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Greening condos really pays off

Ian Harvey – Toronto Star

Building green condominiums from the ground up could cut natural gas costs by 50%, a long-term experiment with two nearly identical Tridel buildings in Etobicoke has discovered.

Based on these results and other studies in progress, the condo of the not-so-distant future may become so energy efficient that it may not need to hook up to a natural gas supply, slashing costs.

The results are spectacular and now provide a baseline for all developers to move forward with more innovative designs, which will serve buyers’ demands and set the standard for energy conservation in highrise buildings.

The pair of Etobicoke buildings in the study were on the boards around 2004 and were to be completed in 2006 and 2008.

One however, was fitted with a slew of energy-efficient features and built to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standard, along with sensors to monitor energy use. The other building was completed to meet design standards of the day.

Three years after occupancy, two years of data from the buildings were analyzed and compared.

The experiment came about when the perfect convergence of interest, curiosity and funding allowed a partnership of Tridel, the city’s Toronto Atmospheric Fund and a start-up venture, TowerLabs, to investigate an apples-to-apples comparison of energy consumption in almost identical buildings at the same location.

It was a rare opportunity to get real data in real time, since such calculations are usually estimates based on theoretical models.

The tale of the tape showed that in the upgraded building there was a 50% decrease in natural gas use, a 6% drop in electricity and a reduction of 550 tonnes in annual greenhouse gas emissions compared with the standard building.

In hard dollars, that’s a $125,000-a-year saving, said Jamie James, president of TowerLabs, noting the savings are crucial to winning both developer and buyer acceptance.

“This is a constant process for us and why we are involved with TowerLabs,” says Jim Ritchie, Tridel’s vice-president of marketing and sales. “The feedback we get from all these things allows us to learn a little bit more and move forward with design on all our products.”

Tridel agreed to the project because the extra cost would be financed through the city’s Green Condo Loan of about $500,000, which the assuming condo corporation took over and is paying off through energy savings. The study found that the loan will be paid back by the energy savings in about seven years.

The financing was integral to the project because it removed the risk from the equation for Tridel, but more importantly the industry now has a set of hard numbers to prove the benefits of energy-efficient design.

Ritchie said the lessons from this and other projects will allow Tridel to tailor building design much more effectively. It knows, for example, that the added cost of higher-efficiency boilers and individual energy-recovery ventilation systems in each unit translates directly into lower energy costs for homeowners and savings over the long run.

Since the condos were built, James said, the city has introduced the Toronto Green Standard (TGS), which means all towers must meet the efficiency standards of the building in the study.

The quest now is to push the envelope further, says Bryan Purcell, manager for incubation and social innovation at the Toronto Atmospheric Fund.

“There is a building under construction now that has no gas connection at all,” Purcell said. Instead it will use geothermal energy, literally extracting heat from the ground below in winter and drawing its cooling power in summer.

The hope, he said, is to create buildings at least 25% to 35% more efficient than demanded by the current code.

Other innovations including advanced building design and management software, which can predict a building’s energy consumption according to how it is oriented to the sun’s path and its exposure to wind.

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Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto Realtor with Century 21 Regal Realty. He did not
write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who are
interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.

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