Tag Archives: environmental benefits
By Michael Buzzelli – rabble.ca
Canadians know that our built environment — homes, offices, factories, roads and infrastructure — holds the key to an environmentally sustainable and healthy future. The energy and environmental demands of the built environment will undergo substantial changes in the years ahead. Several pressures exist: looming carbon cap and trade legislation, shrinking energy resources and, perhaps most importantly, evolving attitudes toward our consumption and production patterns.
One-third of Canada’s energy use goes to running our homes, offices and other buildings. The federal government’s Office of Energy Efficiency reports that a corresponding one-third of our current greenhouse gas emissions come from the built environment. This is a large proportion that can be addressed in both the short and long term by modifying how we build and how we use our homes and offices.
Green building and development (GBD) faces a classic policy paradox: we collectively agree that improvements are needed in the built environment but we are caught in a whirlwind of information and debate about how to move forward.
We are motivated by widespread adoption of green ideals but stymied by issues related to implementation. There is confusion over whether a technological or behavioural approach should be prioritized. “Greenwashing” (the overuse of “eco” and “green” labeling and branding, particularly where there are no environmental benefits) also adds a layer of doubt over green building benefits. And, depending on the region, over 10 green building standards — such as LEED or R-2000 — currently exist in Canada. How do builders choose among them in bringing new homes to the market? Which standard(s) should serve as the model in retrofitting houses and buildings? How do consumers choose?
A range of stakeholders are implicated in the questions asked here. Municipalities are closest to the construction and design process given their front-line role in issuing permits and approvals. Builders and developers, from which the leaders and risk-takers will emerge, provide the built environments that we occupy and use. And of course consumers, whether the household or the office building tenants, will also be concerned with the built environments that they occupy.
Given the range of technical complexity (innovation), the economic costs and potential risks involved, and the range of stakeholders, how can we move the GBD agenda forward? How do we encourage GBD risk-takers and early leaders while at the same time protecting the public interest?
Canadian Policy Research Networks recently released a report, Green Building and Development as a Public Good, which documents the range of options for implementing GBD, and concludes that collaborative governance structures in particular are critical for advancing GBD effectively and efficiently.
The report also suggests that there is no single approach or fixed set of “solutions” to the provision of green built environments. We need locally sensitive means of building green rather than uniform regulation or a mandated system that may negate or disregard region-specific issues.
GBD involves multiple stakeholders because it is new, complex and involves risk. Risk-spreading may be necessary for new and bold developments that achieve the greatest rewards. We are at the beginning of the GBD “product life cycle,” and risk-takers and leaders should be encouraged while, at the same time, safeguarding the public interest.
Industry champions will emerge but will find little incentive to take the lead or remain out front if GBD plans are consistently forestalled and if they can revert back to standard building methods, materials and products.
Since consumer demand is key, home owners also need to understand the clear benefits, including return on their investments. For example, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, property values rise on average by $20 for every $1 of utility savings.
Specifically, governance structures involving co-operative and collaborative approaches will need to be developed so that our communities can adapt to delivering alternative kinds of built environments. A policy development framework is needed, providing a balance between higher-level guidance, knowledge sharing and codevelopment, and the municipal scale of administration and action.
A GBD strategy must be regionally relevant and harness many of the initiatives already under way, and at the leading edge, in the region. The region needs to devise a method for promoting, but not punishing, risk-taking. Leadership is key and it should also be fostered within and across organizations.
Local areas must work to develop their governance structures to encourage and put into (best) practice GBD strategies and methods. Cities, builders, consumer groups and others will have to work through the as yet unseen plans, challenges and opportunities in delivering environmentally and energy-sustainable built environments.
Municipalities — particularly those new to GBD — will find the first steps the most prohibitive. While local areas will have their own particular circumstances and opportunities, relevant lessons from other jurisdictions may be lost if we do not think of mechanisms for ongoing, consistent and informed exchange. The wider community of municipalities and higher levels of government can and should nurture the process. Higher-order knowledge development and transfer is therefore equally important.
GBD should be viewed holistically; should capitalize on existing regulation while also developing incentives and should build on existing strengths and best practices. We also need the right measurements developed in order to monitor progress and assess outcomes.
