The Economic Case for An Electric Vehicle



When recently moaning about rapidly increasing gas prices, I thought it was time to look at what the discrepancy in fuel costs between a gas/diesel vehicle and an EV does to the economics in Canada.

The main economic barrier of an EV is sticker price.  Without subsidy, an EV carries a price tag of considerably higher than an equivalent gas vehicle.  The Ford Focus Hatchback is about $13k extra for Electric.

Can lower fuel and maintenance cost pay for the extra sticker price?  Let’s have a look.


Additional monthly payments

For $13k at the current 4.45% rate with Ford Motor Credit (they often offer 0%) will cost an additional $185/mo. At 0% interest, the extra payment is about $155/mo.


Gas savings

Of course it depends on the number of kilometers you drive.  So for high mileage drivers, the EV will be a slam dunk choice on fuel costs alone….as long as range isn’t a problem.

Light-normal usage

About 1500km/mo.  Fuel savings for an 8l/100km vehicle is about $130/month.   So that alone almost pays for the extra cost of $185/mo.

Long commuter

If you drive 80km to and from work each day, based on 3500km/mo, your fuel savings would be about a whopping $300/mo!  Now you are away ahead.

So how many km’s do you have to drive/mo to pay for the extra monthly payment?  About 2200km.

These savings assume you are paying for the electricity. (An electric fill in BC is about 75% less cost than an equivalent gas fill according to BC Hydro)


Additional savings

Looking at dealer plans is the best way to evaluate this as the information on maintenance varies widely.  Many dealers offer a monthly maintenance plan.  It is difficult to compare apples to oranges, but it looks to me that a gas vehicle maintenance plan runs about $35-45/month more than electric, mainly due to the EV having a fraction of the moving parts that the gas vehicles have.

In this analysis, I am ignoring battery replacement.  Tesla has gotten excellent numbers on degradation, making replacement less of an issue, particularly considering how fast battery costs are dropping. I believe Nissan Leaf is introducing a low cost swap out with a refurbished battery when it is needed. On the other hand, a new transmission or other major repairs are guaranteed to start happening in the gas vehicles at higher mileages so I am calling it equivalent for now.



Even with light-normal usage,  fuel savings plus maintenance saving will nearly cover the additional cost of the vehicle.  However, long commuters will find that an EV can be considerably cheaper.  As we see the EV sticker prices continue to come down, true cost parity will become solidly established over the next couple of years.  Should OPEC continue to control production, gas prices will rise some more, making the cost parity case even stronger.

Other Countries

With much cheaper gas costs in the US, it is more difficult to achieve cost parity without a subsidy. In fact, I don’t think it can be done yet.  On the other hand, Europe and the UK have higher gasoline costs than Canada, which is why we are seeing higher adoption rates in Europe than in North America.

In Canada, the biggest barrier is range anxiety.  We have long distances to travel, making an EV much more difficult to use successfully.  It will be a couple more years before we see ranges increase and charge times decrease sufficiently enough to become really attractive for Canadian drivers.  However, for now, an EV may make an ideal second vehicle for all the short trips and city commuting.


I Owe my Mother…a Mother’s Day post



While I want to focus this post on my mother, I cannot write it without honouring the mother of my children, my wife.  If there is any proof of excellence in motherhood, it is in the outcome of her children.  I would love to take credit for the superb character of our children, but I cannot claim it.  Our kids embrace her gentle and kind character…and thank goodness they show none of the worst of mine.  That is great motherhood.

Now for my mother.  She was (now gone from us) a strong personality from a strong personality family, perhaps stronger than my dad but emotionally intelligent enough to make the relationship work in a great balance between them. I saw an unusual (at that time) equality between them.  Born and raised in Detroit in 1922, she was American through and through, even though she moved to small town Virden, Manitoba Canada in 1946.  She faced some minor (anti US) discrimination in small town Manitoba, but she faced it stoically, as she did with all life’s challenges and disappointments.

I knew she cried when needed, but I saw it directly on only a couple of occasions.  One was a physical accident when I was really young.  The occasion that will be forever with me was when one of our kids “got” reading at age 7.  A reading clinic in Calgary got him reading after one week.  When he read a sentence, she cried.  The love there will never be forgotten.

I enjoy a pretty unusual sense of confidence…. too much at times but I attribute that entirely to my mother.  She was my 110% cheerleader and backer.  I never doubted ever in my lifetime her confidence in me or my abilities.  Sure, perhaps it it did lead to excessive pride and hubris but hopefully, I have dealt with a lot of that baggage and brought that back to a realistic balance.

Thank you mom for never doubting in me for a second, and demonstrating your love for strangers, your generosity. your hard working example,  and your kindness/acceptance of all people. I will forever work to be what you were.  What a beautiful woman!





I haven’t written for months.  I have been swamped in business but clarity is near!

