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Green roots 

The Ecology Action Centre is settling into its new eco-friendly home on Fern Street. Andy Pedersen reports.

Tucked in beside North and Agricola are two little streets that you may well never have stepped foot upon. May Street boasts 11 houses and one business. At one end of Fern Street is the Bloomfield Centre, and at the other end is the service garage of Colonial Honda. In between are 12 houses. Except for a couple of places, everything is sided with vinyl.

Where these two little streets meet, the skyline looks a little different. Solar panels rise up from the building on the corner. They went up in March when the Ecology Action Centre moved in. The building has just undergone one of the greenest renovations the city has seen.

“It wasn’t easy,” says Susanna Fuller. “If you have ever renovated a place, you know how many decisions there are to make. It’s harder if you’re a couple doing it. Now, imagine doing it with 15 couples.”

Fuller looks over towards the building and smiles.

She’s the co-ordinator of the home committee at the EAC. The Centre’s first home was down on Granville near Salter, in a flat above old The Red Herring Book Store. Last year, after three decades of renting, the ecologists decided they’d better set down roots and bought the building at May and Fern.

The place needed some work, though, and the EAC vowed to make that work as environmentally friendly as possible. They’d use local materials. They’d use natural materials. They’d make the building as energy efficient as possible. That’s all easier said than done: The construction industry hasn’t really picked up on the sustainability movement.

“The thing with a lot of tradesmen is that they only know how they’ve always done it,” says Fuller. “They just don’t know answers to a lot of our questions.”

At first, for example, the ecologists were going to install pellet stoves for heating.

“Right now, pellets are good because they’re made out of waste wood—sawdust,” says Fuller. “But what people don’t know is that over in New Brunswick, they’re talking about growing entire new forests just so that we can burn them.

“Once you’ve learned that, it’s harder to get behind the idea of pellets.”

So they chose the solar panels instead. Actually, they’re recycled solar panels supplied by a Dartmouth company. They reused old two-by-fours and four-by-fours from walls that they ripped out. They got their new floorboards from wood harvested by horses near Lunenburg and they added five extra windows to the building’s south and west sides.

The renovations were more costly than if they’d gone with, say, an electric furnace, or imported hardwood flooring. But at a total cost of about $175,000, the renovations weren’t nearly as expensive as Fuller thought they’d be.

They were pleasantly surprised by the number of good local suppliers they were able to use—and now Fuller and the EAC can help others find them. On the EAC website, for example, they provide a complete list of all the local and environmentally friendly suppliers and contractors they were able to find. Starting this fall, they’ll be offering regular public tours for anybody interested in the finer points of the renovation.

Down May Street, a couple emerge from the house they bought five years ago. At first, they were worried what all the construction noise down at the corner was going to mean for them.

“I was worried that if it was a new business, there’d be all kinds of new people trying to find parking on these streets,” says the woman. “But then when I learned it was the Ecology Action Centre, I figured they’d all be riding their bikes to work.”

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