Tag Archives: Sustainable Buildings Canada

Engineering Greener Development: Bioswales to Bioretention

(this is an article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

Our climate is changing—our range of weather is getting more extreme—and at the same time we are more aware than ever of our need to use energy wisely. The dramatic environmental, social, and economic consequences related to climate change reinforce the need to plan for energy sustainability in a way that balances growth and environmental integrity.

We have been looking at energy efficient building design initiatives, but it’s time we also consider the larger impact of site planning. While UrbanToronto more often looks at high-density development, it is important to remember that building is rapidly taking place in more suburban locations throughout the GTA, where people are seeking larger lots and lower densities. Those communities are always going to be more resource intensive, but there are ways to mitigate that impact, and planners can evaluate how they are designed from an energy perspective. You can achieve savings in a broad sense, for example, by creating communities that are more walkable, simply by virtue of land use planning techniques that concentrate development to reduce the amount of vehicle trips that are necessary to achieve day-to-day needs.

Stormwater management ponds are designed to collect and retain urban stormwater and release it slowly. Photo courtesy of LSRCA.

Stormwater management ponds are designed to collect and retain urban stormwater and release it slowly. Photo courtesy of LSRCA.

Municipalities see to issues like stormwater management, low impact development (LID), domestic water savings targets, and master planning that adheres to transit-supportive and walkability guidelines.

Stormwater has become a very serious concern for municipalities. What it really refers to is water balance. By paving over naturalized surfaces and creating more hardscapes, we change the flow of water on a site. This continued paving leads to a cumulative increase in runoff volume and flow duration that results in increased streambank erosion and sedimentation, the risk of flooding, and high concentrations of contaminants. Despite having stormwater controls in place, the health and quality of many urban rivers and streams continues to decline. And if last year’s record rainfall is any indication, climate change only exacerbates the problem.

In 2012, Enbridge Gas Distribution along with Sustainable Buildings Canada launched a green building initiative called Savings By Design (SBD) in response to a mandate of the Ontario Energy Board. The program encourages residential and commercial developers to build more sustainably by providing financial incentives and support for projects that reach an energy reduction target of 25% better than the Ontario Building Code 2012.

While the program is primarily driven by the energy savings of a building, with developers focused on its envelope and HVAC systems, Enbridge’s SBD program also works with municipalities to broaden the scope to address the larger site issues.

The pivotal part of SBD is the charrette, an intensive design workshop, which gathers a group of green building experts, engineers, architects and contractors together to evaluate a project proposal in its earliest phase. Through the program’s Integrated Design Process (IDP), the team looks at various solutions and identifies the most effective ways to construct a building for optimum energy performance. When dealing with a larger terrain involving a community or site plan, the group expands to include ecologists, geologists, and planners.

Green landscaping within impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, can help reduce runoff.

Green landscaping within impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, can help reduce runoff.

We spoke with municipal planning experts who bring a stormwater management and natural heritage protection point of view to the table. They have collaborated with developers and SBD to test out a number of sustainability objectives on projects ranging from industrial lands to residential subdivisions.

Mike Walters, General Manager of the Watershed Management Department at the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, is dedicated to maintaining and enhancing pre-development hydrologic site conditions. According to Walters, we need to make big changes if we want to achieve our water quality, quantity and aquatic targets and accommodate new urban growth. “It will require more green infrastructure (e.g. LID); new policy, regulation and enforcement; and, exploring other ‘end-of-pipe’ strategies.”

The development industry can benefit from a more integrated, holistic design approach. “Where you’re at in the planning process will impact what you can do,” says Dan Stone, planner and Manager of Economic Development & Sustainability at the Town of East Gwillimbury. Ideally, it is at the very start, at the pre-consultation level, before there is a road network or a plan in place. The collaborative approach taken by SBD contributes toward the design by determining where you can infiltrate and by suggesting street layouts, location of parks, configuration of sidewalks, and how to reduce the amount of impervious area.

Landscaped spaces can transform street surfaces into living stormwater management facilities. Photo by Artful Rainwater Design.

