Thursday, July 28, 2011

Step 1 - The Energy Audit

Natural Resources Canada finally got the renewed ecoENERGY Retrofit program up and running this month so now the clock is ticking. This time around we had to REGISTER FOR THE PROGRAM FIRST before even scheduling our energy audit. We were happy that Carson Dunlop, our chosen energy audit firm was able to fit us in very quickly so we had our audit done this week. Now we have to make a plan, get the work done, get a post-retrofit audit and get the paperwork in by MARCH 31, 2012! I don't normally curse, but WTF!?

Because there could be no exposed walls at the time of the first energy audit, we could not start removing plaster/drywall or really start any work, (which we hadn't), until now. That limitation makes for a very tight design/build schedule for those of us who had planned to do some major work. As it happens, we have decided to scale down our reno plans a little so we will be able to prioritize a couple of areas of the house and the energy efficiency upgrades.

Of course, if you are only looking to do energy efficiency upgrades like putting in a more efficient furnace or adding some attic insulation or air sealing your windows/doors, then you should have plenty of time. But I still wouldn't leave it to the last minute. I spoke to a few energy audit companies before we went with ours and they all said they have been getting a lot of calls and are already talking about how if you leave booking your post-retrofit audit too late they might not be able to fit you in before the deadline.

This could be Ontario homeowners last chance for many years (or ever!) to do energy efficiency upgrades to our homes and get some money back for them. If you are living on a very restricted income it is hard to put out the extra money required to do significant upgrades to insulation and heating/cooling systems in order to lower the cost of your homes' energy expenses, so take advantage of these grants now, if you can, because the price of energy is only going up.

There seems to be a lot of evidence that whether or not Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives get elected and scrap any new investment in green energy technology the price of electricity and gas is going up. The Globe & Mail printed a story by Richard Blackwell earlier this month on July 6 with the title Impact of renewables on higher power costs minimal, report says which sums up up the article nicely. Just two days ago Kate Heartfield had a post on the Ottawa Citizen Blog, The price of electricity in Ontario, mentioning their editorial board's chat with Pierre Guimond, president of The Canadian Electricity Association in which he points out that we have a big costly problem facing us in the form of deteriorating infrastructure. As it turns out this is a Canada wide problem that is going to require $293.8 billion in investment between 2010 and 2030 according to The Conference Board of Canada's report Canada's Electricity Infrastructure: Building a Case for Investment released on April 7 of this year.

And considering the downward pressure on wages for so many people in this province, the only way we consumers can really save on energy costs is to reduce our energy use as much as reasonably possible.

So.......long weekend reading: the introductory pamphlets and booklets that come in NRCan's ecoENERGY package delivered by the energy auditor, including materials from Natural Resources Canada and Canada Mortgage and Housing.

You can also access the program through the ecoACTION website. Not sure why the government set up another website separate from the NRCan one, but there you go.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Challenge to Councillors to Get on a Bike

This is a comment that I wrote in response to Councillor Parker's memo: "Why I voted to kill Jarvis bike lanes: Parker" that was posted on Cycling Hub, but for whatever reason it wouldn't post. So here it is:

If you want a truly useable network of bike routes you can't take them away from Jarvis, Pharmacy and Birchmount.

Bike lanes are needed on just about all major roadways. If you are in a car it's no big deal to go an extra block or two to drive along a faster road but if you are under your own power, it is not going to happen just like somebody wouldn't walk over to Sherbourne to go along that street if there were no sidewalks on Jarvis. If this city is serious about getting people out of their cars to make getting around easier for everyone then you city councilors have to get serious about providing a lot more bike lanes on major routes.

Taking bike lanes off Jarvis is a step backwards. There are ways to make the traffic move more quickly without sacrificing the bike lanes (hint: one recommendation is in the staff report, Bikeway Network - 2011 Update, p.17). If you really thought cars were so important and wanted to add more room for car traffic you could take out the sidewalks and then you could add two extra car lanes! But people would think that's crazy. If we provide the bike lanes now and build a great network, more people will ride and will look back to this idea of taking out the bike lanes on Jarvis as just as crazy an idea.

Nobody really liked that center lane anyway. And even if it gives those cars back a few minutes extra in their commute that is going to disappear in no time as the number of cars on the roads increase. Also, I find particularly unconvincing Councilor Minan-Wong's argument that we now have a "congestion problem" on Jarvis. The staff report doesn't indicate anything of the sort. It says cars have been slowed down a little. Cars on residential streets drive even more slowly, it doesn't mean there are "congestion problems" on our side streets.

To quote @BikingToronto: "It's movement of PEOPLE that creates economic activity, NOT the movement of cars. :)" Then there is a link to the article, Across Europe, Irking Drivers Is Urban Policy.

