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NetZED hopes to make off-grid living possible for condo dwellers

Green building is a good news-bad news kind of story these days. On the one hand, it has broad public support—but only when people are prompted about its value. On the other hand, some fear that builders are not embracing the idea fast enough. The number of buildings being built to high standards of sustainability in the US has not increased significantly in recent years, according to some. Toronto, meanwhile, has its own new green building model, and it could turn out to be the most effective of all.

LEED is the world’s best-known green building rating system (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). This is the rating system, created by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and adopted in Canada and many other countries, whereby buildings earn points based on energy-saving and sustainability features that they incorporate in their design. The highest rating is currently LEED Platinum. A LEED-certified building is one that uses sustainably sourced building materials, includes energy- and water-saving features, and has many other features designed to minimize the building’s carbon footprint.

A poll just released in the US found that nationwide, the use of LEED in buildings is supported by both Republicans (79 per cent) and Democrats (89 per cent). The marketing director at USGBC said this showed “great public demand” for the continued use of green standards “to cut costs, improve human health and reduce impacts on the environment.”

As it turns out, however, only 30 per cent of Americans have actually heard of LEED by name. In marketing language, that is relatively low unaided brand awareness. Once given information about the process, however, 83 per cent “strongly support” LEED and 77 per cent believe that LEED buildings are healthier. The fact that people support something after being prompted with information about its virtues makes the results less valid, but USGBC is determined to make the most of its poll results. “Americans on both sides of the aisle strongly support the increased efficiency and cost savings that result from implementing LEED,” said the marketing director at USGBC in a statement.

Is LEED too complicated?

This may be true in principle, but the president of the Green Building Initiative, Jerry Yudelson, is worried that green building has peaked in the US and action needs to be taken to get it growing again. Yudelson writes that the number of new LEED and other green-standard building projects in the US amounts to just 0.1 per cent of all existing commercial building stock. In fifteen years. LEED has certified fewer than 0.5 per cent of buildings, about 25,000 in all. At this rate, he says, “there is no way” that LEED is going to fundamentally transform the built environment, which is the stated goal of the USGBC.

The problem as he sees it is that LEED has been successful with large commercial buildings in big cities, and in areas where government mandates its use, but it hasn’t caught on with small business and the smaller buildings they tend to occupy. Since 80 per cent of commercial buildings in the US are less than 100,000 square feet, he says, the program is failing to connect with the vast majority of potential users.

Costs are a factor, and many of the energy-saving features that LEED promotes can be achieved without LEED certification. Yudelson wants to see costs cut, and the criteria for certification simplified. In his view, emphasis should be on three key performance indicators: energy, water and waste. Yudelson would rather see many buildings built with some sustainability features than a few “elite” buildings with extremely high standards. “The math is simple: saving 5 per cent in 50 per cent of buildings trumps saving 50 per cent in 0.5 per cent, by a factor of 10.” Green building for “the other 99 per cent” is within our reach, he says. “Why not just do it?”

NetZED is a Net Zero Energy Dwelling. The goal is to provide highrise builders with a program for offering Eco-reverent and Luxurious urban lifestyles with the smallest possible carbon footprint.

Tower Labs

Toronto’s own NetZED solution

Which brings us to the Toronto solution. Tower Labs, a group that works with the building industry to advance sustainability through innovation, has developed its own green model, called NetZED, for net zero energy dwelling. A NetZED home produces as much energy as it consumes, according to Tower Labs. During the day, hot water and electricity are harnessed from solar panels on the roof. Excess energy is “traded” with the rest of the building and taken back to offset energy needs at night. A NetZED building has no additional fossil fuels and no utility bills, says Tower Labs.

The system is being rolled out at two Tridel buildings, Aqualina and Aquavista, both part of Waterfront Toronto’s master-planned redevelopment of the waterfront. Tridel’s vice president of marketing and communications, Jim Ritchie, told the National Post that two penthouse suites will be built as NetZED homes, the theory being to take them completely off grid. “We’re designing it in a way that your electricity, your heating, your cooling and your hot water are all going to be supplied by renewable systems,” he said.

During the daytime, Ritchie explained, the NetZED suites will have more energy than they can use. The excess energy will go into the condominium building system, then taken back out of the building’s grid at night.

According to Tower Labs, their goal in creating NetZED is to provide high-rise builders with a way to offer “eco-reverent and luxurious urban lifestyles with the smallest possible carbon footprint.”

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