Landscaped spaces can transform street surfaces into living stormwater management facilities. Photo by Artful Rainwater Design.

The benefits of the SBD program are numerous. For one, the access to multi-disciplinary specialists who can advise on the design is free (the charrette is paid for by Enbridge). Then, of course, there are incentives if performance standards are met. And, adds Stone, “There is the good press associated with working with the municipality and trying to achieve its sustainability goals; the local community and Councillors appreciate the effort. It’s a completely voluntary program. No risk, no obligation.”

But, the key benefit that resonates most with developers is an approval process that unfolds more smoothly and with fewer surprises. The process is typically lengthy and the development industry is sensitive to that fact: nowhere is the adage ‘Time is money’ more apt.

“The beauty of the IDP is that it puts a lot of good decision making at the front end of the process. You engage with the regulatory authorities early on and get a clear understanding of the municipality’s priorities and a sense of what kind of things are non-starters. You’re giving the proponents the heads up for things to watch out for. That to me, from a municipal planning perspective, is the best value added. Developers can try to perfect their application and get it approved faster – and to market quicker – because they got insights at the very front end,” says Stone.

By implementing Low Impact Development principles, water can be managed in a way that reduces the impact of built areas and promotes the natural movement of it within a watershed. “You’re putting clean water back where it belongs so it can support natural features. This program looks at water not as waste but as a resource, and that’s what I like about it too,” says Walters. But it is more than just applying stormwater Best Management Practices, like vegetated swales, rain gardens, infiltration basins or porous pavers. It requires a change in urban design principles and public acceptance.

“We’ve had developers take innovative steps and risks associated with stormwater management. The environment will win, they will win, the process is quicker, and there is an incentive from Enbridge. What is the downside?” asks Walters.

The industry seems to be responding. “I don’t think the value is from any one individual project,” says Stone. “The value is what the program has been able to add to the whole discussion about sustainable development.”

For more information on the Savings by Design program, visit the website http://www.savingsbydesign.ca/

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and a writer specializing in architecture and design. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com

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Advancing Green Building Innovation Through Design Charrettes

There’s a wealth of resources available for anyone minded to go the route of sustainable building, including plenty of information, best practices, assessment tools, and precedents. Builders are looking to deliver a practical, marketable and cost effective product. While developing more responsibly may be a goal for some, barriers to changing practices often come down to cost and lack of consumer awareness. Unfortunately, in the reality we currently find ourselves in, the most effective way to encourage sustainable strategies for building projects is through legislation and financial incentives.

Savings By Design (SBD) is one such initiative. The first program of its kind in Canada, SBD was launched in 2012 by Enbridge Gas Distribution in collaboration with Sustainable Buildings Canada (SBC) to facilitate an easier transition to green building innovation. As a key stakeholder, Enbridge’s interest is in total energy savings and therefore it devised a way to help make higher-efficiency performance more attainable to commercial and residential builders by providing funding and support during the design, construction and commissioning stages of projects. It also fulfills a mandate of the Ontario Energy Board.

The overarching goal is that buildings achieve 25% energy savings — or more — over the minimum requirements of the Ontario Building Code (OBC) 2012.

Enbrige-sponsored IDP charrette at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Enbrige-sponsored IDP charrette at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

What makes the program unique is its collaborative, results-driven, process-based approach. Those enrolled have access to SBC’s broad network of green building experts who collectively evaluate a building proposal in its planning or early schematic phase and whose feedback can significantly improve the outcome of its final design. The methodology that is used is called Integrated Design Process (IDP) and it is focused on designing for the entire building life cycle. It helps builders identify optimal solutions for enhancing energy efficiency, occupant health and ecological benefits through customized workshops.

At the heart of the program is the IDP ‘charrette’, a pivotal full-day activity that brings these building industry professionals together to explore a number of design scenarios in an open discussion forum. It also gives the building team the opportunity to define priorities for improvement and to test those concepts through energy modelling.

UrbanToronto’s Stephanie Calvet recently attended one of these charrettes.

