How can we build our homes and communities so that they co-exist harmoniously with Nature? What does it mean to create a sustainable house, a sustainable community, a sustainable city? For each additional day that we live, design and build unsustainably, we pull another fibre out of the fabric of Earth’s ecosystems.

Healthy Building at Bamberton


Building an environmentally friendly house involves several things :

  • The house is energy-efficient, and uses far less energy to maintain normal temperatures.
  • The house is sited to take advantage of the terrain for solar gain and shelter.
  • The building materials are resource efficient, and where possible, use recycled and local materials.
  • The building materials are non-toxic to residents, as well as to those who manufactured them.

Environmental and health standards will be included in the Bamberton Registered Building Scheme, and an 'E-Star' rating system to determine the healthiness and sustainability of a house is being established, inspired by the Green Builder Program in Austin, Texas. There will also be a Builders Manual, and a training program for all site workers.


(a) What is the most environmentally friendly roof ?

(b) Is asphalt the most cost-effective roof ?

(c) Is cement non-toxic ?

(d) What's the best type of window frame ?

The Bamberton Builders Manual will answer many questions of this kind. It will give information on the appropriateness of all building materials, and sources for the best alternatives.

(Answers : a - tempered glass; b - no, not over the lifetime of a building, enameled metal roofing is by far the best; c - not to our atmosphere - every 6 yards of concrete poured releases over 10 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and CO2 is a major greenhouse gas; d - new fiberglass frames appear the best for now)


Everyone building at Bamberton will be enrolled in the Bamberton Builders Forum, which will keep them in touch with the latest information about new building techniques, recycled and non-toxic materials, etc. It will also enable them to share ideas among themselves.


All site workers and builders will be asked to join a one-day course in Environmentally Responsible Building, which will give them an overview of the plans, and important information on construction waste recycling and the Bamberton building guidelines. We are also working with a local college to develop a curriculum for tradespeople to become certified environmental tradespeople.


The entire site is listed as a Registered Building Scheme, which will include an Architectural Code, an Environmental Building Material List, Energy Efficiency Insulation Values, a Landscape Code and an Environmental Code. Plans will have to be submitted to the Bamberton Design Review Committee (BDRC) which will check for compliance with the Codes, and then grant approval. Once building has started, there will be a construction inspection for compliance by the BDRC, as well as for BC Building Code compliance.


Only the trees actually on or immediately next to the building footprint will come down. No burning will be allowed - all limbs, tops and other materials will be chipped. The underbrush will likely be cleared, shredded and left to rot down before purchase. The draft Landscape Code lays down detailed procedures for tree and tree root protection, establishing servicing corridors, stockpiling rocks and soil, etc.


For environmental and health reasons, the Builders Manual will include a list of materials that just can't be used at Bamberton. Here are some examples, from over 100 under consideration :

  • Asphalt tile roofing (leaches asphalt oil)
  • Woods treated with CCA, and not dried or completely fixed. (Extreme health hazard to workers)
  • House exterior of virgin aluminum or polyvinyl siding (virgin aluminum has too much embodied energy; polyvinyl offgasses fumes for years)
  • Enamel paints and oil-based varnishes containing lead, arsenic salts, xylene, synthetic oils, cadmium or toluene (health hazard to occupants; produces air pollutants)
  • Any use of CFC12, HCFC11, 22 or any other mutation of a known ozone destroyer in fridges, air conditioners, extruded polyurethane or polystyrene board insulation (impacts on the ozone layer)


Designed for Bamberton houses, the E-Star Program is being developed so that houses can be rated for their level of excellence in resource efficiency, design, materials and healthiness. Bamberton's developers believe that information like this will be very important to house buyers in the '90s and beyond. Here is a sampling from over 200 different items :

  • House designed to meet heating efficiencies double R2000 standards 30
  • Natural, linoleum flooring applied with non-toxic glues 5
  • Natural plant-based paints used on all paint surfaces 8
  • Mineral fiber batt insulation used throughout 6
  • Wood is ordered to size to limit construction waste 7
  • Concrete foundations use "thin wall" technology, using more reinforcing materials, and 25% less concrete 9

Cost : An R2000 house typically costs 5% more than a standard house, but repays the investment over 6-8 years in reduced energy bills. Taken over the lifetime of a house, the investment in healthy and environmental design will lower the cost of a house substantially.


Builders at Bamberton won't have to hunt far for proper building materials - a constantly updated manual will keep them abreast of changes in building material information and sources. It is expected that many suppliers of environmentally sound materials will open up shop at Bamberton, as will those manufacturing value-added wood products.


In the CVRD, occupancy permits aren't issued until drywall scrap recycling is proven. At Bamberton, wood scrap will be chipped, longer lengths of dimension lumber will be reused, and cardboard, drywall, insulation and plastic will be recycled in purpose-made containers, at the job-site. The only garbage will be paint buckets and plastic drywall mud bags. Construction waste recycling will be mandatory and proof of waste recycling will precede occupancy permit issuance.


Every year, the Bamberton Design Review Committee will issue an award to the most innovative and planet-friendly building or house built at Bamberton in the previous 12 months.

Further Reading :

Green Home : Planning and Building the Environmentally Advanced House, by Wayne Grady (Camden House, 1993)

Green Building Guide : A Sustainable Approach (City of Austin, Environmental Conservation Services Dept, 1992)

Centre for Resourceful Building Technology, Missoula, Montana.