In an ideal world, housing should be producing energy rather than consuming it.
Our shelter should be healthy, be easily maintained, produce food and water, cause no pollution, and preferably be self-sustaining. While this is far from the reality we live in, it's never too late to start. Even small steps can make a significant impact; given that we're developing the technology and know-how to implement sustainable initiatives, we each have a personal responsibility to be change-makers.
As a realtor recently embracing sustainability both professionally and personally (my most recent project is The Tales From Tennis Crescent), I've discovered there are multiple interpretations and approaches of how one can live green. In fact, the pendulum swings from living 'off the grid' (akin to the hardened survivalist temperament independent of any government, electric and other utility services like water, heat, waste management and a communication device) to living fully 'plugged in'. This is where the commitment is to conserve, conserve, conserve, using technological advances to intelligently design and construct more efficient, less wasteful dwellings.
One obstacle to sustainability in building is that very few people have a clear understanding of the design principals behind the movement. Here is a superb link by Canadian Developer Minto which is helpful in breaking down the basics: Benefits Of Green Features.
In my eye, we're participating in sustainable living when we embrace any of the available approaches, big or small. I applaud anyone who lives using solar or wind-turbine energy solutions, well water, a composting toilet, or a wood stove. I'm already your fan if you built your homestead using natural (rammed earth, cob or logs) or recycled materials (like tires or shipping containers) or if you've subscribed to the tiny house movement (see some great examples of this on my student mentorship site on Canadian Housing called Houseporn.ca). Living 'on the grid' in downtown Toronto, my sustainable shelter philosophy - and those of many of my clients - includes incorporating high-tech materials and systems like LED lighting, high performance windows and insulated wall assemblies, smart app operating programs, plus high-efficiency HVAC components. As a recent convert, I'm mesmerized by the most recent green inventions, including solar cladding, FLEXpower energy storage systems (which allow owners to sell their surplus energy back to the grid), bioplastics, structural 3D printing.
So What Does Building A Sustainable Home In Toronto Really Mean?
To the novice, it's easy to get overwhelmed at the multiple building materials, practices, and technologies that make shelter more efficient and longer-lasting while improving the quality and comfort for its inhabitants. According to Matthew Sachs' The Business of Green Housing, to synthesize the essentials of making your dwelling 'green' or 'sustainable', you should focus on improving your living environment with these four main areas, distilled from the many design principles involved:
Indoor Air Quality: This includes using materials free of volatile organic compounds (referred to as VOCs) that easily become vapors or gases. Along with carbon, they contain elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, fluorine, chlorine, bromine, sulfur or nitrogen. Consumers should select materials like low VOC paint, carpets and cabinetry (which normally uses formaldehyde); embrace optimal mechanical ventilation systems and choose high quality air filters. (Have you read our post on Sick Building Syndrome?)
Water Use: This includes implementing low-flow shower toilet and taps, and rainwater harvesting for landscaping purposes. There is a growing interest in reusing our grey water (from bathing) for our waste management, but this is often prohibited by municipal regulations.
Building Materials: This includes minimizing the amount of waste in the construction process and recycling what remains, choosing recycled-content building materials (like insulation made from shredded denim, hemp or sheep's wool; ecorock drywall; concrete aggregates; or plastic wood), selecting renewable products (such as harvested lumber, cork, linoleum and natural fibre carpets) and choosing materials which have extended life spans (for example, metal for roofing and stone for flooring or walls).
Energy Efficiency: Most importantly, a green home starts by being well-designed, well-insulated, and well-positioned on its site to operate as much as possible using passive heating and cooling ('passive' referring to anything that reduces energy consumption without the use of energy during the home's existence). For example, a home with 60% of its windows facing south (passive solar) may have its heating requirements reduced by as much as 25% for virtually no cost. Check out one of the most important concept in passive heating/cooling here: the solar chimney effect. Installing components like low e-coating argon gas windows, operable skylights, hot water on demand and heat recovery air exchange systems are other ways to save energy.
For a concise picture on what building a sustainable home entails in Canada, visit EcoHome's step-by-step guide. And consider visiting The Archetype Sustainable House at The Living City Campus (located just north of Toronto) at Kortright, which demonstrates viable, sustainable housing.
Will Building Green Cost Me More Or Less?
Building green will translate into higher costs, but, over the long term, that investment will ultimately result in significant financial savings ultimately translating into being less expensive, all things considered. First, there's the cost of hiring well-informed professionals to realize your commitment to sustainability. An experienced educated architect will not only design the home, and all of its green details, but can be engaged to also lead the building trades, many whom still require education and instruction to implement the specificity necessary to create a sustainable building using materials still not widely used and embraced. Given sustainable construction practices are still in their infancy in Canada, one has to remain cognizant that many building trades have not built product like this, which means you'll want an architect who can appropriately steer the project successfully.