Once most people get onto a bike even people who never thought they could ride in downtown, they love it. I know most of those councilors who voted against the bike lanes just can't see the use of them outside certain parts of the core and that is really unfortunate since the old cities of Etobicoke, Scarborough, etc all have wider streets than downtown and could be really fantastic neighbourhoods for riding in. I know, in the late 1990's I lived by The Queensway & Royal York and rode my bike down to my job at an architecture office at Queen & Sherbourne, sometimes along the lake, sometimes along Queen St. I was never happier or in better shape.

I challenge all City of Toronto Councillors, but especially Councillors John Parker, Denzil Minan-Wong, Mark Grimes and David Shiner of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to buy/rent some suitable townie for men, get yourselves some nice panniers if you need to (Curbside Cycles has some really stylish ones or if you want to go high-end you can check out Laywine's in Yorkville) and ride those bikes every day, rain or shine to and from City Hall from now until July 12/13 when you have to make a decision in City Council:

Are you going to diddle around making a few ok bike routes that are useful for the people right along them and forget the rest of the City? Or are you going to push Toronto forward to be the great liveable city it could be and bring all the surrounding old cities into the plan?

You cannot know the potential or the challenges until you try being a bicycle commuter.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Progress on The Third Policeman - Bike Month Reading

This book I am currently reading for Bicycle Month is not about a bicycle per se but bicycles loom large in it as they do in a fair number of Irish books. This one was written around 1940 according to my In-House Literary Advisor.

I observed to my In-House Literary Advisor this morning, when he was kind enough to bring me a Sunday morning coffee in bed, that I think it brings you closer to the main character that you never know his name though you don't realize you don't know his name until about 30 pages in (if your copy is about 200 pages, like mine is) at which point something happens and you start flipping back through the first pages looking for a name.

I also said I thought it felt weird how I had no problem in one sense following the action but that my rational brain was confused because the events started to not make any sense...were absurd. My I.H.L.A. said, yes the book was subjective and everything was from the point of view of the one character so it wasn't like reading a book with an omniscient narrator where you might be given additional information that the main character doesn't know and therefore have a more complete understanding of what's going on.

He said he likes it better, because it provides a more authentic experience noting that in the early twentieth century the omniscient narrator fell out of favour in some literary circles "being too much like 'God'" and therefore "untenable" which I took to mean that if a writer is trying to create a work truly conveying an individual's human experience, it doesn't make any sense to have a reader be able to observe the fictitious world of the novel from above as though they were an all knowing creator.

But he said there was an explanation for the absurdity and the subjective approach in the end makes the story more entertaining and also more scary.

My I.H.L.A. thinks it's possible O'Brien (which is a pen name, by the way) had Dante's view of the world in mind summed up in this quote (and he pulled out John Ciardi's translation of The Divine Comedy):

"  For Dante, as for classical man, there was no real distinction between moral and physical law; between, say, the moral law against incest and the physical law of gravity. All of matter was a projection of God's will, and what we call physical law and what we call moral law derived equally from that will. When Oedipus, though unknowingly, transgressed moral law by killing his father and marrying his mother, a plague descended upon Thebes. It would not have occurred to the Greeks that to think of a flight of locusts as a consequence of what happened in the king's bedroom was to cross categories." 1

I'm a slow reader and I haven't found a lot of time for leisure reading. So here I am just about 1/3 of the way through The Third Policeman by Flan O'Brien and just getting to the point where....(if you don't want to know anything at all about the book before reading it, stop here, though I wouldn't go as far as to call my coming revelations spoilers)....he is trying to report his gold watch stolen and the policeman keeps going on about bicycles.

"'Why should anybody steal a watch when they can steal a bicycle?'
  Hark to his cold inexorable logic.
  'Search me,' I said.
  'Who ever heard of a man riding a watch down the road or bringing a sack of turf up to his house on the crossbar of a watch?'
  'I did not say the thief wanted my watch to ride it,' I expostulated. 'Very likely he had a bicycle of his own and that is how he got away quietly in the middle of the night.'
  'Never in my puff did I hear of any man stealing anything but a bicycle when he was in his sane senses,' said the Sergeant,'-except pumps and clips and lamps and the like of that. Surely you are not going to tell me at my time of life that the world is changing?'
  'I am only saying that my watch was stolen,' I said crossly.
  'Very well,' the Sergeant said with finality, 'we will have to institute a search.'
  He smiled brightly at me. It was quite clear that he did not believe any part of my story, and that he thought I was in delicate mental health. He was humouring me as if I were a child.
  'Thank you,' I muttered." 2

It's funny that we don't find it frustrating that we can't get outside of our own minds on a daily basis to have a better understanding of our own story or the world around us and yet when we are reading a novel if the mind of the character whose view point we are following wanders off in ways that conflict with our own view of reality we can have trouble accepting and following it.

