Healthy House, Martin Liefhebber for the CMHC


"Sustainability" and "sustainable design" refer to our ongoing responsibility to choose and design methods of manufacturing, building and ways of life that have little to no impact on the long-term health of the environment, society and economy. From government to industry to individual consumers, we must all consider our "ecological footprint" and the legacy we will leave for future generations. Sustainable design is now recognized by a growing number of business, community and environmental leaders as a key driver in innovation and competitiveness in the global market. Canada's role in this movement is growing steadily and there are many opportunities for our country to become a leader in the field. This unit focuses on sustainable living in terms of our homes and the infrastructure of our communities.


 Design Discipline: Architecture

 Design Defined


When used as a verb, design means thinking about, conceiving and executing an idea. It is a creative, problem-solving process. When used as a noun, design refers to the result or product of such cognitive processes.


Architecture means both the act of designing buildings and structures as well as the label given to buildings of all kinds.

Sustainable Design

Sustainable design addresses the 'triple bottom line' (economy, society and environment). Sustainable design is said to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable design can also be defined as the art of producing objects and built environments using only renewable resources, and which themselves, in operation, deplete only renewable resources using integrated design approaches in order to reduce our ecological footprint.

Healthy House

A healthy house is a house that is healthy for its occupants as well as for the global environment. Healthy homes provide healthy indoor environments, use resources such as water and energy efficiently, and are affordable. They respond to evolving household needs using a simple, sensible approach to building, renovation and day-to-day operations. Healthy homes are often located in communities that are planned and managed to enhance quality of life, protect the environment and encourage economic prosperity.



Martin Liefhebber, Principal, Breathe Architects (Toronto, Ontario)

For more than two decades, Martin Liefhebber has been instrumental in advancing green design through his built projects. By eliminating reliance on fossil fuels, Breathe Architects seeks to use renewable resources and source manufacturers that do not reduce the value of the environment or affect the health of their client.


Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation


  • Single family home consumer/owner
  • Contractors and trades people building new homes



In June 1991, CMHC announced its Healthy Housing Design Competition. The objective was to demonstrate to the public and the housing industry that it is possible to design houses for the Canadian climate that are in keeping with the principles of sustainable development and are healthy for the occupants. The competition challenged the industry to develop innovative ways to design homes with the right balance of occupant health, energy efficiency, resource efficiency, environmental responsibility and affordability. The winning entry from Toronto was a 1,700 square foot semi-detached house on a vacant lot in Riverdale. Martin Liefhebber designed the house, including the envelope and the passive solar heating and cooling system. He not only established the project team, he also found a suitable site, obtained the regulatory approvals and developed working drawings.



Healthy Housing provides a healthy indoor environment, conserves the earth's resources, minimizes pollution and is affordable.

Features of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation's (CMHC) Healthy House in Toronto:

  •  It is self-sufficient. It does not depend on existing energy, water and sewer systems provided by the City of Toronto.
  • Water consumption is reduced to one-tenth of that in a typical household. Eighty percent of this reduction is achieved by recycling.
  • The house depends on rainfall for its water supply and recycles much of the water used.
  • The house's water purification systems mimic the natural path that rain follows when it passes through the ground to a spring.
  • Water is conserved through the use of low-volume toilets, low-flow shower heads and aerator faucets.
  • Water consumption is expected to be 120 litres per day for a family of three. Normal consumption for a family of three is 1,050 litres, or 350 litres per person.
  • Solar panels provide electrical energy, which can be stored for later use.
  • Low heating and cooling costs are achieved through airtight wall and roof construction, thermally efficient windows and doors, and high levels of insulation and weather resistance in the building envelope.
  • Heating bills are expected to be less than $80 per year.
  • Materials used to furnish and decorate the house emit few chemicals and vapors, improving indoor air quality.
  • The total operating costs of the house are expected to be under $300 per year.
  • The central location allows residents to take advantage of existing transportation services, while building tax base to support community infrastructure such as schools.
  • The house is built on land that was considered unusable due to lack of public services.

