This article was written by Kailee Marland and is a crosspost from Our Positive Planet.


The Ontario Government recently opened applications for its Low Carbon Building Skills Partnership Fund.  The funding is part of Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan and “aims to strengthen training, workforce and technical capacity in low- carbon building skills”. But what exactly is Low Carbon Building? 

The answer will vary depending on who you ask. The Ontario Government seems to be focusing on durability, low emissions and high efficiency, which are most certainly components of low carbon building. However, someone like Chris Magwood of the Endeavour Center, who specializes in natural sustainable building, would take it much further. Chris would say that low carbon building involves looking the carbon emissions of producing and transporting the building materials and comparing it to the carbon sequestered within the building.  Sequestered carbon is what remains locked in the building rather than entering the atmosphere. Materials like wood, straw, hemp, cellulose and lime based plasters and mortars sequester carbon. If you manage to sequester more carbon than were emitted by production of materials, then you have created a carbon negative building. The positive impact this kind of building could have on climate change is huge.

Chris has done the math and a standard 1000sq.ft high efficiency house has a 13 656 kg carbon footprint and contains many toxic chemicals that are Red Listed by the Living Future Institute, chemicals known to have negative impacts on human health. On the other hand, a 1000 sq.ft house that is built to be highly efficient and low carbon has a negative footprint, -12 688 kg in Chris’ example, and absolutely no red listed chemical. A low carbon building makes use of materials like compressed earth blocks, perlite, hempcrete, clay flooring, straw bale insulation, lime plasters and lots of wood for framing and finishing. Even the materials that are not sequestering carbon are contributing by generating significantly less carbon emissions than the concrete, XPS insulation and vinyl siding used in most builds.

Low carbon materials could also be referred to as natural materials. These materials are incredibly durable and not as time consuming or costly as many people think. Modern buildings designed with these materials incorporate all the elements of a high performance building but with an added emphasis on human and environmental health from the start of each building element through to the end of the buildings life (in a hundred years or so if maintained). Modern equipment has also made it possible to build these buildings faster. Electric mixers and large machinery turn many time consuming tasks, such as plasters, into techniques that are comparable to conventional methods in time and cost. It is even possible to pre-fabricate straw bale walls and build onsite with a crane in a matter of days.

The Low Carbon Building Skills Partnership Fund is a great opportunity for people like Chris to step out of the shadows. Although at the moment it seems the government maybe just a step behind Chris and his low carbon building, they are least beginning to send funding in the right direction.

What is most appealing to you about a high efficiency low carbon building?

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