Passive Design, Active Results

We are slowly learning that we have the knowledge and technology to eliminate a lot of today’s conventional home energy use. The latest example is a passive solar home built in Innisfil. The outstanding feature is that it is built without the need for a conventional furnace. The south facing home is very highly insulated, sealed and uses passive solar gain. It’s no surprise that the builder and owner formerly worked with the Kortwright Centre for Conservation.

I first wrote about passive solar and net-zero energy construction a few years ago so it’s encouraging to know that the concept is finally attracting wider practical application and real world experience under our local conditions. Importantly, municipal authorities are learning to recognize this certification standard.

We’re able to learn about some of the technical details from a recent news article at Simcoe.com (Home builder lives without furnace in passive house, July 13, 2017). The home’s ‘raft’ foundation has a styrofoam base below concrete and the walls are “double stud” allowing for an R65 insulation factor. Notably, the owner says they have “come up with a wall [insulation] system just as efficient without adding significant cost.” Certainly the budgeted cost of ducting and furnace could be applied instead to this use.

An energy recovery ventilation (EVR) unit runs continuously to ensure a proper air circulation and stable temperature within the airtight building envelope. Surprisingly, energy-efficient windows came from Ireland. The article didn’t indicate what distinguished them from so many possible local window suppliers. Solar panels are being added to the home as well.

This type of approach continues to be a ‘pay now or pay later’ proposition. The builder suggests it could be offered as a “luxury option” in subdivisions with a pay-back over 20 years. Otherwise, potential home-buyers could just opt for conventional construction and take a chance with future energy prices or ‘move up’ later when energy efficient techniques become more widely adopted. Passive solar design and ‘net zero’ energy technology makes even more sense for multi-unit construction where the benefits are likely to be more easily achieved.

There is another option. Builders could consider a better trade-off between home size and efficiency. I walked through a builder’s ‘luxury’ model home recently out of curiosity. My wife remarked, “I could be happy with half of this house!” to which another couple immediately responded, “Great! I’ll buy the other half!” Maybe an enterprising builder can recognize an opportunity to make ‘less’ equal ‘more’.

Intensification, Sprawl & the OMB

The province is currently reviewing the future of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) so it was interesting that the builder’s association (BILD) came to it’s defense in a recent article (Ontario Municipal Board not to blame for intensification, Brian Tuckey, March 25):

“Some people mistakenly blame OMB decisions for the intensification that we have experienced across the GTA … The reality is that intensification is actually the result of provincial policy and the OMB makes its decisions based on that provincial policy, including the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, using submissions made by experts in land planning and development… If municipalities, local politicians or members of the public feel there is too much intensification in the GTA, then the remedy lies with the province and its policies — not with the building industry or the OMB.”

I wish it were that simple. We tend to get too much intensification in places where it is already heavily populated, like downtown Toronto. And provincial policy has only led to more dense forms of suburban housing (smaller single lots and townhouses) on the fringes of existing towns instead of as infill or redevelopment in the core. The OMB has garnered a lot of resentment because the Board tends to favour developers in 60% or more of cases according some analyses. The threat of a developer’s appeal to the OMB can sway a Council because of certain factors:

  • The cost to an individual of presenting ‘expert’ witnesses to this quasi-judicial body is estimated to range between $35,000 and $80,000. I’m guessing if municipal legal staff are involved, it could be a lot higher.
  • An appeal at the board begins “from new”, (de novo) meaning, “as if the developers application had just been tabled, disregarding the Municipalities report or decisions by the Municipalities Planning Committee or City Council … it invites the Developer to table what they really wanted vs. what the City approved or refused. ” (Think twice about appealing to the OMB, July 2014)

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Places to Grow – in Barrie

McKayPlan1

A public meeting tomorrow in Barrie (council chambers, 7:00 pm) is further proof that Ontario’s Places to Grow strategy to limit urban sprawl is a failure – at least in Simcoe County. It also confirms that Barrie is a city without boundaries and an insatiable appetite for greenfields.

McKayPlan2

“The lands are designated Highway 400 Industrial/Business Park within the City’s Official Plan and are currently zoned Agriculture (AG) in accordance with Zoning Bylaw 054-04 (Innisfil). The owner has applied to amend the current zoning of the property to Highway 400 Industrial with Site Specific exceptions …”  Continue reading

Live, Work and Play

I’m just catching up to local news since being away from writing. At first glance, I’m impressed with the six story residential and commercial development being proposed for the 25th Sideroad and Innisfil Beach Road. It’s the first significant new construction that actually conforms to the Official Plan and the ‘Inspiring Innisfil’ urban design concept for Innisfil’s commercial core. It would add four or five new retail spaces to the street and add a mix of 55 living spaces (bachelor to 2 bedroom) to enliven the street. It might even inspire development, or redevelopment, of some other nearby commercial properties that need to be brought into the 21st century.

I have a hard time reconciling resident objections to the project since it has been clear for at least the last five years that Innisfil Beach Road will be developed as a retail area with zoning to allow street-front buildings up to six stories.

What I find more disappointing is Mayor Wauchope’s response as he tried to deflect responsibility to the county and provincial governments:

“The province is telling us this, the county is telling us this … we’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”  Continue reading

Land, Housing & Growth – It’s Complicated

Maybe you saw the recent article, “Blame prices on growth plan, economist says” (Toronto Star, Oct. 14, 2016). Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets was quoted as saying, “Affordability and Places to Grow cannot coexist.”

I have to point out he was speaking at a meeting of the Building Industry & Land Development Association (BILD). This “leading Canadian economist” went on to say that development charges and slow municipal approvals are contributing to the affordability problem.

Neptis Foundation had already countered this overly simplified view with factual data on October 5 (Land supply not to blame for rising home prices: Study, Toronto Star).  Continue reading

Finding A Place to Call Home

It’s increasingly difficult for younger people and new families to find an affordable place to call home. We have Places to Grow legislation, which is intended to rein in urban sprawl and preserve a ‘greenbelt’ around Southern Ontario’s built-up urban area. At the same time, provincial growth projections mandate all municipalities to actively plan for more growth with specific population targets. One estimate suggests 3.5 million people will move to the Greater Toronto and Hamilton region in the next 25 years. But so far, this has only led to more suburban developments starved of employment opportunities; a choice of either lower paid local employment or more costly and lengthy commutes, road congestion, and poorer quality of life. Meanwhile in major cities the size of an average high-rise condo continues to shrink. Neither housing option serves existing needs well. (In New York, ‘micro apartments’ are about 275 to 300 square feet).  Continue reading