Here are a few quick thoughts tonight regarding gifts.  I grew up in an era where gift giving reflected a era of scarcity so gifts were physical items.   Physical gifts remain relevant and appropriate but something new has emerged.  Indulge me a bit, but let me call it “metaphysical gift giving”.  We honour someone when we give them a gift but in today’s world, do they really need a new pair of socks? Now that we no longer live in a society of extreme scarcity of basic living needs of food, shelter, healthcare,etc…..then what do people really need?  It is metaphysical in my view, ie related to the mental and emotional well being of the recipient.  So here are just a few random musings on gift giving in a metaphysical sense:

The best gift you can give your minor aged children is a good relationship with their other parent.

The best gift you can give your adult children is a great relationship with their chosen spouse/significant other.

Compliment compliment.  Not in flattery of course, but anywhere it is deserved.

The gift of respect. Literally anyone can teach us something good. Everyone deserves respect no matter how much they struggle in life.

The gift of time. We walk by people all the time and don’t even look them in the eye. Community that gives its time is golden to those who are isolated.

The gift of empathy.  This is not an easy one.   To be successful, we have to actually step into the boots of someone else.  I have learned over the years that this one has taken a lot of work and understanding of where others come from.  Anyway, if you can truly empathize, you have an awesome gift to offer!

Do you have some ideas to add to this?

We are doing Christmas differently

I happen to be the happy father of two Millenials……neither of whom are particularly interested in physical possessions.  Not that they don’t like good stuff, but they don’t want much stuff….and certainly no stuff with minimal usefulness. So on that cultural basis, we are evolving to a new plane.

Christmas in my generation has traditionally been a giving of stuff….a new toy to a new pair of socks.  Here is the problem today: I don’t need a new toy or a new pair of socks.  So the new big question is this: how do we express the spirit of giving at Christmas without the giving of physical stuff?

Here is what we are coming up with so far in our family ruminations:

  1. It must be useful.
  2. Or it must be consumable.
  3. Or it must be charitable.

Frankly, I think #3 is the most highly evolved.  Giving unconditionally. Giving to those most struggling with some difficulty.  Our DNA is programmed for survival which means our default setting is selfishness.  The truth is this: our survival depends on caring about our fellow citizens.  As the recently late Leonard Cohen wrote: “Love is the only engine of survival.” Regardless, we need to look to the needs of others.  A world that exists on selfish desires is a world bent on self destruction.

How a Carbon Tax can make you Richer



That hated carbon tax.  Our first reaction to any mention of a carbon tax is: “Oh no! Another government scheme to waste my hard earned money and blaming it on shaky science”.  However, on a closer inspection,  a carbon tax can actually improve your financial condition, believe it or not, and I will present a hypothetical case on how that can happen.  It doesn’t matter if you “believe in” the science of climate change or not, you can make money on this.

This can be a pretty passionate subject.  I was recently discussing a carbon tax with someone passionately against it and anything to do with climate change science. When I began to put forth the ideas in this post and I hardly got past my first sentence and my words were being shouted over.  I’m glad you, my reader, has gotten this far and I promise this post has nothing to do with the science of climate change! 🙂

Most important  of all, a carbon tax has to be “revenue neutral”.  That is, whatever a government raises in a new carbon tax, they must reduce an equal amount of taxes elsewhere. Taxes are not always meant to raise money for government spending waste.  Often, they are implemented to change behaviour (which is why we shouldn’t have an income tax because we shouldn’t penalize people for working).  In BC Canada, the government is claiming that their carbon tax is revenue neutral, although they haven’t done a good job in explaining how citizens are getting tax benefits elsewhere.   In this case, I am going to use a general sales tax reduction as the offsetting tax in a carbon tax on electricity in a hypothetical example.

Here is how it can work as an example:

The government adds a 50% carbon tax to electricity.  That raises an average monthly electrical bill from about $140/month to $210/month, about $70/month extra.  Then they lower sales tax such that based on the average family spending, they pay $70/month less in sales taxes.  So far so good.  No harm, no foul.  Some people will lose a bit, some will gain a bit depending on their peculiar power usage and regular spending.

Here is where it gets better.  The average householder, being a rational person, suddenly realizes that they are paying far too much for electricity and decides to take action.  The first thing they will look at is conservation….cutting usage.  It can be done.  We cut our home usage by 28% over a short period of time without any lifestyle changes.  See

So already the consumer is better off.  Cut your $210/month power bill by 28% and you are $58.80/month ahead.  But there is more.  Now look at installing solar panels to cut your draw on the system.  A system that costs you about $100/month for interest and depreciation should bring your remaining power bill of about $150/month close to $zero. Now you are another $50/month ahead! So a carbon tax just made the rational householder nearly $100/month richer, or $1200/year…..and that is tax free income!

There is one more broad benefit.  The consumer will spend or invest that $1200/year.  That will create new jobs and new revenues for government, allowing government to provide further tax relief or improve services, hopefully not wasting it away.

No need for the science of a carbon tax…..just the numbers!

