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Toronto Real Estate Board President’s Column as it appears each Friday in the Toronto Sun’s Resale Homes and Condos section
When it comes to character, you just can’t beat the charm of an older home. Newly constructed homes however, come with their own unique assets, one of the most noteworthy of which is energy efficiency.
From the roof to the foundation, a number of innovative building practices often go into constructing today’s greenest homes.
Roof shingles for example, are now available in recycled materials. Environmentally friendly spray foam insulation, which can help prevent dampness, keep out pollutants and contribute to structural strength, is even partially made with recycled materials.
Roofs, walls and floors can be insulated as well with special structural panels that consist of two layers of board with insulating foam in between them. The forms that are used to mould a home’s poured concrete foundation can now also be found with insulating ability, and barriers that prevent dampness from rising into the foundation can be used at this stage of construction as well. Even exterior cladding is now insulated to offer greater energy efficiency.
If you prefer an older home though, there are many simple ways to make it more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
Start with an Energy Star programmable thermostat that will save on heating and cooling costs when you’re not home. You can take this approach a step further by investing in a new high efficiency furnace or air conditioner. Adding insulation to the attic of your home will offer reduced energy costs for years to come as well.
A tank-less water heater will also save on energy costs by providing only the amount of heated water that you need rather than maintaining it in a cylinder.
Even making minor changes can have an impact, like choosing energy efficient light bulbs – Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) are good and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) are even better.
If you’re planning to make cosmetic changes to your home you can do your part for the environment by choosing wood flooring, and even carpet, made with recycled content. Look for low VOC paints and stains as well, which reduce the number of unstable, carbon-containing compounds that enter the air and react with other elements.
In the bathroom, you can keep more money in your pocket by installing low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets.
Replacing old windows with low-E argon-filled units that have the Energy Star symbol can make a dramatic difference to your home’s energy efficiency as well.
Changing your old appliances with new Energy Star machines is also a great way to reduce energy consumption while enhancing the overall appeal of your home.
Beyond enjoying the aesthetics, cost savings and fulfillment associated with helping the environment, you can also consider getting an energy audit to take full advantage of a number of government rebates for energy-saving home improvements. Please visit www.TorontoRealEstateBoard.com to learn more about them.
Regardless of the approach you choose, remember that nothing can substitute for good-old fashioned conservation. Remember that the energy you save today may well be the energy that is needed tomorrow.
Tom Lebour is President of the Toronto Real Estate Board, a professional association that represents 28,000 Realtors in the Greater Toronto Area.
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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.