Case Study and Activity Resources

Affordable Adobe: Sustainable Traditional Building

AIA / COTE 2005 Green Project Awards

Breathe Architects (Martin Liefhebber?s website and projects)

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation ? Healthy Housing

Canadian Green Building Council

CMHC: FlexHousing

CMHC: The Toronto Healthy House

Design Exchange: Archetype for the Living City: Sustainable House Competition

Design - Toronto Life "Green house" (October 2004) Katherine Ashenburg

Dirt Cheap Builder (resources for sustainable housing)

Enviroguide - Toronto Life (Fall/Winter 2004)

Global TV - Health Home (First aired October 4, 2004)

Green Build International Conference and Expo

Green Home Building

Healthy Home Television

International Institute for Sustainable Development

Natural Building Colloquium Southwest: The History of Cob

The Natural Step:

Networks Productions: Creating and Disseminating Media to Help Regenerate the earth

Ontario Straw Bale Building Coalition

Principles of Sustainability:

Seattle Government Green Building

Sustainable Architecture, Building and Culture

The Sustainable Design Exchange

Sustainable Sources

Terra Firma Earth Building Company (Contemporary rammed earth homes rammed earth homes - contains historical and technical information)

Toronto Healthy Houses (competition winner)

Wilson House (energy efficient house)

Wood Works

WWF-UK Homing in on Sustainability

Additional Resources General

Beatley, Timothy, and Kristy Manning. The Ecology of Place: Planning for Environment, Economy, and Community. Island Press, 1997.

Brand, Stewart. How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built. Viking, 1995.

Burnham, Richard. Housing Ourselves: Creating Affordable, Sustainable Shelter. McGraw-Hill, 1998.

Diamond, Jared M. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. New York : Viking, 2005.

Friedman, Avi. The Adaptable House: Designing Homes for Change. McGraw-Hill Publications, 2002.

Gissen, David. Big & Green: Toward Sustainable Architecture in the 21st Century. Princeton Architectural Press, 2002.

Griggs, Robyn Lawrence. Natural Home (bimonthly magazine).

Hall, Keith, ed. Building for a Future. Association for Environment-Conscious Building (quarterly magazine).

Hammett, Jerilou, ed. DESIGNER/builder: A Journal of the Human Environment (monthly magazine). Fine Additions, Inc.

Homer-Dickson, Thomas F. Ingenuity Gap. Can We Solve the Problems of the Future? Toronto : A.A. Knopf Canada, 2000

Jenks, Mike, and Nicola Dempsey. Future Forms and Design for Sustainable Cities. Architectural Press, 2005.

Jones, David Lloyd. Architecture and the Environment: Bioclimatic Building Design. The Overlook Press, 1998.

Kennedy, Joseph F., Michael G. Smith, and Catherine Wanek. The Art of Natural Building: Design, Construction, Resources. New Society, 2002.

Kibert, Charles J., Jan Sendzimir, and G. Bradley Guy. Construction Ecology: Nature as the Basis for Green Buildings. Spon Press, 2002.

McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. North Point Press, 2002.

Register, Richard. Ecocities: Building Cities in Balance with Nature. Berkeley Hills Books, 2002.

Roseland, Mark. Toward Sustainable Communities: Resources for Citizens and Their Governments. New Society Publishers, 1998.

Thomas, Randall. Sustainable Urban Design. Spon Press, 2003.

Tsui, Eugene. Evolutionary Architecture: Nature as a Basis for Design. John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

Van der Ryn, Sim, and Stuart Cowan. Ecological Design. Island Press, 1996.

Wackernagel, Mathis, and William Rees. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. New Society Publishers, 1996.

Wann, David, ed. Deep Design: Pathways to a Livable Future. Island Press, 1996.

Wines, James. Green Architecture. Taschen, 2000.

Wright, Ronald. A short history of progress. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2004.


Building Materials

Borer, Pat, and Cindy Harris. The Whole House Book: Ecological Building Design & Materials. Centre for Alternative Technology, 1998.