The Great Olive Oil Scandal

Over the last few years, I have become hooked on olive oil as an integral part of cooking. Its taste and its ability to transfer taste between ingredients has often brought me to fantasizing about putting a bottle of olive oil to my lips and drinking it. No, I haven’t done that yet…..but you never know what an addiction will bring!

While olive oil is purported to have lots of health benefits, I am disregarding all of that in favour of taste. I have become fiendish about reasons to use it: Will the main course stick to the pan? Will the main course dry out in cooking? Is the ingredient a bit bland? Is there any reason NOT to use it? And on it goes….that bottle is always close by and any excuse to use it is valid.


Recently I decided to delve into finding the best quality product on the market. I don’t mind paying a bit extra since my wife is a hardened (no pun intended) butter fan and does 3/4 of the cooking anyway. So that reduces our consumption and makes me sneaky about using it too liberally. So imagine my surprise when Google searches brought headlines of a Great Olive Oil Scam. At first glance, a reader would think that most olive oil is mixed with soybean oil or some equivalent, and hardly olive oil at all. I ran to my current bottle of Colavita Extra Virgin and started a search of reviews of quality. Sure enough, it was on the Bad Boy list. Dang, I paid a lot at Save-On Foods for that!

Then I stumbled across an article from Snopes, the hoax analyst site. They had an article on the controversy. While not dismissing all claims from an article from California on the subject, the truth is the almost all olive oil out there is pure olive oil. The main controversy is whether or not it is “virgin” or “extra virgin” to the extent of the standards. The amount of “fake” olive oil out there is actually minimal, practically non-existent. It also turns out that my current brand of Colavita is perfectly ok, it’s fully real, not fake and virgin (although some tests didn’t meet the “extra virgin” standard).

This reminded me of a few lessons learned over the years: Don’t believe everything you read. Don’t believe everything you read about everything you read. There are agendas everywhere….things are written for a purpose and it is often intended for a not-so-good purpose.  Just check and re-check.

So if you are an olive oil fan, just enjoy it like you are a tea fan, a coffee fan, a wine fan, or a chocolate fan. They all have their peculiar tastes and there is a right one out there for you!




Two Social Revolutions 1950-2016

Being from the Baby Boomer generation, I am both cognizant and proud of what our generation achieved. Our generation rebelled against an entrenched, military-like society. Successfully. The social changes that occurred in the 1960’s- 1970’s are immense. Our generation wasn’t perfect by any means but the changes that came out of the 60’s and 70’s is most remarkable and set our societies on steady track of reform and improvement. The beginnings of an equitable society had its very first roots in the ’60’s. I will someday write a post on the profound revolution of the Baby Boomers but that’s another subject that is simply history. I want to peek at the future.

Now comes a new sort of revolution from the Millenials (those who were still kids in the year 2000). This one is both different yet similar. “Same same but but different”. My generation reacted in both anger and passion against the previous generation (I could go on and on about this!). This generation is not like that at all. They are revolutionary in a much different way. They have a great relationship with their parents. They have no desire to wipe out the influence or conventional wisdom of their parents. They are the free-est generation in history…..ever…and in a position to wipe the slate clean to a whole new world.

The Millenials will understand the often-silly paradigms of my generation and because the fears and angst of the previous generation will not settle on them like any other generation in the history or humanity, they have the possibility of creating a world of equity and equanimity like none ever before in the history of humanity.

The other cool thing about the Millenials is that they will challenge the status quo and current paradigms like no other generation. Change is part of their ordinary paradigm….it is not revolutionary to them.

We are entering a revolutionary period like none other. It will be practically invisible but total change. It will move forward like it is ordinary and inevitable. I have a lot of confidence in the Millenials. Just don’t cut our pensions too much ok guys?

“Just Getting Old”? Rethink that!

If you are middle aged or older, I’m going to share something important that may benefit the health every reader, or at worst, won’t do any harm.


In my business of construction, I was always very physically involved.  Around 15 years ago, I started noticing that at the end of a long day of physical exertion (not extreme levels, mostly low to moderate), my muscles would be sore all over.  My body would be like an engine that had run out of oil and was creaky.  Interestingly, in the morning, I was 100% again and ready to go.  I couldn’t find any reason for this, nothing much online (which has a lot of information on stiff muscles from extreme exertion, a different matter) and my GP drew a blank on it.  I was always tempted to write it off to “just part of getting older”, yet I couldn’t do that for a lot of reasons.  One is that I knew people a lot older than me who were highly active in sports or work, and didn’t seem to experience that.  Also, the daily cycle seemed like a depletion/repletion cycle, not a chronic condition.   Anyway, by 2007, I reduced the physical component of my work because the daily cycle was getting rather unenjoyable.