Held at the Earth Rangers Centre in Woodbridge, Ontario, this full-day event gathered a team of individuals with a wide range of expertise – engineers, contractors, building specialists, modelling experts, and independent observers. At the table was the developer/client Great Gulf with a proposal for a large suburban development consisting of 450 homes with a mix of detached and townhome styles.

Prior to the charrette, a Visioning Session between proponents and SBC was held in order to ascertain clients’ sustainability objectives with regards to their project. This initial meeting focuses on aspirations and core purposes and it establishes the goals that ultimately guide the charrette.

'Energy team' charrette participants review energy modelling results. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

‘Energy team’ charrette participants review energy modelling results. Photo by S. Calvet.

Depending on the scale and complexity of a project, participants are organized into teams. In accordance with IDP, the program also considers factors beyond energy efficiency that contribute to building sustainability. For this particular project, two groups were created: the more technical ‘energy team’ focused its efforts on the building envelope and mechanicals (space and water heating); and, the ‘sustainability team’ addressed site strategies and indoor environmental quality.

The objective of the ‘energy team’ is to study a preliminary project design and identify methods for it to meet energy efficiency performance targets. Although many elements contribute to heat loss, the biggest losers are, by far, the windows and walls. Therefore, when considering energy improvements, it is most logical to consider providing the best possible building envelope that meets the budget prior to upgrading mechanical systems.

From the perspective of the developer, the objective is to understand the potential impacts to cost and schedule to exceed the code regulations and other potential energy targets while also meeting the expectations of the buyer, maximizing density and profitability. For residential builders, there is an incentive of up to $2,000 per home (up to a maximum of 50 homes or $100,000) for achieving energy performance 25% better than OBC 2012.

The program requires that the buildings be modelled to show net energy savings.

'Energy team' charrette participants review wall assebly energy modelling results. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

‘Energy team’ charrette participants review wall assebly energy modelling results. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

During the charrette the team examined measures, assemblies and technologies to achieve modelled performance improvements over the benchmark reference (code) building. Assessments were done using BIM software that can model the impacts of the modifications on building environmental performance as they are considered, on the fly, with the SBD real-time model as an evaluation tool. Exterior wall composition was studied in great detail, as were glazing options and the effects of basement full under-slab insulation vs perimeter only. Alternative configurations at a similar cost were also explored, presenting builders with different avenues to meet their criteria.

The incorporation of external shades, LED lighting, programmable thermostats, and Energy Star appliances as potential upgrades was also discussed.

The ‘sustainability team,’ on the other hand, addressed site design approaches such as: water conservation, soil and waste issues, and the benefits of low impact development.

With an emphasis on creating tightly contained buildings to minimize heat loss – a strategy that’s been in place since the 1950s – there has been renewed awareness for the need to improve indoor air quality (IAQ), as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. Source control, filtration and the use of ventilation to dilute contaminants are the primary methods. Facilitators at the event presented practical guidelines for designing healthful indoor environments (i.e. specify low-VOC products) and suggested strategies for quality control (i.e. seal and protect ductwork during construction).

The team also discussed material options to upgrade durability as well as marketing opportunities for builders exploring the integration of sustainable practices into their brand. Some ways to make the case may include negotiating with suppliers, creating economies of scale, and demonstrating return on investment.

Working sessions continued throughout the afternoon and SBC gave an informative presentation of stormwater management best practices. Participants reconvened at the end of the day for a summary of discussions and a presentation of the modelling findings.

Enbrige-sponsored design charrette held at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Enbrige-sponsored design charrette held at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by S. Calvet.

In conclusion, the builders came away with various options to go forward and were pleased to discover that with slight modifications to the homes’ existing design, exceeding reference energy performance by 25% is well within reach. A final report that summarizes the results of all these efforts will be presented to them.

The charrettes have become a sought-after tool for driving sustainable thinking in the Canadian building industry. Programs like Savings by Design not only incentivize builders to develop more responsibly through financial incentives but they also provide access to a multi-disciplinary team of designers and experts to help them achieve their goals.

