Monday, July 6th31.1°C
About The House

Container workshop

There is a surplus of unused shipping containers sitting on docks around the world. The reason being is that it’s likely that it’s cheaper to send goods in new containers than to co-ordinate and ship a used one back for redeployment.

In areas where wood framing materials are scarce, it makes sense that it is cheaper to use a converted shipping container for a similarly scaled structure out of wood framing. The result is a wave of awareness that the containers can be repurposed into a home, studio or a plain old storage shed.

While there have been plenty of attractive and innovative examples of modular shipping container homes, their set size is typically their largest shortcoming. With the help of the internet and a CAD program, the talented and resourceful DIY’er can design every last detail of an ISO shipping container right down to the millimeter.

For those that desire the help of a Pro, we have companies right here in Kelowna that furnish container homes that are CSA approved for installation anywhere in Canada. Once converted, locally made container homes feature doors, windows, insulation, vinyl panelling, lighting, heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and data hookups. Once inside, you’ll find modern plumbing, water-heaters, three-piece bathrooms, kitchen, and living spaces.

Home inspections take me into neighborhoods throughout the valley. More and more I’m seeing containers converted into cabins, offices and workshops. It’s safe to say that in rural areas homeowners themselves are the ones that work on and improve their homes. In order to custom build his home himself, Terry set up with a dedicated shop. A used container was a great start. The story goes that the Regional District didn’t like the looks of Terry’s sea can at the end of his build and gave him an ultimatum. Well, with all of the love that came out of Terry’s shop, he finished the exterior and gave the container a home of its own.

Geothermal made simple

For the most part, construction techniques used to build today’s home have pretty much arrived. One emerging technology, geothermal heating and cooling, is sure to change the way we heat and cool our homes forever.

When you buy a home that incorporates a geothermal system, you will own a home that uses renewable energy. Geothermal systems promise tremendous savings over the long term as compared to such traditional sources of energy and you will have the peace of mind that you are a front runner of environmental sustainability. There is plenty of geothermal energy; it is always available, right beneath your feet!


How does geothermal work?

Simply put, geothermal systems move heat from one area to another. When you require heat, the geothermal system extracts heat energy from the ground, and moves it into the home. The exact opposite happens when you want to cool your home, with a flick of a switch; the geothermal system extracts heat energy from the air in your home and moves it into the ground.

At the heart of the system, inside your home, is a ground source heat pump. A series of fluid-filled underground pipes called a “loop” absorbs stored heat from the ground to the heat pump where it is converted into warm or cool air for your home.


The heating cycle

In the heating cycle, the refrigerant fluid in the loop absorbs heat from the underground and brings it to the ground source heat pump in the house. The ground source heat pump then heats the refrigerant fluid and sends it to a radiator of sorts. Air is blown through the radiator and then through the ductwork in your home to each room of the house.


The cooling cycle

The cooling cycle is basically the reverse of the heating cycle. The direction of the refrigerant flow is reversed. The ground source heat pump takes the heat from the air in the house and eventually transfers it directly into the ground.


Why use the ground for energy?

Outdoor temperatures fluctuate with the changing seasons but underground temperatures don’t. Four to six feet below the earth’s surface, temperatures remain relatively constant all year-round. A geothermal system capitalizes on these constant temperatures to provide “free” energy.

The ground represent a vast reservoir of renewable thermal energy stored from the sun. Geothermal energy is estimated to exceed all other energy sources combined by more than two thousand times.

At depths below 8 to 10 feet (2.5 to 3 meters), the earth's temperature remains at or near the average annual air temperature above. For every unit of electrical energy used by a ground source heat pump, a well-designed geothermal system can provide three to four units of heat energy to the building. This represents efficiencies of 300% to 400%. That means one unit of electricity produces up to 4 free units of energy from the ground.


Clean energy. No fossil fuels.

Unlike traditional ordinary systems, geothermal systems don’t burn fossil fuel to generate heat; they simply transfer heat to and from the earth to provide a more efficient, affordable and environmentally friendly method of heating and cooling. Typically, only a small amount of electricity is used to operate the unit’s fan, compressor and pump.

By their very nature, geothermal systems are environmentally friendly. Geothermal systems reduce the need to extract, transport, and burn fossil fuels, and require less generation and transmission of electricity than traditional heating and cooling systems. This translates into a direct reduction in the emission of pollutants and greenhouse gases and geothermal systems have none of the risks associated with carbon monoxide and open flames.