I continued to research this because I had this nagging feeling that there was some sort of nutritional deficiency involved.  Then came a discovery by accident.  I was researching a building product that is new on the market….a potential replacement for drywall that instead of being made out of gypsum, it is made out of magnesium.  In my research and curiosity, I was looking around at other uses of magnesium and found that magnesium is an important element in the body, about half of it is found in our muscles and organs.  Magnesium acts like a “key” that opens the door to the movement of calcium and potassium in and out of our muscles for efficient use.  There was some mention about increased magnesium aiding in the reduction of muscle aches so I bought a couple big bottles of supplements from Costco and started taking it daily for a couple of months.  I didn’t think about it too much, not expecting much, but then last week, a friend who is moving residence, needed some help moving furniture and boxes so I volunteered.  It was about 3 hours of moderate to intense physical exertion.  That evening, it suddenly dawned on me……zero muscle aches…..none whatsoever!  I’m monitoring this since and it does seem to be the answer to my muscle fatigue.


Benefits of Proper Magnesium Levels


It’s not just muscle efficiency and energy, there is much more to it.  Magnesium aids in anxiety reduction, helps sleep, believed to reduce migranes, reduces osteoporosis and a few other benefits.  Because the heart is a muscle, it is particularly good for the heart and apparently helps regulate the beating, reducing irregular beating.  There are no studies to prove this, but it may reduce hypertension (improve blood pressure).


Reasons for Deficiency

There are no reliable tests for deficiency.  Blood testing will reveal levels in the blood but the kidneys and liver make sure that the blood gets the right amount, and it is in the muscles and organs where the deficiency occurs, so it is a bit of a guess.  However, many sites suggest that everyone middle aged and up are likely deficient to some degree or another.

  1. It is possible that as we age, we don’t absorb magnesium (found in many foods) as well.
  2. Our diet is deficient (see list of magnesium rich food below).
  3. Our diet is acidic.  Magnesium works on neutralizing acids so if we are consuming too much acidic food and beverages, it drains our magnesium and leaves us deficient. (see list of acidic culprits below).


How to raise Magnesium Levels

  1. Low cost supplements are easily available and not expensive.  The American Medical Association recommends around 400mg/day for middle aged people and older.  Less for women, more for men, but around that ballpark. Apparently, the risks associated with taking too much are between negligible and minimal.
  2. Consume more magnesium rich foods.  Some examples are spinach, almonds, potatoes, bananas, broccoli, brussel sprouts and black beans.
  3.  Reduce acidic food and beverages:  meats, breads, rice, cheese, sweeteners are some of the main foods.  Pop, coffee, tea, beer and wine are also acidic forming.  One of the additional benefits of reducing acidic forming foods is that it will reduce internal inflammation, which is where cancer likes to get going.


In the above, the big revelation to me was my high consumption of coffee, which is probably the main reason for my magnesium deficiency.  Otherwise, our diet is pretty good.  I will reduce coffee consumption and looking at ways to reduce the acidity of coffee….one is by using dark roasts only.

Hopefully this information is useful to someone.  For me, it’s a game changer as I can start thinking about sports again…..since I’m not “just getting old” after all!  So here is a pic of me and my kids about 4 years ago making an attempt to make the top of Fisher Peak of the BC Rocky Mountains.  We made it most of the way but with my new fluid muscles,  I am thinking of making a new assault to the top!


My Small Town, Virden Manitoba



When I grew up, one thing I thought was common everywhere was that everyone was enthusiastic about where they grew up.  Not so true as I have discussed that with a lot of young people in the beautiful city where I now live in the mountain City of Cranbrook BC Canada. Most actually wanted out to a bigger center. No matter, I have a visceral loyalty and love for where I grew up. It was a little town of 3,500 and in the middle of a vast, cold empty prairie.  It was the one of the best things to ever happen to me.

My hometown was founded in the late 1800’s.  When I grew up there though, somebody found oil in the early 1950’s and there was a huge influx of young adults after WWII and the resultant huge number of young children of whom I was one of the horde.

Literally, I had similar-age friends everywhere.  And with the innocence of the 1950’s and 196o’s, we had the run of the town.  My mother kept some track of us, but I was free-roaming well before I started school (age 3) and I have been a sort of free Libertarian ever since.   Some of my earliest friends were the Higginbothams and Carruther’s…..less than a block away.  Then there were the Forster’s, also less than a block away who formed “The Sombrero’s” (what does that mean?) gang of whom I was a “member” and we were more like superheroes than bad guys.  I do remember running smack into a telephone pole as part of that gang.  We raided a few crabapple trees to establish our gang cred but it was all in fun.  The idea of damage and destruction never entered our minds. We just wanted to do stuff.

This sort of “community” isn’t so common today but this isn’t a complaint.  Kids are safer today than ever because of parental precautions.  I was vulnerable except for mumblings from my peers.  This info didn’t come from my beautiful parents, it came from the “street”. Regardless, I survived, and in large part due to a small, isolated Manitoba town where citizens looked after their own.  Still, I cannot believe my good fortune today to be brought up in Virden, Manitoba…..Canadian cold Prairies.

Such a tiny town yet we boasted of the founder of Reader’s Digest, the inventor of the JukeBox, and Jim Treliving, the Dragon founder of Boston Pizza we all know and love.  His dad used to cut my hair at Ted’s Barber Shop when his 2IC Lyle was too busy.  Oh, and hey my old friend Neil Campbell is CEO of Landmark Theatres today…a guy who has forgotten more about movies than I will ever know!