The path to greener built environments is barely marked and obstacles remain. A significant part of the story will pivot on the local and collaborative efforts that will at first develop slowly and then be taken for granted as the new “normal.”
One might say that the future inevitably will be green, though how quickly we get there will depend on how we plan for it now.
Michael Buzzelli is Director of Housing and Environment at Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN) and Professor of Geography at the University of Western Ontario. The full report, Green Building and Development as a Public Good is available at www.cprn.org.
By Tyler Hamilton – Toronto Star
Mountain Equipment Co-Op’s newest store, which opened last November in Burlington, is without question the greenest of them all.
A white roof keeps it cooler in the summer. Rooftop windows let in natural sunlight and sensors turn on what lights there are only when needed. Special parking is reserved for customers who drive hybrid-electric and other super-efficient vehicles. Rain is collected from its rooftop and used as grey water for toilets and outside watering.
Atop the roof sit two massive solar arrays consisting of dozens of parabolic mirrors that concentrate the sunlight to generate both electricity and heat for hot-water production. Each array is attached to a motorized tracker, which follows the sun throughout the day to maximize the amount of energy collected.
All said, the building’s design makes it 68% more energy efficient than comparable retail properties, an achievement that has earned it Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, with a gold rating.
But there’s more. To achieve such high energy-efficiency, the building also cools itself using massive blocks of ice instead of energy-hungry air conditioners. At the back of the building sit four Ice Bear systems, looking like oversized refrigerators knocked on their sides, developed by Santa Clara, Calif.-based Ice Energy Inc.
The concept behind the Ice Bear is quite simple: at night, when electricity is plentiful, a condensing unit pumps refrigerant through copper coils equally distributed through the body of the water-filled unit, which is heavily insulated. The coils freeze the 1,800 litres of water in the unit and then automatically shut off.
During the day, when power demands peak and electricity is more expensive, the system is reversed and the ice is used to cool air that is circulated through a building’s ventilation system. The biggest energy draw that’s really used at this point is 300 watts to run a ventilation fan. That’s the equivalent of having three incandescent light bulbs on.
Each Ice Bear system, when water is completely frozen, can supply the same amount of cooling as a conventional five-tonne rooftop air conditioning system for about six hours – that it, until all the ice melts. It then takes a good 10 or 11 hours to refreeze the water in preparation for the next day.
Now, like most emerging clean technologies, the clear environmental benefits don’t necessarily translate into economic benefits. James Alden, the chief operating officer of Toronto-based Summerhill Group, an environmental consultancy that’s helping the Ice Bear concept gain traction in Canada, will be the first to tell you that the system is at least double the cost of traditional rooftop air conditioners.
“You’re not going to sell this to a customer strictly on a payback perspective, with the exception of companies aiming for LEED certification,” like Mountain Equipment Co-Op, he said.
On the other hand, Alden said the system makes sense for utilities looking to eliminate daytime spikes in electricity demand by shifting consumption to periods of low demand – that is, overnight. This can make economic sense on a system-wide scale because it delays the need to build so-called “peaker” power plants and can ease congestion on the grid, possibly deferring costly transmission and distribution upgrades.
He envisions a major utility or group of utilities strategically deploying enough Ice Bear systems to retailers and other commercial buildings throughout the province to shift 30 megawatts of peak-time demand to low-peak periods. The units would be owned by the utilities and could be remotely controlled through a smart grid.
Hydro One, Powerstream, Toronto Hydro, and a number of other utilities have already visited Mountain Equipment Co-Op to learn about the system. “All the large utilities are interested,” Alden said, pointing out that under the new Green Energy Act local electric utilities can now do these kinds of projects more freely.
Now, they just have to get creative.
Whether it’s a condo in Toronto, a suburban house or a country property, the environment is increasingly top-of-mind with homebuyers and builders
By Sherry Noik-Bent – National Post
It is often said that we haven’t inherited the Earth from our fathers, we’re borrowing it from our children. Today, with a heightened awareness of environmental concerns, homebuilders are making a commitment to create cleaner, more energy-efficient homes.
The movement toward environmentally friendly building is swiftly gaining ground in this country and it is homebuyers who may come out the biggest winners.
Sustainable housing is booming, with options like solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling, energy-efficient light bulbs and even windmills coming in to widespread use in new homes.