Janssen, Jules. Building With Bamboo : A Handbook. Intermediate Technology, 1995.

McHenry, Paul. Adobe & Rammed Earth Buildings. University of New Mexico Press, 1990.

Pearson, David. Treehouses. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2001.

Roy, Robert L. Complete Book of Underground Houses : How to Build a Low-Cost Home. Sterling Publications, 1994.

Snell, Clarke, and Tim Callahan. Building Green : A Complete How-To Guide to Alternative Building Methods: Earth Plaster, Straw Bale, Cordwood, Cob, Living Roofs. Lark Books, 2005.

Velez, Simon. Grow Your Own House: Simon Velez and Bamboo Architecture. Vitra Design Museum, 2000.

Energy Behling, Sophia, and Stefan Behling. Solar Power: The Evolution of Sustainable Architecture. Prestel Verlag, 2000.

Guzowski, Mary. Daylighting for Sustainable Design. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2000.

Hawkes, Dean, and Wayne Forster. Energy Efficient Buildings: Architecture, Engineering, and Environment. W. W. Norton & Company, 2002.

Home Energy Magazine. No-Regrets Remodeling: Creating a Comfortable, Healthy Home That Saves Energy. Home Energy Magazine,1997.

Ireton, Kevin, ed. The Best of Fine Homebuilding: Energy-Efficient Building. The Taunton Press, 1999.

Krigger, John T. Your Home Cooling Energy Guide. Saturn Resource Management,1992.

Lyle, David. The Book of Masonry Stoves: Rediscovering an Old Way of Warming. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1998.

O'Cofaigh, Eoin, John A. Olley, and J. Owen Lewis. The Climatic Dwelling: An ntroduction to Climate-Responsive Residential Architecture. James & James Limited, 1996.

Perlin, John. From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity. Aatec Publications,1999.


Waste and Water

Del Porto, David, and Carol Steinfeld. The Composting Toilet System Book: A Practical Guide to Choosing, Planning and Maintaining Composting Toilet Systems, an Alternative to Sewer and Septic Systems. Center for Ecological Pollution Prevention, 2000.

Grant, Nick, Mark Moodie, and Chris Weedon. Sewage Solutions: Answering the Call of Nature. New Society Publishers, 2001.

Jenkins, J.C. The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure. 2nd ed. Jenkins Publishing, 1999.

Van Der Ryn, Lim, and Sim Van Der Ryn. The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1995.

Vickers, Amy. Handbook of Water Use and Conservation: Homes, Landscapes, Businesses, Industries, Farms. WaterPlow Press, 2001.


Healthy Home Environments

Bower, John. The Healthy House: How to Buy One, How to Cure a Sick One, How to Build One. 4th ed. The Healthy House Institute, 2001.

Bower, Lynn Marie. Creating A Healthy Household: The Ultimate Guide for Healthier, Safer, Less-Toxic Living. The Healthy House Institute, 2000.

Harland, Edward. Eco-Renovation: The Ecological Home Improvement Guide. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1999.

Hobbs, Angela. The Sick House Survival Guide: Simple Steps to Healthier Homes. New Society Publishers, 2003.

Kunstler, James Howard. Home from Nowhere: Remaking our Everyday World for the 21st Century. Simon & Schuster/Fireside, 1998.

May, Jeffrey C. My House is Killing Me!: The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Pearson, David. The New Natural House Book: Creating a Healthy, Harmonious, and Ecologically Sound Home. Simon & Schuster/Fireside, 1998.

Rousseau, David, and James Wasley. Healthy By Design: Building & Remodeling Solutions for Creating Healthy Homes. 2nd ed. Hartley & Marks, 1999.

Saunders, Thomas. The Boiled Frog Syndrome: Your Health and the Built Environment. John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

Daniela Bryson
Martin Liefhebber, Daniela Bryson, Elise Hodson, Qasim Virjee, Michael Prokopow
CANADA Toronto Region, Ontario, Toronto Region, CANADA
© 2006, Design Exchange. All Rights Reserved.

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