A huge number of great people came out of this beautiful little “nowhere” town.  I will always be greatful for it. Why?  We had the love.



Mom, the most powerful person in the world


In the Jewish religion, Judaism religion is passed on from mother to child, not father to child.   Of course this is an old way of rearing children and fathers and in our current society are usually much more involved in the development of children.  Regardless, this is an indication of the power of a mother.

What instigated this post is the frequency of posts on Facebook that mentioned a desire for a relationship with a deceased mother……but very few about a deceased father.

I don’t have the data to make a lot of conclusions on this but I will say that if your parents are aging, mother or father, please embrace them if you can see any value in their efforts on your behalf!

Clinton vs Rubio



Before the votes are fully counted tonight in Iowa, I’m calling the US Presidential race to be Clinton vs Rubio.

Trump has maxed out.  Trumped and dumped.  He never had a real chance as he mobilized all his support up front, alienating all the rest.  For the Republicans, Cruz looks like the leader now, but his extremist edge will drive the mainstream Republicans to the less extremist Rubio.  The dropouts will coalesce around Rubio.

For the Democrats, Sanders has done very well.  A special shout-out to the Millenials who came out 84% in favour of Sanders.  They have almost won this by themselves, with the help of the 25-40 year old group.  And they might prevail yet as Sanders will trounce Clinton in New Hampshire and could get a big wave going among young people.  However, I’m expecting the older demographic to increase their voting participation to put Clinton over the top.

Are Net Zero Energy Homes now Affordable?

As a home builder, I attended a seminar on this subject yesterday and it stimulated my thinking afresh on the viability of building a home that operates on $ Zero energy costs, including electrical power, heating and cooling.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a home without having to wearily pay out $200/month or more every month for electricity and natural gas?  There has been a confluence of new energy standards in new building construction and a reduction of the cost of some energy producing methods that we are getting tantalizingly close to building Net Zero at no additional cost.

One of the presenters yesterday, a bright, talented and enthusiastic speaker made a pitch that a Net Zero home could be built at no extra cost than a conventional home.  While his premise contained a fundamental flaw of logic, he did present some great ideas which I will add in to some of the ideas here that is helpful to reaching that goal of designing and building a Net Zero for at least a minimum of extra cost.


Mindfulness of Energy Use

This can be a critical aspect of design of a Net Zero home.  A family who commits to being mindful of energy use can reduce energy requirements significantly and thereby reducing the power requirements of the home and reducing the cost right upfront.

In another blog post of mine, I chronicled how our family reduced energy consumption by almost 30% with effectively no lifestyle changes.  Here is my post from 2015:

How we Cut our Energy Use

There are some minor lifestyle changes which can change your energy use significantly.  For instance, a 1C change in your temperature can reduce heating or cooling costs by around 4%.  That means wearing more in the house in the winter, and wearing less (to whatever your decency standard is! 🙂 ) in the summer.  Try to get most of your cooling by fans, which are cheaper to operate than AC units…..and cost a lot less upfront too.

There are probably a hundred “mindfulness” strategies that can be employed in reducing your energy consumption.  Interestingly, many of those ideas can be accessed from your power and gas supplier, at least in our area.  If you are already a minimalist consumer of energy, then building a Net Zero home will be much less expensive than if you are a large consumer.


Design For Net Zero, not Design then add Net Zero

This is critical in keeping costs down.  Many new homes these days are remarkably complex in design and that adds a lot of cost without really adding much to the livability of the inner space.  If Net Zero is given the first consideration, then building costs can be lowered significantly and will make up some of the extra upfront costs in building Net Zero.

For instance, designing a home that is as square as possible can be noticeably less costly to build.  A markedly rectangular home needs more exterior walls to get the same square footage…..and exterior walls are very expensive because of the expensive exterior finish, the insulating costs, and the increased exposure to the heat and cold of the outer environment.  Also, a building that has a lot of jogs in it not only adds more exterior walls with very little increase in the coveted square footage, it also adds a lot of costly corners.

Build a two story or a bi-level rather than a bungalow.  That reduces the roof size and foundation size.  Not only are roofs and foundations expensive, heat tries hardest to escape through the ceilings.

Again, there are many other design ideas that can be employed but the trick is to put Net Zero first into the design, and then look for inexpensive ways to improve the aesthetics.

Technical Inclusions:Keep it Simple and Know your Numbers

There are no shortage of energy-saving products and techniques out there. Not only can they get technically confusing, they can also get remarkably expensive and your project will get out of hand.  The principle of Occam’s Razor suggests that the simplest solution is usually the best.  “Don’t do anything that can’t be explained and economically justified in 25 words or less” is a good rule I like to follow.  And know the numbers.  How much is this particular technique going to cost?