When embracing energy-efficient building components, high-tech operating systems and quality sustainable materials, there will also be higher upfront costs. Certainly, cutting edge systems for harnessing sustainable energy, like solar panels, may seem pricey, but consider the following examples. The initial cost of installing argon gas and a low e-coating to your double pane windows will decrease heat loss significantly. Not only does this mean a lower heating bill - and the ability to place your couch near your windows without any drafts - but with a decreased heating load, the furnace and HVAC system won't be used as often which will translate into more savings. Over time, the cost of those windows will be recouped tenfold. Next, consider life cycle costs. Durable materials have a higher upfront cost – it’s pricier to install a metal roof or solid wood flooring than using asphalt shingles or laminate, but their longevity is substantially longer. Similarly, it costs more to erect rammed earth or straw bale-filled walls where, due to the thickness of the walls, they achieve better air quality and thermal mass, thus decreasing energy costs over time.
Also, it’s important to remember that, as our society moves toward a greener, more efficient future, governing bodies and companies have committed to supporting sustainable building initiatives. Currently, the provincial and federal governments offer substantial rebates and tax credits for any structure that meets LEED or Energy Star standards, while companies like Union Gas and Enbridge offer discounts to customers using high-efficiency heating/cooling systems and appliances. Similarly, all of the major banks - including TD, BMO, and RBC - have created ‘Green’ or ‘Smart’ mortgage plans that offer customers rates that are at least 1% lower for green homes.
Check out Canada's various incentives here.
A Sustainable Home Urbaneer Sold In Toronto
As a Top Producing realtor who pioneered the Innovative Space Market 25 years ago - including the adaptive reuse conversion market which fueled the explosion of Toronto's Hard and Soft Loft phenomenon - it's a privilege to have sold this Unique Architectural Masterpiece In The Beach. Designed and developed by German architect Felix Leicher of baukultur/ca, this breathtaking residence of the highest architectural standards is also environmentally friendly. For the Buyer, they secured a residence thoughtfully designed to improve well-being, and let them take an active role in reducing their own carbon footprint. This is the wave of the future, where properties like this appeal both to the pragmatic and social consciousness.
Here's how this family residence specifically fulfills the commitment to embrace the four essentials that comprise the sustainable housing criteria:
• Indoor Air Quality:
- Air exchange system with heat recovery
- HEPA filter
- Low VOC materials and finishes
- Naturally ventilating skylights to assist in fresh air flow via chimney effect
• Water Use:
- Tankless water heater with hot water re-circulation line
- Sump pump with foundation drain & back water valve
- New lead-free water service
- Low flow faucets
- Dual flush toilets
• Building Materials:
- Low VOC materials and finishes
- Waterproof basement walls
- Maintenance-free white and copper metal panel facades and rain screen made from thermal modified wood
- Metal standing seam roof on all slopes
- White metal roof and south exterior facade to reduce summer heat intake
- Sustainable lumber
- Recycling of construction debris
• Energy Efficiency:
- Smart lighting throughout with dimmer function, remote controls, and 'auto-away' function
- Energy Star-rated windows (fiber glass with Argon-filled double panes with Low E coating and Superspace for energy efficiency), doors, and Velux skylights
- Smart Home System regulates heating/cooling, real-time energy usage generation, bill monitoring
- Nest thermostat with 'auto-away' function, presence monitoring, and temperature sensors in each room
- Insulated sheeting on major exterior walls, 2" insulation below basement slab, and R22 insulation on basement walls (all insulation CFC and HCFC-free)
- Energy Star-rated appliances
Located in The Beach, this executive residence is a real life example of green construction, and demonstrates the best in environmentally sustainable design. All of the strategies seen here plus many more have the potential to increase energy efficiency and diminish carbon footprints. First, Felix embraced all the passive design principles to reduce the need to use energy to create a comfortable living environment. This included harnessing natural daylight; multiple options for natural ventilation including cross ventilation as well as the stack effect created when you open the skylight above the stairs; using white metal siding & roofing to reflect and minimize heat intake; installing above average wall insulation; choosing air tight and high insulated windows; in addition to sustainable materials and finishes to provide long-lasting, low maintenance and low VOC assemblies. Pretty impressive, right?
The bottom line? Buildings account for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, and while constructing this home 'green' cost 10% more for construction and design costs, the return on investment is significantly more both in providing a better quality of life for your family, and lasting longer. It represents:
- lower utility bills (gas, electricity, water)
- greater material longevity resulting in lower maintenance costs
- higher level of comfort
- healthier indoor environment
- higher resale value
Is that not prudent? We think so!
Right now, all levels of government, various specialty companies and task forces are moving us toward a greener future; these groups are pushing for zero-energy buildings (buildings that produce as much energy as they consume), increasing the education of building professionals, introducing policies to increase interest in greener technologies, and engaging in simple measures such as good design. No matter how many energy-saving devices are built into the building, changing the behavior of building occupants and making them understand the implications of wasting energy is an important step in making the home building sector as green as possible.
Like what you've read? With a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of real estate, a desire to expand awareness in all manners of housing and home, and a commitment to serve both our unique Buyers and innovative Sellers, consider enlisting our services. Marrying a multi-disciplinary education in housing, over twenty-five years of real estate experience, and a sterling reputation as one of Bosley Real Estate’s Top Producers, my team and I welcome the opportunity to be of assistance to you, or someone you love.
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Love Canadian Housing? Check out Steve's Student Mentorship site called Houseporn.ca which focuses on architecture, landscape, design, product and real estate in Canada!