Ask the Expert: Mark Lucuik talks about the importance of practicing real sustainability

Mark Lucuik has had a 20-year career in the green building and sustainability fields, leading to his current position at Morrison Hershfield as the Leader of Sustainability, and a member of the CaGBC Board of Directors. Unfortunately, all that took a back seat in the late summer of 2011, when his beautiful Ottawa-area home burned to the ground and he was forced to rebuild it from scratch.

We talked to Mark about how and why he chose to rebuild his home to LEED Canada for Homes Platinum standards and why he feels that, ideally, there can be little difference between living sustainably in both your professional and personal life.

1) Tell me a bit about your professional background and how you got involved in the green building/sustainability field.

I’ve been involved in green buildings since the early 1990’s, beginning with LCA and material impacts and durability and have been working as Morrison Hershfield’s Leader in Sustainability since 1995. Sustainability is in my nature; I hate the idea of waste and always strive for efficient and effective solutions.

2) Can you explain the story of what happened to your house and what led to you deciding to build it to Platinum level LEED standards?

April 8, 2011 was the worst day of my life. Our beautiful, traditional home in the historic core of Manotick (near Ottawa) burned to the ground. We lost all of our belongings, and our beloved pet dog in the fire. The community support after the fire was overwhelming. Friends, neighbours, co-workers, and even the CaGBC rallied to the support of my family, which was of value beyond words.

From there, going green was never even discussed...it was a no-brainer. My partner and I believe in this stuff. The only question was how green. We chose to aim for LEED Platinum in the end, and while we would have liked to go further – insurance, emotions, and time got in the way.

3) You are also a building envelope/durability specialist, with focused knowledge on the environmental effects of materials. How did this background inform some of the decisions you made when re-building your home?

Every material was selected for a 200-year home. We blended historic building styles and materials with modern technology and knowledge to achieve this goal. We used natural materials, local materials, low embodied effects materials, and incorporated exceptional roofing, clear and well defined drainage planes, and multiple lines of defense against water entry.

4) Can you list a few of the key highlights of this new home, and how it stands out? What are some of the latest/newest technologies or ideas you went with?

  • A cold weather heat pump, coupled with a heat reclamation and ultra-effective air delivery system. This system is currently being monitored by NRCan and is expected to be more efficient that a ground source heat pump (at substantially reduced capital cost).
  • Thermal mass, coupled with the best wood-burning fireplace available. Concrete foundations were exposed to the interior, and natural stone and brick (reclaimed from the old house) were used as interior finishing elements. The hope is that if we burn wood (sustainably harvested, of course), we can store the heat in the mass for longer periods of time.
  • Triple glazing, R40 walls, R70 attic, green roof, natural light, focus on natural ventilation.
  • We are managing all site water on our site (the site was specifically designed to store and infiltrate water). This is particularly important as we are close to the Rideau River.
  • We decided to build a smaller house, about 2000 ft2 with 8’ ceilings. Still larger than it should be, but smaller than the standard for a new home in Canada.
  • It’s also a fun house: the fourth pillar of sustainability is fun. We have a waterbed built into a wall to watch TV, an unheated bonus room above the attic for the kids (complete with a fire pole, if I can find one), and several little nooks and crannies to explore and hide in. We have bat houses, natural landscaping, and a timber frame screened in porch. I plan to drink a lot of wine next summer on my front porch, complete with swinging bench that I salvaged from the old house.

5) As a CaGBC Board Member and someone heavily involved in green building, do you think it is important to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to your own personal, not just professional projects? Why or why not?

I’m a believer in progress, not perfection. While I’m proud of my new home, I also realize it is still not “sustainable” and that if everyone built like I did, we’d still be in a lot of trouble. “Walking the talk” is an odd concept in my eyes, as the opposite is to be living a lie. How
can one work in a field that is based on science, honesty, and altruism yet not live a life that reflects these beliefs? We should all walk the talk, but in our own way.

6) Where do you think the future of green building is headed in the near and more distant future, with homes or more broadly with all types of buildings?

Green buildings will increase in demand, as they clearly lead to spaces that are more healthy and productive, and will enable businesses to thrive. Companies in non-green buildings will have a disadvantage. Further, as energy prices rise higher than the rate of inflation, demand for energy efficiency and integrated design will increase. While I’d like to hope our governments will mandate more in response to climate change, I just can’t see that coming soon.

From a home’s perspective, I think people are beginning to figure out that bigger is not always better and that quality of the space is important. The public already believes in efficiency and life cycle costing, they just need to connect the dots on their homes.