So in the interests of keeping it simple and lowering the costs, here some of the least cost and simplest techniques in working toward a Net Zero home without a lot of extra expense:

  1. Make your home super sealed.  This pretty much mandated by building code these days anyway but make sure the job is done meticulously.
  2. Make the exterior walls double 2×4 walls.  You can get up to R32 with very little additional cost, if any, over an R24 2×6 wall that still transfers heat through the exposed studs.  Here is an example:     8_cgh_ph05
  3. Add additional blow-in insulation in the ceiling.  R65 is not much more than code in our area, and very little extra expense, but very beneficial as heat wants to rise through the ceiling first and foremost.
  4. Preheat your fresh air entering your home by running tubing underground first to capture geothermal heat.  If you keep a small “cold room” in the basement, make sure that tubing enters that room first as well before entering the Heat Recovery Ventilator.
  5. Make your windows strategic and triple glazed.  By strategic, they should be located exactly where you either most need the natural light or will capture the view you need.  Increase your overhang on the south walls to keep the house cooler in the summer without losing the heat gain in the winter when the sun is lower.  Don’t use conventional skylights…..using the Solartube are a lot less expensive and will bring in natural light with less energy change.
  6. For a Net Zero home, you will need to produce power.  The best and simplest way to do it is Photovaic panels.  The cost of these systems have come down dramatically and are simply tied into the grid where you will get credit for power produced that is not used.
  7. This may sound like heresy, but heat your home with electric heaters.  Your capital cost will be considerably lower and the additional solar panels will be minimal but you won’t have to install a furnace and a lot of expensive ducting.  For a higher cost but most comfortable method, use in-floor heat with a gas or electric boiler, which will handle your hot water as well.


The Extra Cost?

Depending on design, it is certainly possible to build a Net Zero Home for very little extra cost per square foot (if any) as the average home in your neighbourhood, as long as you are disciplined on all aspects of design and construction.   It will depend a lot on your builder and how he/she approaches construction.  I have a “collaborative” model of building that has been successful in reducing building costs considerably regardless of how you build.  Not all clients are ideal candidates for collaborative building, but most who are willing to tackle a custom home project are.

In the end, the benefits are huge.  Not only do you effectively eliminate the carbon footprint of your home, but a $200/month savings in utilities is the same as your monthly mortgage costs of a $45,000 mortgage… it is a $45,000 benefit over the life of your mortgage.  And when you go to resell, presenting your buyer with a utility bill of $zero will make your home a pretty compelling sale.

Being carbon wise is no longer the costly preserve of a small segment of committed environmentalists, it is now starting to make sense for your cost of living, freeing you up from paying your energy providers and using the savings for things you really care about!

Bruce Murdoch,

K-Country Homes   250-417-6681


I hope you caught the irony of the title of this post.  It was a minimalist title.  The word is too long though!  🙂



I would suggest that my adult kids are minimalists.  I’m not sure if they would disagree with that characterization but if they did, it wouldn’t be a heavy disagreement.  Their happiness of life without a lot of stuff (junk?) astounds me and makes me an admirer of both of them.  Deep down, I understand minimalism and I even embrace it myself to a significant degree.  I stood in a particular spot in my home tonight surveying its space, and while a modest home, it did seem grand to me…..even too grand in the sense that I could be quite happy with half the space….or even less. My travels around the world have certainly affirmed that my privileges of space and “stuff” exceeds the world average… far.

As I write this, I’m listening to the late great pianist Vladimir Horowitz, a Russian Jew (persecuted), playing a composition of  Russian composer Vladimir Rachmaninoff (my favourite composer)  Piano Concerto #3.  Let’s make this really simple: the beauty that came from the ends of Horowitz’s fingertips did not emanate from his largesse and income….but from deep within his soul….absent of all the “stuff” we surround ourselves with in our generation.

Do we deprive ourselves of beauty today because of our pursuit of stuff?  Is it all just noise?  Probably.  I have a late uncle who, in my last conversation with him said: “I think I finally figured out what it (ie life) is all about: family”.  Now there’s a man who changed from a pursuit of wealth, ambition and control…… and embraced something minimal, powerful, and worthwhile.

The Other Side of Carbon

Sitting out on my deck with an old buddy on a hot August evening this year, enveloped by smoke from forest fires, the conversation quite naturally turned to climate change.  Then I heard something I hadn’t heard before about carbon in the atmosphere and it quite astounded me.

Carbon in the atmosphere has risen about 80% in the last 50 years.  That is a fact.  Also a fact is the proven science that CO2 allows solar heat wavelengths (short) into the atmosphere but doesn’t let the thermal heat wavelengths (long) out to cool the earth.  It traps the heat like a greenhouse does…..and they can get pretty hot.  It’s good science and not to be ignored.


