Zeroing in on better buildings
Should the condo or house you buy today be a prime candidate for an energy retrofit tomorrow?
The reality is that much of what we build today could be much, much more energy efficient with only a modest increase in construction costs (offset, of course, by lower lifetime operating costs). That’s why I tend to cringe whenever I see one of those giant construction cranes swinging another bucket of concrete skywards. What we all too rarely see are those cranes lifting state-of-the-art windows, high performance cladding or solar panels.
Let’s give Toronto some credit. The city has used its new powers under the City of Toronto Act to pass Green Building Standards that will require new construction to be more energy efficient than it would be if we just stuck to the provincial building code. But let’s also raise our view a bit higher and look at what some other cities are doing. In Germany, all new homes must now be “net zero” energy users. In other words, they have to produce as much energy as they consume. The U.K. is on the same track with a net zero carbon requirement coming into play by 2016.
Net Zero may sound futuristic, but behind the catchy name is a lot of mundane, completely doable stuff like tight building envelopes, lots of insulation, ultra-efficient appliances and lighting. By ratchetting down energy demand, the renewable energy systems integrated into the building design -- whether they are solar panels, geo-thermal heating and cooling, or, as in many Danish cities, district heating using biomass and waste heat recovery – can meet residents’ energy needs. Compare it to the gas you need drive a Hummer or a Prius, and still get where you are going.
Most Toronto high-rises – even new ones -- are ripe for energy efficiency upgrades, which are especially cost-effective now that the HST is going to add 8 per cent to gas and electricity bills. Retrofits can’t achieve net zero, but can help you save some serious cash, and the planet – see www.TowerWise.ca for some great advice and tools.
There's no reason not to build state-of-the-art buildings in our world-class city. And there are very good reasons to build high-quality, super-efficient, environmentally responsible, net-zero buildings which won't spew climate-changing pollution for the next 50+ years.