“‘Green buildings’ is really just a word for high-performance buildings,” says Thomas Mueller, president of the Canada Green Building Council.
“You get a better building in terms of performance, durability, health, energy, water and so… a better building that provides a better value for the customer.”
The council is a non-profit coalition of building professionals that kick-started this green revolution. Since its inception in December, 2002, the organization has rapidly signed on 1,100 member firms and organizations including architects and engineers, contractors, builders and even municipalities (the City of Vancouver was first; the City of Toronto came later).
The council’s board of directors is made up of private and public-sector building representatives. And its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program has quickly become the gold — and silver and platinum — standard for green building.
LEED is the latest buzzword in building. And with a growing number of projects seeking certification — 278 registered in Canada, 16 of them condo and/or loft projects in the GTA — it’s something Canadian homebuyers are going to hear more and more about.
Modified from the original U.S. version for our climates, LEED Canada is a system of rating buildings for their environmental impact and performance using a points system. The points result in ratings from “certified” to “silver” to “gold” to “platinum.” The 72 techno-speak criteria on the Project Checklist — things like “erosion and sedimentation control” and “ozone protection” — will likely be of little interest to consumers. But the end result is a definitive green-print for developers to follow and a mark homebuyers can count on.
“Green buildings were around before, but the LEED rating system really presents a common framework and a common language so we can say what a green building really is,” elaborates Mr. Mueller.
With LEED, builders must meet certain prerequisites, then accumulate credits in six categories: sustainable site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, innovation and design process. Any combination of points between 26 and 32 results in a “certified” assignation. Between 33 and 38 nets “silver”; 39-51 receives “gold”; and 52-70 scores “platinum.”
Though inspection and certification happen post-construction, buyers can be assured a building will meet at least the minimum LEED standard if it has registered, because registration denotes a commitment.
What builders — and homebuyers — are realizing is that an environmentally friendly building doesn’t have to look like an eccentric space-age edifice or a primitive tree house.
Take the Radiance at Minto Gardens, a 33-storey condo in North York. Last month, it became the first residential high-rise to be LEED Canada certified, garnering a silver rating.
“The biggest ‘green’ feature of this building is that it looks like any other building,” says Andrew Pride, Minto’s vice-president of energy management.
Furthermore, while residents go about their normal lives, Minto’s innovations bring them significant savings and — here’s the best part — doesn’t require any extra effort on their part. Quite the opposite, in fact.
By using energy-efficient hallway lighting and installing motion sensors in the stairwells — triggered, like a refrigerator bulb, the instant the door is opened — the building’s common-area energy consumption in its first year of occupancy was 33% lower than in a non-green building, saving an estimated $200,000 on maintenance fees.
Inside the 377 condos, Minto has introduced energy-efficient thermostats, specially designed HRV (heat recovery ventilator) fan coils, and the very popular “all off” switch by the entrance that kills all the lights and exhaust fans at once.
But where the residents are most empowered is in the individual metering of hydro and hot and cold water. “This allows you to control your own cost,” says Mr. Pride. In “a typical condo, water is included in the condo fees, so your neighbour’s water use is your cost.” When consumers are able to see a breakdown of their consumption, they are more inclined to take simple measures, such as not running the tap when they brush their teeth and not running the dishwasher with just a few plates. The result has been a 55% reduction in water use — the equivalent of a one-litre bottle every second — compared with a similar-sized condo, and a savings of approximately $55,000 a year.
No detail has been overlooked in constructing a more efficient, healthy building that will appeal to homeowners and also provide city-wide environmental benefits like reduced emissions, waste and rainwater runoff.
But with higher building costs, what’s the incentive for developers?
“This building’s [cost is] somewhere around 3% to 4% higher than an equivalent condo in Toronto,” says Mr. Pride. “We absorbed it. It was part of what we wanted to build and what we wanted to demonstrate.”
Still, that’s not a viable long-term business plan for Minto. So until costs come down on going green, the company is exploring new ways to make up the difference, such as a “green loan” — a loan by Minto to the condo corporation that is paid back over time by a portion of the residents’ maintenance fees.
“There is a difference,” says Mr. Pride, “and there is a choice.”
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