My buddy Terry is an old university friend.  We shared an apartment together in our last year at the U of M in Winnipeg, shared lots of conversations and laughs…..and I was his Best Man at his wedding a year later.  Today he is an Agricultural consultant.  One of the things he does is test Alberta farmers’ soil and devise a proper fertilizer/nutrient formula for it.  This is where it gets interesting.  Terry tells me that they have had to adjust their formulae for the soil because of atmospheric changes.  Now that there is more CO2 in the air, plants are more robust all by themselves.  Then my mind started to grind.  What about native plants?  Are they more robust?  Is there more ungulate wildlife due to that? What about third world countries who don’t fertilize much, are their yields higher due to more carbon?  Is there more food in the world due to carbon emissions? The answer to all these questions is apparently “Yes”.

About three years ago I was researching how to utilize the energy from the ground to extend the season for a greenhouse in our climate and I called the director of the Tomato Growers’ Association near Vancouver.  I was asking how they operated in the winter and after he told me about how they heat their greenhouses, he said that since they closed up the greenhouses to trap the heat, the tomatoes used up all the carbon to the extent that it hurt the yield.  They actually had to pump CO2 into the greenhouse to maintain normal tomato yields.

The fact that the population of the world has only recently been growing by about 1 billion every 12 years indicates that life is teeming on the planet.  We tend to focus on one aspect of the effect our living here and once it gets set into a paradigm…..or conventional wisdom… becomes difficult and unacceptable to consider other aspects of the matter.  The truth is, the planet is significantly self regulated.  That doesn’t mean that humans can be irresponsible in upsetting the self regulating process but we must understand the balance.

Anyway Terry, you have once again surprised me with your scientific knowledge grounded in practical experience!

Why I am voting differently this time

I have had a longstanding voting tradition based on the following logic:

Support the center-right for the best economic management which will encourage a healthy economy for all and generate tax revenues to help the most disadvantaged of our society. I still think that premise is sound. Federally, that usually meant supporting the Conservative Party of Canada even though I almost always had to hold my nose for their social conservatism. This time however, they have crossed the line with their social conservatism and I have to seriously consider the alternatives.

In summary, the social direction of the Conservatives have gone much too far in the following:

1. Minimum mandatory sentencing, building more prisons, and hiring more prison personnel in spite of a dramatically declining crime rate over the last 20 years.

2. An anti-science movement. Funding for pure science has declined. The market place will rarely invest in pure science has it has no imminent marketable product,

3. The making of second class citizens of millions of Canadians. A couple of examples: dual citizens are now second class. The CPC has made it legally possible for this segment of Canadian citizens to have their citizenship revoked and get deported. The niqab issue is also making a minority of Canadians second class: be forced to uncover your face in public but the full force of the law will come down on you if you uncover certain other parts of your body. What is really bad is that they are using this trivial issue as a wedge issue to divide Canadians and raise xenophobia so that people will vote for them,

4. The creation of a secret police force. Until recently, CSIS was an information-gathering agency. They now have police powers and can detain you without cause for a considerable amount of time……and what sort of accountability? Not much. Get yourself on the no-fly list without cause and see how easy it is to get off it. These are the beginnings of a totalitarian state.

5. Climate change denial. Anything environmental oriented is done grudgingly and only when pushed.

6. Warmongering. The CPC seems to be anxious to become embroiled in war and conflict, instead of being the peace-brokers and peacekeepers that the nation had built up a reputation for over many decades. By doing so, Canada is now at higher risk of attack and terrorism based on our own aggressive actions. Our reputation has been greatly damaged.

There’s more but I’ll stop there. The CPC has gone far over the line and there is no nose-holding that can allow me to put an X on the ballot for them this time. Canada as a society is a worse place than it was just a few years ago: more fearful, more prejudicial, more xenophobic, less tolerant. The CPC tends to attract a significantly greater proportion of sexist, racist, homophobic and Islamophobic people so these social policies are a natural outcome of the membership. So that leaves the alternatives: NDP and Liberal.

I had considered NDP seriously because of the balanced budget talk. However, when I see the $billions of spending promises, it means the NDP either has no idea what they are doing and are going to run up a huge deficit, or it means massive tax increases that will kill the economy and send everything into a downward spiral. They are 90% ruled out on that alone.

So that leaves Trudeau and the Liberals. Can I hold my nose and vote for them? I am skeptical of their economic plan but they do have sufficient resources to guide them in a moderate way ahead. Socially, they are pretty liberal and I’m all for that. Frankly, I don’t see anything about them that is a dealbreaker for me. Justin may not be as intellectually gifted as his rivals, but he is quite a bit ahead on emotional intelligence, which can serve the public well. Ready or not, I’m ready for Justin. That’s where my X will go.

Why am I so Optimistic about the Future?

Pure and simple, the Millennials are the least abused and most supported young people in the history of mankind.  You can argue about whether they have experienced a positive upbringing or not,but the statistics and facts indicate that there has never been a better generation.

I believe it.  Millennials (those who were children in the year of 2000) have had an upbringing that is completely unprecedented.  They have been supported, loved, cheered, and protected like none ever in the (often miserable) history of peoplekind.