For more information on the Savings by Design program, visit the website  http://www.savingsbydesign.ca/

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and architectural writer based in Toronto. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com

Green Building Goal Within Reach of More Builders and Developers

(this is an article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

We all know that going green is good for the environment, our health, and hopefully our pocketbooks. As much as it’s important for us all as individuals to consider what kind of an environmental impact we make, it can be tough finding ways to make significant changes individually. As a group of people with similar interests—that being the UrbanToronto readership in this case—there may be more opportunities to participate in change if UrbanToronto takes the time to report on what’s happening in this arena.

With 20% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from our buildings, a more fully involved development industry has the potential to effect a significant amount of positive change for our future. In addition to the environmental impacts, the corporate world has a sound financial case to strive for energy efficiency as well, for example reduced operating costs particularly in the face of the inevitable rise of fuel prices, and improved marketability and goodwill when the companies are perceived to be socially and environmentally responsible.

At all levels the government is supporting change as well, driving increasingly stringent building codes, supporting the uptake of energy efficient and renewable technologies, and adopting building performance standards like LEED or Toronto’s Tier One and Tier Two Green Standards as optional construction paths.

Considering the inherent benefits to pursuing improved energy efficiency and environmentally conscious building practices, it makes sense as to why these two groups are active in this area. Knowing this, it may seem counter-intuitive that an energy distributor would be a source of financial incentives supporting builders in this pursuit, but that’s the case. As part of its social responsibility and in support of a demand side management mandate implemented and governed by the Ontario Energy Board, Enbridge Gas Distribution has created a market transformation program it calls Savings by Design (SBD). This green building initiative is promoted to new construction builders and developers, constructing part 3 and part 9 buildings in the Enbridge Gas Distribution franchise area. As we sit squarely in the heart of this territory, the program could be “coming to a building near you”, so we are learning about it and passing on the info, hoping to be a part of the change too.

DCL Medical Centre-2

Enbridge conducts a Visioning Session to help owners define their sustainability priorities and opportunities.

Launched in January 2012, in collaboration with Sustainable Buildings Canada, the comprehensive Savings By Design program targets four key areas: energy, stormwater, resource use, and engagement. To help make higher-efficiency performance more attainable, Enbridge is providing funding and support during the design, construction and commissioning stages of projects. To qualify, projects must be in the planning or design phase, have a minimum aggregate area of 100,000 sf.

“This is something totally new that Enbridge Gas Distribution has never done before,” we were told by energy advisor Mary Sye, who developed the program in collaboration with manager Shannon Bertuzzi, several key stakeholders and business partners. It brings together owners and green building experts at the earliest phase of a project to explore a wide range of strategies, from resource conservation to renewable energy generation, and identifies the mix of technologies that can be incorporated into the design to maximize the building’s environmental performance.

The building is then modeled to estimate the potential natural gas and electricity savings, and a report is created. According to energy advisor and colleague, Carmine Faiella “At the end of the day, applicants have a picture of how much more efficient than the Ontario Building Code their proposed project is going to be.”

There’s a lot to know about the program, and as UrbanToronto likes to get technical, we will be looking at various aspects of it over the next while, hoping to explain how this program should improve the buildings in which you will live and work in the future by looking at some of SBD’s early adopters. For our initial installment, we were pointed in the direction of DCL Healthcare Properties Inc., the first company to take part in SBD.

DCL Medical Centre-5

Aerial view of DCL Niagara Medical Centre proposal, image courtesy of DCL Healthcare

Healthcare buildings are energy-intensive, making it a sector ripe for more initiatives that promote green thinking. DCL is trying to do just that. Its CEO, Frank Deluca, toured medical clinics in Romania, marveling that not only were they highly sustainable—certified to BREEAM Excellence, the world’s leading design and assessment method for sustainable buildings—but they were built at one-third the cost of similar facilities in North America.

