Overseas Options: Building products that are bigger abroad

by Jim Caruk
topic of the articles

When you travel the world, you discover that so many of the things that we take for granted as standard aren’t necessarily the one and only way to do things. Take garbage collection, for example. We wheel out our garbage and recycling bins to the curb every week for a truck to pick up the trash and make it disappear, but in many European cities, they have automated systems that use pneumatic tubes to deliver the material from the bin straight to a sorting facility. Here are a few homebuilding-related items that are more popular abroad than they are here.

Incineration toilets

In rural areas where sewage lines aren’t available, the standard option is a septic system. But in many cases, the site location makes it prohibitively expensive to install one.

Courtesy of Cinderella Incineration Toilets

Facing concerns over water contamination from leaking septic systems, the Scandinavians have become expert manufacturers of composting toilets (aka incineration toilets). In recent years, brands such as Cinderella and Envirolet incinerating toilets have become popular options for Canadian cottagers. As the name suggests, these odourless systems incinerate the waste, leaving only sterile ashes that need to be disposed of in the trash every month or so.

In addition to saving thousands of dollars on installing a septic tank, these toilets also eliminate the need for water supply or sewage lines. All you need is a power supply (usually electricity, but there are also propane- and natural gas-powered units) and a vent pipe running to the exterior.

With an incineration toilet you could literally turn a closet into a powder room and, since there is no plumbing required, you won’t need a building permit to install one.

Tankless water heaters

With the high cost of electricity and real estate, most Europeans heat their water with a tankless boiler, instead of a hot water tank, which basically amounts to a giant tea kettle running off and on around the clock.

There are pros and cons to each option; the biggest con against tankless heaters being the extra cost upfront. You may recoup the costs on energy savings but that’s over the very long term. The main reasons to consider a tankless water heater is the endless supply of hot water, and for the fact that the smaller, wall-mounted unit allows you to maximize living space if you’re renovating a basement.

One warning though: tankless boilers are still relatively rare in Canadian homes, and not a lot of guys know how to properly service them. You’ll want to find a reliable technician who’s familiar with the model you have.

Lightning protection

Considering how much we spend on our homes and cottages, it’s kind of surprising how little we spend on protecting them. We all have smoke detectors. But how many of us have fire extinguishers – and know where they are and how to use them?

Even fewer property owners would be able to say they have a lightning protection system. I had to look this up but, apparently, about 100 lightning bolts strike the surface of the Earth every second. That works out to about three billion strikes a year!

Many European jurisdictions regulate lightning protection in their building codes, which makes sense in densely packed urban areas where one strike can affect numerous homes and residents.

A full lightning protection system may not make cost-effective sense for every home in Ontario, but if you have a rural home, or cottage on a high point of land – or where it’s the tallest structure in the immediate area – you really should consider the investment in your safety and security.