In short order, a geothermal system will pay you to own it

Because of their exceptional efficiency, geothermal systems are substantially less expensive to operate than tradition natural gas or electric resistance heating systems. “Annual energy savings for homeowners can be reduced from 30 to 70% in heating mode and 20 to 50% in the cooling mode compared to conventional systems” - Natural Resources Canada. The simple payback (the period of years before the savings in annual operating costs exceed the initial premium of an installation) ranges from 3 to 12 years. After that, it’s money in your pocket.

Fish tank flood

During home inspections it is not uncommon to see the odd example of a small scale flood. It's good that most people are aware of water stains and what they can represent, but often the type of staining is misunderstood. It's pretty safe to say that most people think of water supply piping failure when they see a localized stain. Often that's not the case when a flood occurs, usually flooding happens on the waste side of the plumbing system or because of our activities like watering plants or maintaining a fish tank.


Q. We have a 100 gallon fish tank and have woken up more than once to find the filter pump to have pumped most of the water on to the floor. How should we clean the mess up?

A. Well, the good news is the source flooding stops as soon as you turn off the pump.

Now, it's time to move quickly to mitigate the water damage. Water damage can be more than just destructive, it can transform into unwanted mold and not the good kind that makes penicillin or yoghurt.

In some scenarios, you may have to pull up any carpets (wall to wall and area rugs) and under padding. You may be able to save the carpet if you get it cleaned and dried out in time,  but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to save the under padding, which acts like a sponge and absorbs a lot of water.


Get rid of the water.

There are several ways to get rid of the water. Use old towels, buckets and mops to soak up as much water as possible. A wet/dry vacuum can be used too.  (Note: be very careful to plug it into outlets far away from water.) Don’t use an extension cord as the connection could also short out and give you a nasty shock. Water and electricity don’t mix! Getting rid of all the water and drying out the area is the most important thing you can do to prevent mold growth.


Dry out the affected area.

Once you’ve mopped up all the water, use fans to help dry out the area. Open your windows or use a dehumidifier to help dry out the area. There is a possibility that you’ll probably have to cut away the areas of drywall that were touched by water as the drywall will crumble and the paper backing is a good source of food for mold. If you have baseboard trim, take it up first, and if it’s made from pressboard it will likely not be salvageable. If it was wood, you might be able to save it.

After the area has dried out, including wood beams, insulation, drywall, etc., use a good wood preservative to prevent the possibility of mold growing. There are a number of commercial products available, don't use bleach as it will not penetrate the wood sufficiently.


It’s pooltime!

Break out the sunscreen, it’s summertime in the Okanagan, and yes, that means it’s time to sit poolside.

Backyard pools can provide hours of entertainment throughout the hot summer months. As entertaining and fun as it can be, it can also be dangerous. Tragically most drownings and injuries that occur in backyard pools involve children and young adults.

These tragedies can be avoided by remembering some simple guidelines:

  • The pool rules! Inform anyone using your pool about the rules.
  • Always supervise all pool users at all times.
  • Use personal flotation devices (PFD’S).
  • Encourage feet first entries and no diving.
  • No one should ever dive into an above ground pool.
  • Always ensure that you have safety equipment nearby.

Don’t forget, if you have a pool, you need a fence. The City of Kelowna has specific requirements regarding height, placement and locking gates. Why you may ask? Well common sense aside, let a toddler/small child loose in your yard. Enough said. Remember, preventing access to your pool could save a life. Check the local bylaws, I’m sure it’s pretty much similar throughout the Okanagan.

In an effort to reduce drownings and to create greater safety awareness with pool owners, safety standards/policies should be incorporated into backyard swimming pools. But really, swimming lessons or competent swimmers should not deter any pool owner from ensuring vigilant and constant supervision. Even the best of swimmers can have difficulty and may be in need of assistance.

What about Fido? Should your dog get in for a dip, most filters will clean up any loose fur that gets in there, so that’s not a concern. But even though dogs are pretty natural swimmers, make sure they are familiar with the pool, and where the best place to exit the pool is. This will not only make it easier for them, it can prevent accidental damage to the liner.

Safety aside, it’s important to keep up the maintenance on your pool. Did you check the liner before opening it up for the season? What about all the fittings? It may sound daft, but conditions may have changed since last year’s shutdown which could lead to costly repairs down the road.

It’s going to be a beautiful summer, let’s keep it safe and fun for everyone.

Read more About the House - Hugh Cairns articles


About the Author

When you need advice or guidance with for DIY home improvement and repairs, Hugh Cairns can help you with the answers.

Home improvements can be rewarding and turn your home a nicer comfortable place to live and increase its value. Whether you are renovating your kitchen, converting a loft, giving a room a lick of paint or making improvements to your home’s energy efficiency this column is here to guide you with some useful information and key things to remember.

Do you have a renovation question or concern? Please feel free to send Hugh your questions. Contact him through

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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