Empowering Homeowners That Value Water Stewardship

Ben Barclay (left) and Mary Jane Patterson (right) of REEP Green Solutions with Minister Brad Duguid (center)

I recently had the opportunity to interview Ben Barclay of REEP Green Solutions (left in photo) in Kitchener, Ontario. He is leading an initiative to provide homeowners with the tools they need to improve the comfort of their home, reduce utility bills, and reduce their environmental footprint all while maximizing the best bang for their buck. Check out the interview to hear Ben’s surprising story about homeowners who value their environmental commitment to water over cost.

Carol: What is REEP House?

Ben: The house is a century home in the heart of downtown Kitchener that has been renovated to showcase green solutions. Homeowners visit the house for one stop shopping for green ideas; we have hands on displays and software that allows owners to evaluate the energy savings and investment potential of each technology.

Carol: Sounds like a fantastic project, are you getting a lot of traffic?

Ben:  We’ve had 1,000 people through REEP house since Fall. Momentum is definitely building. There are currently very few operations that offer conservation solutions to homeowners, so we really fill that niche in the Region.

Carol: What technologies are in REEP House that improve water sustainability?

Ben: The technologies in REEP House reduce impacts on water by reducing the amount of water withdrawn from the river and the ground; eliminating polluted stormwater runoff into local streams; and eliminating salt from being discharged to the Grand River. We have implemented:

AQUA Pave – a truly permeable driveway pavement that is nine times as effective as interlocking brick. We take great pride that not 1 drop of water leaves REEP house property into the Storm water system  

Brac Grey-water Reuse System – collects water from the shower and bathroom faucets, filters it with a simple sock filter, chlorinates it and uses it for toilet flushing.

Rainwater Harvesting System – Our 1150 L Slimline tank’s narrow design blends in to the side of the house without taking up a lot of space, but holds almost as much as 6 regular 200L rainbarrels. ECOShift water consultants sized it for us to capture all rainfall from the roof and feed our rain garden, via an inexpensive gravity fed Lee Valley drip irrigation system (no watering cans required) and to supply water to the toilets via the Greywater system. The house uses rainwater in the summer and greywater in the winter for toilet flushing – for demonstration purposes.

3 L Toilet – Manufactured right here in Ontario, the most efficient toilet on the market (other than a composting toilet), the Hennessy and Hinchcliffe 3 litre toilet uses 38% lower water use than the minimum WaterSense standard (an EnergySTAR equivalent for water). And it works!

And we have a number of other features including a Hydroflo salt free water conditioner, that uses AM radio frequency to prevent scale build up in our appliances, especially our tankless water heater and we have plans to install a rain garden, high efficiency faucets and showerheads.

Carol: With such progressive solutions, I’m really interested in understanding if there were any challenges with getting systems approved or with contractors resisting new ideas.

Ben: The City of Kitchener staff were very helpful, from inspectors on up, and the support there was great. The plumbers and builders we used were also interested in learning about new technologies, the challenge was integrating so many new and unfamiliar technologies at once. So we were really fortunate to have found Geoff Jones of ECOShift, who served as a consultant to create plumbing schematics and really guide us through the process.

Carol: Interesting feedback, it sounds like a network of designers, plumbers, builders and inspectors that were trained and experienced in these technologies would go a long way toward making it easier for homeowners to navigate?

Ben: Right! Water systems are one of the new technologies we advise homeowners to get help with. That’s why we created our website, www.reephouse.ca to hook homeowners up with suppliers and installers of innovative technology. It is amazing how a Net Zero home can mostly be built with simple 1970’s technology, but changing the old habits requires guidance.

Carol: What about cost barriers? So many people say that water sensitive technologies are too expensive and water is too cheap to incent homeowners to make a change.

Ben: Our experience with visitors has been really interesting. A greywater system, for example, is around $2500 + installation, that saves $150 a year, but costs $150 a year to maintain, with an indefinite payback period at current water rates. However, people know that water rates are about to increase dramatically, and in Waterloo Region, we are faced with the possibility of building a $1.3 billion pipeline to Lake Erie. Some visitors are looking ahead financially, but I have also been really touched by the number of visitors who have expressed their desire to “do it anyways” despite the long return on investment. They seem to respond to water issues differently than to energy and greenhouse gas emissions. They want to do it because of a deep concern or care for water. Really surprising and encouraging. Heartwarming…

Carol: That’s very inspiring to hear. So given everything you’ve learned to date through this project, what do you think are the greatest opportunities to get these great technologies into more homes?

Ben: I believe that the municipality has an opportunity to tap into the public’s desire to protect water resources – a homeowner’s willingness to participate should not be underestimated. The City of Guelph currently incents Grey Water and Rain Water systems, and the whole community benefits, as pressure on building expensive new water treatment and delivery systems is reduced. The City of Perth Australia got their citizens to reduce daily use to less than 150 litres a day per person in less than two years, with existing, simple, technology. We could do the same. People can see these techniques in REEP House, let’s help them bring them into their own homes.  

Carol: Thanks so much for such insightful comments, I can’t wait to take another tour now that it’s finished!

Ben: My pleasure.

REEP Green Solutions helps connect homeowners with green technologies and make wise  investment decisions. You can take a free tour of REEP house by signing up online at www.reephouse.ca, or contacting Cheryl Evans at cevans@reepgreen.ca.

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One Response to “Empowering Homeowners That Value Water Stewardship”

  1. Vicki Burns March 31, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    This is a terrific story. I’m so encouraged to hear about these type of initiatives. One question I have though, is why do they have to chlorinate the greywater if it is just going to be used in the toilet? It seems like a needless use of chemicals.

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