I have to say though that I have been completely drawn into this novel and am really liking it but feel a certain foreboding for what might be coming next after my discussions this morning with my I.H.L.A.

For more reading suggestions see Books to Read for Bike Month.

1 John Ciardi, introduction to The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, xv. Translated by John Ciardi. New York: New American Library, 2003.
2 Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman (Glasgow: Paladin, 1988), pp. 63-64.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Events for Bike Month & WCH 100th Anniversary & Architecture

I just posted some more upcoming events in the side bar. Most are bike events for Bike Month that I read about in an article in the June edition of the Village Post, Biking is the new driving, though I couldn't find the article in their online edition.

Personally, I'm really looking forward to the Bells on Bloor ride on June 18th.

More bike events are listed at:

Biking Toronto


City of Toronto - Bike Month

I also added the exhibit that's opening tonight at the Gladstone. Being She: The Culture of Women’s Health and Health Care Through the Lens of Wholeness,  is being presented by Gladstone Hotel and Women's College Hospital as one of the 100th anniversary celebration events of that institution. (Thanks to @gleanernews for that one.) Keep a watch out for more WCH events this year. That is one institution really worth celebrating. Funny to think there used not to be female doctors!

And courtesy of my regular e-mail from Canadian Architect with their events listings, I added a few events/exhibits that should be of interest, not just to architects. But don't believe their map that says most of these events happen at City Hall. In fact I don't think any of them do.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Books to Read for Bike Month

It's the weekend again and I feel like settling down with a good book and considering that it's the first weekend of Bicycle Month I thought I might pick something appropriate. I'm going to start with #1 but here are my other recommendations for books with at least one bicycle in an important role:

#1 - The Third Policeman by Flann O'brien
       (very funny Irish writer, book written in 1940
        but not published until after his death in 1967
        also available as an audio book on cd)

#2 - Molloy by Samuel Beckett
       ('s Beckett... if you haven't read anything by Beckett yet,
        I don't know how to explain it...)

#3 -  Bicycle: The History by David V. Herlihy
       (history with humour)

#4 - The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles: Craftsmanship, Elegance, and Function
        by Jan Heine
       (published by Rizzoli...for beautiful pictures)

#5 - Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom
       (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way) by Sue Macy
       (a bit of fun and politics with your bicycle)

#6 - Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
       (yes of the Talking Heads)

#7 - Bicycle Travel Journal by Nigel Peake
      (travel log journal for cyclists to record their travels,
       incl. some drawings, blank pages, envelopes to store things,
       author trained as an architect, drawings have appeared in
       magazines such as Dwell, Blueprint & Building Magazine
       coming out in Sept.)

#8 - Bicycling Science by David Gordon Wilson
       (just what it sounds like, everything you need to know)

For pictures, descriptions and reviews of these great books please visit my shop (which at the moment only has these books! As a matter of fact the shop was created especially for these books, though it may grow over time to have other things. You never know.)

O.k. it's nice to have some R & R, but what about the renovation you say?

Now that the federal election is over and we've gotten through some condo business that needed to be taken care of (we also own a condo) I'm getting back to our own reno project (nearly) full-time now so expect some more news next week.

As a further aside, buying a condo is like buying into a business and moving into a town-inside-the-city with it's own town council (called THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, oh yeah and I'm on that) large or small depending on the number of units, and don't let any real estate agent or developer tell you any different! No responsibility living....Pfff. That's a whole post on it's own....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cleanest Renovation

Check out this house tour on Apartment Therapy... so clean for an in-progress renovation! Gives me hope. Our plan is to start small, one room at a time, probably with the second floor kitchen that is scheduled to be Mike's office. (If we can find somewhere else to put all the books he's got stored in there at the moment!)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

10 + 1 Canadian women who made a difference + 2 International Women Powerhouses

Of all the newspapers, I thought that The Star had the best list and photogallery to share for International Women's Day.

I would also like to add for architects, Esther Marjorie Hill who was the first woman to graduate from an architecture program in Canada and the first woman to become a registered architect in Canada.

Esther Marjorie Hill graduating from U of T Architecture Program (from her profile in Library and Archives Canada)

There is also Blanche Van Ginkel's entry in the Canadian Encylcopedia. Blanche Van Ginkel was herself one of the earliest women in North America to be appointed director of a school of architecture when she was hired in 1977 by University of Toronto, as described on the history page of U of T's Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design written up by Prof. Larry Richards.

Internationally (because of course it's International Women's Day!) there are two provocative women who I have been following and who have made immeasurable contributions to the lives of women and men in their countries....