Apartments that know when they’re empty and turn off your AC. A heating system that self-regulates when you start the day and again when you head off to bed. Water flow sensors that text you when a pipe is leaking. These are some of the energy-saving solutions that builders are introducing to make housing in Toronto a greener game.
And the pressure to do so is on. More than half of Toronto’s greenhouse gas emissions come from homes and buildings – a whopping number when you consider that the city’s climate strategy, called TransformTO, is aiming to make Toronto a net-zero producer of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
According to Kenny Smith, getting anywhere near zero emissions on new builds is going to take time, which is why designers and builders need to start adopting green-tech solutions now.
Smith is the managing principal of Integral Group’s Toronto office. The green engineering and consulting firm, which has branches around the world, co-authored the latest version of the Toronto Green Standard, a set of tiered design requirements for all new Toronto buildings that establish stringent energy consumption targets.
Those targets – adopted by the city in May 2018 – are pushing designers and developers to embrace green technologies that, according to Smith, have been implemented elsewhere but are currently underexploited in the Toronto market.
“A lot of it is getting up to speed with the rest of the world,” he says.
Yet it’s starting to happen at a handful of new builds that are experimenting with green upgrades. At The Residences of Upper East Village, a planned community in Leaside built by Camrost Felcorp, geo-exchange loops have been installed to heat and cool the 21-storey complex; the system transfers heat from the earth into the residences above through a series of plastic pipes filled with a mixture of antifreeze and water. In the summer, it does the reverse, drawing heat out of the building and sending it down into the earth through the same pipes. According to the Canadian Geoexchange Coalition, if just 16 per cent of Ontario’s residential buildings switched to the technology, it would result in a savings of nearly 1.5 million tons of CO
, or the equivalent of removing nearly 450,000 cars from the road.
The same technology is also up and running at Camrost Felcorp’s Exchange District Condos in Mississauga.
Downtown, at 123 Portland, a new 14-storey condo planned for the corner of Adelaide and Portland by Toronto developer Minto, another energy-saver is in the works. Called VRF (for variant refrigerant flow), this ductless system uses copper refrigerant lines carrying either gas or liquid rather than air to move heat around the building. VRF greatly improves efficiency – by between 15 and 42 per cent when replacing more traditional systems that deliver air through ventilation ductwork.
Another simpler but still effective change Minto has made in the majority of its GTA properties is the installation of a water-consumption monitoring device called Flowie. The small unit, which attaches to a property’s water meter, can detect high water use, leaks, power outages and humidity, then send alerts to the owner’s smartphone.
“There’s a misconception that these initiatives are difficult to do, that they’re expensive,” says Roya Khaleeli, a sustainable-design professional at Minto. “But that’s not the case. It really affects the bottom line by only one or two per cent.”
But that’s new builds. The city’s stock of existing, energy-wasting older buildings has a big impact on emissions, too.
“Even if 100 new [efficient] buildings go up in the next five to 10 years, that doesn’t compare to the thousands of [energy-wasting] buildings that already exist in Toronto,” says Brad Pilgrim, CEO of Toronto-based clean tech software company Parity, which is pioneering the use of AI to reduce energy consumption in some of that older stock.
Parity works by optimizing a building’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Current code regulations dictate that buildings be designed to peak demand – periods when everyone is home using all of their utilities at once. Parity’s software allows a building to respond to the real needs of its occupants so that energy isn’t squandered on an empty condo.
Parity’s sensors attach to a building’s HVAC control centre and collect data on where and when energy is being wasted. The software then uses algorithms to help the building recognize when its energy needs are low — during the day when everyone is at work, for example. The building can then respond to decreased demand by reducing the volume of critical utilities being delivered.
Pilgrim says Parity generally cuts the cost of running HVAC equipment by 20 to 30 per cent and reduces emissions by 40 per cent. HVAC usually accounts for about 70 per cent of a building’s energy consumption, so the potential impact is considerable. The software is currently installed in about 50 buildings across the GTA, and Pilgrim says the tallest multi-residential building in the country – the Aura at Yonge and Gerrard – has just signed on to have the system installed.
Pilgrim and the Parity team recognized early that the upfront cost of installation and hardware would likely be a barrier for many condo boards, so the company provides its system to buildings at no upfront cost and guarantees a reduction in energy use. Parity recoups its expenses by taking a portion of the money saved on utilities. According to Parity’s quick assessment tool, a 20-storey building with 300 units could expect to save about $57,000 in unused energy costs per year.
Reduced energy expenses are one obvious benefit of adopting green energy tech, but there’s another that is perhaps less evident: certification. From LEED to Energy Star to Passive House to Net Zero Energy Homes, there are more voluntary certification programs than ever before that demonstrate a project’s commitment to better energy use and management. Whether that’s enough to sway a prospective buyer to choose one building over another, it’s hard to say. But as certification demands become more stringent and the optional becomes mandatory, early adopters of green technology may find themselves ahead of the game.