Building Green in Mahone Bay
by Janice Acton
UPdate Summer 2001

A Bioneer is a person who has practical and visionary ideas to restore the earth. Bioneers Margo Kleiker and Ian Startup have a vision of healthier homes in a healthy neighborhood . They are putting it into practice in a new "green neighbourhood" in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.   "We're putting health issues right up front before homebuyers," says Startup,  home designer and builder. "We're providing people with a health choice about their homes." 

Seven lots have already been sold at the Mahone Bay site, and a developer in Portugese Cove has approached them to collaborate on developing a 250 acre site with the same green approach.  "People are looking for the kind of healthy homes and green neighbourhood we're building," says Startup.  "There's interest from a wide variety of people who want to live in a healthier way." While much has been done on constructing environmentally-friendly homes over the years, little has been done to ensure a healthy environment for these homes.  Kleiker and Startup are working to create a development which is friendly to the earth and to human health.

This summer, the first of Hawthorne Hill's 60 homes will be built on an attractive 45 acre site protected on two sides by public green land and on the third side by a 15 acre green space which is part of the development and will be deeded to homeowners. The houses will incorporate low impact environmental design and construction strategies and be constructed with environmentally responsible materials. No vinyl siding here. While home design plans are the choice of individual owners, the development will encourage energy efficiency and innovative energy options including solar energy.

Housing standards will ensure that the  materials used do not off-gas toxic materials into the environment. Fuel burning barbeques will not form part of the landscape and if wood burning appliances are used they will need to be compliant with the California Environmental Protection Agency's standards. Stone patios will be encouraged rather than use of pressure treated wood which, from a health perspective, creates problems for many people. People buying lots will sign a covenant agreeing not to use dangerous chemicals including lawn pesticides.

For years, Margo Kleiker has practiced as a naturopathic doctor and seen first-hand many people who suffer illnesses and immune system problems as a result of moulds, fungi, indoor pollutants and chemicals. Kleiker's knowledge about health will be an important contributor to the project design. 

Says Kleiker, "It makes sense to eliminate as many problems as possible at one time. Plan homes that don't build in problems, and take one more step and create an outdoor environment that is healthy as well. We're learning all the time and we're going to apply what we are learning from both a health and environmental perspective."

Why hasn't this type of housing developments happened before? "I think it has to do with risk," says Startup. "Builders and land developers want to make sure of their profits. Nobody in that world works on idealism."  The positive response to Hawthorne Hill, which only started selling lots in January, is an indication that people are ready to buy into green neighbourhoods. 

Other developments in Nova Scotia have tried to incorporate some degree of environmental friendliness. Developer Robin Barrett of the Rivendale development near Sackville, which began 10 years ago, believes constructing healthier home environments requires a major shift in thinking by the mainstream of government and industry.  "I learned quickly that the more innovative you are, the more you have to struggle for what you want."

Says Barrett: "Hawthorne Hill is trying a lot of things we couldn't do successfully ten years ago. It's exciting. The more successful they are, the more it sets the notch a little higher and the easier it will make my next project . And the more other developers who wouldn't normally touch this kind of project will be prepared to get involved."

"We're marketing health. This is our commitment point blank" says Startup. "We're relying on people's common sense," says Kleiker. "Having a healthy environment for your home strikes a chord with most people." 

Startup and Kleiker believe that the way to create change is to prove that it is possible. Kleiker says "A "green neighbourhood" is a simple and sensible idea. We are demonstrating that people want it and it can be done."