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’.

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Prices – They Are a Changing

Real estate prices have been in the headlines lately. Buying mania has reached our Innisfil neck of the woods over the last couple of years but I doubt foreign buyers are involved. Looking back over some figures, my property tax increased 73% in the last 16 years (an average of 3.7% per year); “market value” assessment increased by 133% (about 6.3% a year); but the current speculative market value of my property has increased about 500% (or more?) based on real estate agents’ estimates and recent home sales in the area. That’s about 10%/year compounded rate of appreciation.

We get approached about listing our home possibly once a week by mail or in person. I’m told that some real estate agents Continue reading

Places to Grow – in Barrie

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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.

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“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

Complete Streets and Villages

A silo is all that remains of Stroud’s “last operating farm”. The farmhouse and agricultural buildings were demolished several years ago by a developer. The 5.2 hectare site is now the subject of a development proposal (Centreville by Daycore Venture Group Inc.) which consists of residential homes, commercial buildings and a gas station.

Residents were presented with a draft plan in December 2016. The first phase proposed 107 townhomes with communal septic. A second phase, contingent on provision of municipal services, would have added 86 more townhouses and a six story apartment/retail complex fronting on Yonge Street.

This proposal was heavily criticized, at the time, by local residents as inappropriate for their “quiet and peaceful” village. “We moved here for a rural urban feel”, said one. “You’re putting a city in a village. It’s just dumb. That’s the very reason a lot of people are getting out of Barrie and Alcona and into Stroud”, said another. Stroud consists mostly of single-family homes and has little growth because of the absence of municipal sewers. The developer’s proposal relies on sophisticated modular septic systems from BioNest based in Quebec.  Continue reading

Townhomes Coming to 7th Line

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Map from DIAM Developments Inc.website: radianceinnisfil.ca

Innisfil is attracting the attention of a developer that has previously completed building projects in Kleinburg , Mississauga, Oakville, and Toronto. DIAM Developments is advertising a new townhome development, Radiance, situated at the 7th Line west of Webster Blvd. in south Alcona.

The townhome project, set to launch “this spring”, will “range from three to five bedrooms and will boast spacious decks and rooftop terraces” according to online publicity. Prices are expected to be in the “mid-400s”.

DIAM Developments recently completed a mid-rise condominium project in Toronto, under the name, On the Danforth.

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