I know some of these kids/young adults and two of them are my kids.  They are awesome and they are changing the world right now. They are talented and unencumbered by the abuses that my generation faced.  As a Baby Boomer, I’m pretty proud of what we have accomplished together, considering the world we were brought up in and successfully rebelled against.  The effects of the 1960’s had positive and negatives but it was the beginnings that broke a tyrannical model for childhood-rearing that will never be repeated.  As Baby Boomer parents, we did it all quite differently, both collectively and individually but the end result is pretty good.

Our Millennials will change the world for the better…..count on it…

Esther Satterfield, the Vulnerable Voice

Back in the 70’s, one of my favourite music listening choices was Chuck Mangione.  Chuck is an expert flugelhorn (like a trumpet) artist, but also very good at arranging broader music compositions much greater than his flugelhorn prowess.

Here’s Chuck back in the day:


One of his greatest, and unsung, achievements was to bring into his productions a female vocal artist by the name of Esther Satterfield.

I listened to three of Esther’s songs in the 70’s and was thunderstruck by her sound.  Something stuck a chord.  Her sound was special and something about it was unusually vulnerable. You may agree if you listen to the three songs linked here. And that’s the point of this post……the vulnerability of Esther’s voice.

Did Esther rise to stardom after that?  Not at all.  She got married, raised a family and still hasn’t re-emerged into the public.  Her daughter does respond to some public forums, but Esther has chosen a private life.  Too bad for those of us who found something important in her voice and the lyrics she sung.

There is something to this story that is untold, and perhaps will always be untold.  Esther, can you come out again?  If not, we can accept that.

Here is what I can find in the public sphere on Esther’s songs:

This is one of her best.  Land of Make Believe based on Wizard of Oz. (warning, this one is about 12 minutes.  The following two songs are much shorter).

I love these lyrics in this song with a veiled reference to MLK:

“In your world there was a King
He once said, “I have a dream,”
Now there’s a man who knew
The secret.”

Here is my favourite…called “Soft”:

And this is her best if you want to experience the beautiful vulnerability of her voice:

Esther, you produced something special.  If you can come back, you have a lot of supporters.  If your choice is anonymity, it is well respected and thank you for your work that has been recorded.

I hope my readers enjoy her work!   After all “what is there to fear from the darkness that surrounds us……as long as we’re together?”.

The Overwhelming Power of Compassion

I have been privileged to be an observer of human compassion at work…..and see its power.

This is an upclose and personal experience but we will probably soon see how compassion is going to go big scale when we see a movement toward the millions of Syrian refugees and their acceptance to many countries around the world.  The recent image of the little boy on the beach is powerful and will move millions of people to reach out…….and demand that their governments reach out. Let’s hope they do.

My personal experience is with a sudden health issue, not immediate family but extended family.  As the story spread about multiple health issues, hundreds of people stepped up.  Whether it was with donations, prayers or well wishes, it was huge and contributed to a significant reduction of human suffering, perhaps even recovery.

Yes, we can reduce human suffering.  We can reach out to people in difficult circumstances, offer help, indicate well wishes, prayers, whatever you can do.  Some people can do more, some less, but it is all equally important.  By reducing suffering, we can change the world.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”
Dalai Lama

Love’s the only engine of survival”

Leonard Cohen

The Likeability Factor

I’m not sure why I am writing so much on music topics lately, but somehow there are always interesting aspects to consider that I hadn’t thought of before.

How does the likeability of a musician affect your affection/disaffection of their music?  Theoretically, it shouldn’t make much difference.  Lyrics are powerful and musical chords and sequences are so mathematical that they almost leave the artist right out of it.

Yet, likeability of the artist is a big factor….with me anyway.  A few years ago we went to an Al Stewart (Year of the Cat) concert in San Francisco (pictured above).   I always liked Al’s historical/ballad-like music.  Three of us went to the venue early as a really good restaurant was connected and we decided to have dinner there, then catch the concert.   In the restaurant was a closed-off glass area with a large table in it.  Not long after we arrived, a guest arrived with his wife and two other couples.  As we were right beside it, I peered in and could hardly believe it….it was Al Stewart dining right next to us!  Of course I peered over as much as possible to observe his habitat like he was a fish in a fishbowl.  Strange, he seemed pretty normal……

When we entered the concert, we had the good fortune of being very close to the stage (part of the benefit of having our meal in the restaurant).  Al comes on, and his whole concert was performed with a big smile on his face. What you see in this post image is typical of his full concert.  He explained his music, had some fun with his guitar foil, Dave Nachmanoff, and created the sense that he was a really nice ordinary guy and his extraordinary talent spoke for itself.  As a result, this year we attended another concert of his in Glasgow Scotland and it was equally enjoyable as he invited an original member of his 1970’s crew to join in the concert.  I couldn’t help but like the guy and would attend another concert whenever convenient.  All not bad for a guy with a rumoured history of depression!  Good for you Al, you are inspirational!

This is the same for many others we have attended over the years: Jason Mraz,  Gordon Lightfoot,  Jack Johnson, Carlos Santana, Burton Cummings, Boz Scaggs and others.  The likeability factor of the artist has a lot to do with an extra dimension of likeability of the music.