location as an example of where the healthy home industry is headed.
Her store is one of several street-level retail spaces located in a building called The Vento. Built by the Windmill Development Group, it includes 20 town-home condo suites (plus two additional affordable housing units owned by the City of Calgary) and is certified under the national leadership in energy and environmental design (LEED) program.
Under an independent audit system developed by LEED, The Vento is expected to earn platinum certification, says Jonathan Westeinde, managing partner at Windmill. That would make it the first platinum LEED-certified residential complex in the nation and Westeinde is convinced its construction materials and building practices will set a new industry standard over the next decade.
Those standards are already being used at The Acqua, a similar residential/retail development by Windmill that's under construction in The Bridges. Calver's company opened its doors after The Acqua construction began, but Westeinde expects The Healthiest Home will handle all of The Acqua's flooring needs. Future Windmill projects in Calgary will likely source even more of their building supplies from the franchisee.
Amber Sparrow, sales and marketing manager for Windmill Development Group in Calgary, credits the proximity of downtown office and retail amenities to quick sales of Vento and Acqua condos.
Most buyers also liked the buildings' environmental features. "It might not have been the primary reason that they purchased (but it mattered)," says Sparrow, who admits buyers were more knowledgeable than expected about the ecological and health benefits of Windmill's construction choices.
That knowledge is no surprise to Calgarians Larry and Rowena Cromwell, part of a growing cohort of Calgarians whose health issues have motivated their own research into the healthy home.
They're building a retirement home/art studio in Crowsnest Pass. And while the project has taken more than two years and already includes passive solar heating, passive geo-thermal heat, triple-pane windows and keen attention to using products that do not produce toxic off-gasses, they've found it difficult to find eco-friendly alternatives to everything from paint to adhesives.
They've been to Calver's new store and liked what they saw. "It's a challenge to find environmentally friendly products to have a healthy house and to find something that's aesthetically pleasing," notes Rowena.
Others are equally supportive.
"I'm very impressed with the knowledge of the general public when they call me" for advice and information, adds Tang Lee, a professor of architecture at the Faculty of Environmental Design, University of Calgary.
Renowned for his work in sustainable building science and environmental health, Lee says companies like The Healthiest Home make sense, given heightened concern over an increasingly toxic environment and the fact "the home environment can have more air contaminants than outdoors."
While laws governing personal safety of employees and consumers may factor in exposure to specific levels of a contaminant, they don't yet deal with the concept of how same-time exposure to multiple contaminants from off-gassing leaves some people more susceptible to health problems, especially if they're exposed in a home environment where they spend most of their day, says Lee.
Calver has seen those health problems first hand, and while each of the three homes she and her husband Chris have built took several more steps towards being healthier environments, she admits that doing all of the research yourself can be a little overwhelming.
A first-time retailer, she hopes others who share her passion for the environment and have had the same experience will welcome an opportunity to drop by her store and have virtually all of their healthy home needs met at a single site.
A businesswoman at heart, she's also convinced her store makes economic sense given Calgary's current housing boom, coupled with its prosperity and the relative youth of its highly-educated population. (Research shows the young and educated are particularly keen to make decisions based on environmental health and sustainability.)
But she's no dreamer. This spring, she and her husband will move their two adult sons into a brand new condominium - but not before the family goes in and physically replaces the equally-new off-gassing carpets with a cork or engineered-wood floor.
It seems ridiculous to have to do this in a brand-new building, but under the construction rules, they had to go with what the developer offered. Calver shrugs. She knows consumers can and do expect more, but that's a whole other story.
Web Watch: www.thehealthiesthome.com
(Joy Gregory can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)