Our roads are clogged with gas-guzzling vehicles. Smokestacks belch smoke. Cows emit enormous quantities of methane from both ends of their alimentary canal.
But when the finger of blame is trained on the very biggest energy hogs and greenhouse gas culprits, it swings around at us – the homes we live in, the buildings where we work and all the other structures that support our comfortable lives.
The so-called built environment consumes 40 per cent of all energy (and 72 per cent of electricity) while producing more than a third of carbon-dioxide emissions – which is why initiatives to make our buildings smarter, greener and more sustainable are crucial.
Thoughtful design and technology can shrink a building’s environmental footprint considerably.
“There’s huge energy savings to be made,” says Thomas Mueller, president and CEO of the Canada Green Building Council, which is responsible for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the certification program that sets the standards for buildings based on green criteria.
In Canada, there are some 425,000 buildings and 12 million homes. The council’s goal by 2015 is to reduce energy and water use by 50 per cent in 100,000 buildings and one million homes by 2015 – a goal Mueller contends isn’t outlandishly optimistic.
“It can be done,” he insists, through retrofitting and, of course, changing Canadians’ behaviour.
Changing behaviour is key.
“Even knowing how much energy individual appliances use is a step forward,” says Anthony Williams, a consultant and co-author of MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World. The logical extension of adjusting how we use power includes iPad apps that analyze electricity usage and buildings that can produce their own power and feed it back into smart electrical grids, he says. “You can protect the environment and save money.”
Laudable goals. And they’re at the core of the cutting-edge buildings presented here. All are tweaking the built environment, with LEED pedigrees and creative features that use less energy and promise to make our lives easier.
PwC Tower (26 storeys)
18 York St.
Energy savings: Not available
Working late? No need to flick on more lights than necessary. This office tower, the first product of a collaboration between network giant Cisco Canada and developer Ellis Don, has occupancy sensors that illuminate the way to individual offices, where staff can dim their own lights through their telephones.
“That’s very powerful for us,” says Mary McGrath, national director of operations and real estate for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the tower’s main tenant, which is able to closely monitor energy consumption. “If we happen to have a golf day and everyone is out of the office, it will show.”
The tower features not only a green roof but also an “urban forest” of maple, beech, oak and birch trees on its third floor, where staff can eat their lunches or hold meetings.
Discovery 4 House (2 storeys)
4 Elgin Meadows Circ. S.E.
Energy savings: 100%
That home on the corner lot in southeast Calgary may look like its neighbours, but it sure doesn’t act like them. The Discovery 4 is a net-zero house, which means it’s self-sufficient in power. Moreover, it can sell any extra electricity it produces to the grid through a “bi-directional” meter.
Terra Davidson of Avalon Master Builder, which built the house in collaboration with SAIT Polytechnic, says that beyond the solar panels that cover the roof, the home features solar thermal technology in its shutters and railings to heat its hot water and a touch-screen inside to monitor it all.
And it looks like its neighbours: “A lot of alternative houses can be alternative-looking,” Davidson observes.
Telus House regional headquarters (9 storeys)
215 Slater St.
Energy savings: 38%
Why not build an office tower upside down? Rather than an overhead system for heating, ventilation, air conditioning and other services, Telus House has its brains underfoot, bringing heated and cooled air closer to occupants, explains Elaine Yee, the senior architect at Richard Chmiel Architect & Associates who designed the building.
In this building, daylight is “harvested” through an adjustable lighting system and a weather station mounted on the roof. A cistern collects rainwater for irrigating its plantings.
Rêve (13 storeys)
560 Front St. W.
Energy savings: 48%
Imagine never having to program a thermostat because your home knows where you are and how warm or cool you like it. The Eco Suite, a 1,100-square-foot, $795,000 penthouse atop the new Rêve condo tower from Tridel, offers custom features that include blinds that open when you walk in and close when you leave, sensors that turn lights on and off and an air system that shuts down when the balcony door is left open.
Everything, including the thermostat, can be controlled from inside or remotely via a smartphone or iPad, says Jamie James, sustainability advisor to Tridel and founder of TowerLabs@MaRS, a green-building-technology incubator.
All units in the building have high-performance windows, in-suite ventilation equipment and thermal sub-meters, so occupants pay directly for – and can better control – the energy they use to heat and cool their units.
James Armstrong Richardson International Airport (terminal)
2000 Wellington Ave.
Energy saving: 54%
Building something out of glass in Winnipeg’s punishing climate is a leap of faith. Yet the city’s new 50,000-square-foot airport terminal is expected to save more than half the energy of conventional ones, says Kaeryn Gregory of project consultant Stantec Sustainable Solutions.
The building features a high-performance glass wall that transmits sunlight while minimizing glare. There’s radiant heat and cooling under the concrete floor, and its perimeter functions as a solar collector. Sensors ensure lighting is turned off in areas that are sufficiently lit or are unoccupied.
“It really is an organism,” Gregory says. “It all works together.”
Photos courtesy of Discovery 4 House, Telus House, Rêve, and James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.