A visit to his own doctor’s uninspiring office in Ontario left Deluca with nothing to marvel about. He points to outdated and inefficient medical facilities, strained by the growing demands of an aging population. So, Deluca seized the opportunity presented by the SBD program to partner with municipalities in constructing clinics to take the burden off regional hospitals and, at the same time, showcase what is possible in green healthcare building design.

Now, DCL is developing one of the most highly performing, privately owned healthcare projects in North America. The project is aiming to achieve a number of industry firsts, including North America’s first proposed BREEAM certified green medical office building. With over 250,000 green buildings certified to BREEAM globally and over a million registered for assessment, DCL could be set to lead a new charge in green building design for Canada.

DCL’s business model is based on replicating an energy efficient standardized design in targeted growth communities across Ontario. Niagara Falls, deemed “prime for the Boomer Urban Exodus,” was selected as the site for the first DCL Medical Centre. Other locations being considered include Ajax, Oshawa, Ottawa, Stouffville, and a dozen more. Each clinic will be a “community healthcare hub,” occupied exclusively by medical service providers; general practitioners, dentists, opticians, pharmacy, laboratory and ultrasound facilities. “If we cluster functions within one location,” notes Deluca, “we already have a positive impact on the environment.”

DCL Medical Centre-4

Exterior rendering of DCL Niagara Medical Centre, image courtesy of DCL Healthcare

The core configuration is a 4-storey, 50,000 sq ft structure that can be scaled up or down by adding or removing floors, depending on the needs of the local community. Integrated ‘smart’ building technologies will allow tenants to regulate temperature, lighting, communications, and security. For improved indoor air quality, it features operable windows for natural ventilation, low VOC interior finishes and UV technology for air scrubbing. “Tenants will immediately see the benefits,” adds Deluca. “But it goes beyond that because, as an owner, I am also interested in energy efficiency. Making the interior and exterior lighting system 100% LED has a huge advantage for us from an energy savings standpoint.” Other sustainable measures include geothermal heating and cooling, daylight harvesting (the building is 60% glazing), light shelves and Hempcrete walls.

DCL’s interests run deep because not only will it build the facility, but the firm will also own and manage its operations long-term. “Because I envision a 10 to 20 year holding period, I am very concerned about what I select to put in that building,” says Deluca. “As the owner, there is a real motivation to make sure it is running at a high performance level.”

DCL Medical Centre-3

Exterior rendering of DCL Niagara Medical Centre, image courtesy of DCL Healthcare

Enbridge facilitated an intensive brainstorming session called an Integrated Design Process charrette where a multidisciplinary team of industry experts evaluated the building proposal through the analysis of its form, materials, context and technical systems and then created a baseline model to illustrate its potential performance. They helped identify optimal solutions for improving energy efficiency, occupant health and comfort, as well as ecological benefits.

Deluca remarked on the success of the session, “You need an integrated team. Everybody has to be thinking together at the same level – ‘What’s our goal?’” Design improvements that resulted were numerous, including the shaping of the atrium in order to minimize heat build-up, strategically locating high performance glass, and, with Deluca’s encouragement, the decision to run an energy-saving variable refrigerant flow system on two of the four floors, instead of forced air. That type of HVAC technology is not typically used in healthcare buildings in Ontario. “We’ll use our facility as a giant test lab,” added Deluca.

When Deluca first heard about the SBD program, he was surprised. “Why would Enbridge give me the tools to figure out how to be that energy efficient? I commend them. I quickly learned there are a lot of smart, passionate people within that program who are trying to push the sustainable and high performance benchmark. I support it because it is a fantastic opportunity to have them on board, helping with this initiative, and I got to build a great team through the design process. Why not take advantage of all that available intellectual capital?”

DCL Medical Centre

Site plan for proposed DCL Niagara Medical Centre, image courtesy of DCL Healthcare

The Niagara project is moving ahead quickly. With site plan approval and discussions with practitioners well underway, DCL is hoping to break ground by June, 2014. Other sites may not be far behind. The new medical facility not only advances sustainable building practices in healthcare but also seeks to far exceed targets and establish a new standard for ‘green’.

For more information on the Savings by Design program, visit the website http://www.savingsbydesign.ca/