Net-zero housing design could soon be taking the world by storm

A 47-unit apartment building is on the verge of going green in Toronto. But the residents aren’t aiming to help the city reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 100 per cent. Instead, they want…

Net-zero housing design could soon be taking the world by storm

A 47-unit apartment building is on the verge of going green in Toronto. But the residents aren’t aiming to help the city reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 100 per cent. Instead, they want to help save the environment, by living a smart and green life themselves.

The New You Building Company, a new developer, is attempting something similar in Vancouver: a net zero building. Vancouver is a well-known pioneer in what’s known as “green building” – looking at both the environmental and financial implications of energy production and distribution. It has already started construction on Canada’s first zero-emission residential building, by a small development company called Copperman Architecture.

Unlike building codes in major cities that require extensive retrofitting of existing homes, green projects in Vancouver are popping up all over. In 2015, three of the major Vancouver condo builders made Forbes’s list of its most innovative condo developers. The company also built a more than 1,000 square foot condo in Vancouver’s Yaletown that burned for 68 minutes on November 11, 2016.

You don’t have to be a skilled building professional to maintain a net zero build – you just have to be one of the couple dozen people who have had a peek under the hood so far. And New You Architecture’s designers will be there for that. “We are so preoccupied with the concept of being healthy and performing well that we’re simultaneously entertaining: designing everything so that a minimum of surfaces touch each other,” co-founder and chief architect Chris Copperman says in an e-mail. “The idea is to move away from the passive house, passive-house-greenhouse garden approach to address those more sweeping interiors that are out of our control.”

In other words, when you step into a property that’s carbon neutral, it’s a house designed for people to not run or ventilate themselves, but instead to be flat-packed and assembled with the proper amount of power to cool buildings in warmer climates. When you pay the highest rates for high-density living, a net zero building also works to not lose steam over time.

The concept might sound more like an advertising campaign than a practical concern, but it’s not going to be easy. As Peter Coy, a design and construction industry veteran who is also a partner in a green development in Toronto said, “The trick is then training the professionals in the fields to do it. They have to be enlightened and aware, and trained to do it.”

The idea is to move away from the passive house, passive-house-greenhouse garden approach to address those more sweeping interiors that are out of our control.

It’s also been known to be financially challenging. When a developer seeks green certification for a project, which he’s entitled to do, there are typically two levels of certification – “certifiable” and “certifiable and sustainable” which are a part of the Canadian Green Building Council. For projects that reach the certified certification level, the price of their projects is benchmarked, at 5.5 to 11.5 per cent lower than other similarly qualified projects.

But cities are also moving towards height restrictions that discourage flat roofs, which can bring in more interior heat – and may result in even hotter summers.

The fact that New You Architecture is aiming its net zero build at a social housing community, particularly, helps it stay on budget. “It gives us some confidence that these neighbours will be more oriented towards service providers that help solve the common challenges,” says co-founder and chief investment officer David Dodek. “Our investors will see the savings as real, and won’t see the expense.”

It’s this attitude that New You Architecture hopes to transfer to all their buildings – and establish the company as a standard bearer for its newly established category of “green building.”

“We want to be the kind of company that promotes the idea of green building and sustainable living,” Copperman says. “We are also the company that believes that we can reinvent the limitations of the code for being completely sustainable, and continue to work towards being 100 per cent net zero.”

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