BUILDING IN SAFETY AND DISASTER PLANNING

      With all of the natural disasters that seem to be occurring at a hastening rate, it’s hard not to believe the scientists who have been predicting major climatic change and ensuing natural disaster for some time.  If you have been reading this column of late, you will know we are in the midst of a major project to reclaim a heritage church, turning it into a sustainable residence and safety in the home during such disaster is part of that conversation. How can we make our homes safe, as well as sustainable and occupant friendly?

    When I designed the “all tech green church,” this was a consideration on my list of renovation values. In the event of a hurricane, there are few above grade buildings that are completely safe, so I had to accept the fact that we cannot do much there. Since the church and much of the property sits on rock, a below ground safe room is just not realistic.  We already knew the church was solid; in some respects, over-built by today’s standards. The 12/12 pitch roof certainly eliminates much in the way of snow and ice build-up. Other than one point on the south side where a below grade, rubber liner had to be laid and where patio stones will be installed - to discharge this one point away from the church - the footprint allows for quick ground water discharge.

     On the other side of the coin, the roof and all of the new internal wall studs are metal, so I did some research on lightening protection and actually got some great suggestions. The first one is to install a whole house surge protector, preferably one wired directly into the electrical panel. While everyone thinks power surges strictly result from lightning strikes or from a power supply issue, in fact, from what I learned, nearly 60% of all power surges come from inside the home, caused by air conditioners, refrigerators and clothes dryers. Over time, these tiny surges can negatively affect plasma TV’s, computers and microwaves, to name a few. Expect to pay $200 - 300 for a good surge protector, plus the cost of installation by a licensed electrician. Buy one with an indicator light so that you know if it’s not working.  For the small cost involved, back-up power bars with a surge protector adds added insurance. Based upon comments from the insurance industry, surge damage, on average, can reach $6000 per home, never mind the possibility of a fire. 

     While the jury is out and opinions vary, I have elected to install lightning rods on each end of the church roof and take them to the ground. They will help protect the building from a potential lightening hit by safely directing the super charged current. Contrary to some old wives tales, lightning rods don’t attract lightening and the materials are reasonably priced.

    Other than by conserving water and placing rain barrels under the downspouts, there is little we can do about a drought. One drop per second from a leaking tap wastes 2,700 gallons of water, annually. If you are in a municipality, water costs are rising steadily and quickly becoming an issue. As this is a country project, once the well and plumbing is installed, the water quality needs to be assessed; something our city friends expect is maintained by their public works. From an environmental prospective, we decided to pass on the use of a water softener and to, instead, install a Hydro Flow electronic water conditioner. This unit is attached to the inbound, cold water line and removes limescale from the household water. It eliminates the use and cost of salt, as well as the maintenance of a softener system.  We bought this unit from Verona’s RONA hardware store, where the owner, Chad, is a fan; so much so that he has one in his own home and another at their store. When I was researching water conditioners, I was surprised to see, in Hydro Flow’s testimonials section, the number of city dwellers who had one installed. Their web site is www.hydroflowcanada.com and questions can also be directed via e-mail to Chad directly, at vhl@bellnet.ca

    Power outages are becoming more frequent, especially in rural areas. With the climate changing as it is, severe weather has become the norm. Locally, the ice storm in the late 90’s and the switch that failed in Ohio in 2007, which plunged the east all the way to the seaboard into darkness, point to this. Add in, the declining condition of our own Hydro One distribution system and it’s not if, but when, we are likely to have another power failure, either locally or covering a much larger region. With that fact in mind, a back-up generator was on the “must have” list for the church. Initially, I looked into a stand-by propane generator. The cost was not unreasonable for what you get. $3,000 - 5000 is a good budget figure for a 10,000 - 12,000 watt unit. An average home needs this much power for basic household operations.

      When we swapped electric cooking, clothes drying and heating – both air and water - for propane, we were able to reduce the generator size considerably, and this could easily apply to a city home too. It doesn't hurt, either, that propane cook stoves, dryers and hot water tanks are simply more efficient than electric. 

     As noted last week, our heating system will be a thermal solar design with a back-up propane wall boiler. The air handlers that move the conditioned air are DC powered, yet another savings over AC. With these considerations, we were able to reduce the generator size to 7,500 watts, which reduced the cost by over half.   

    My point here is that it’s not one thing that creates savings and sustainable operation in a home. It’s the accumulation of many appliances and integrated systems that create this saving. In the event of a power outage, we can operate for days longer on the same amount of fuel, compared to what a larger generator would need.

    While researching this article, I ran across a number of sites offering suggestions on what to have for that “72 hour” disaster window everyone says we should plan for. The Canadian Red Cross web site was by far the best. Go to www.redcross.ca for more information.

    Disaster planning should start at home. Have the necessary supplies, put in a couple of low-cost rain barrels, install surge protectors, look at where consumption can be reduced, consider a back-up generator and you will go a long way in protecting your home in the event of most disasters.