'Practical green': North Van project doesn't sacrifice comfort


seven35 townhomes win awards for efficient design and creature comforts

Most new home buyers choose the biggest and best they can possibly afford without giving much thought to how much the home will cost to maintain.

But North Vancouver's new Power Smart New Home-rated "stacked townhomes" project, called seven35, offers an alternative to that buying approach. It's proving that a smaller home with a compact footprint, including a reduction in energy costs, can be done without sacrificing living standards.

The first project in Canada to be built both Multi-Family LEED Platinum and certified Built Green Gold, seven35 has been winning awards for its sustainable design.

We'll look at a few reasons seven35, and other smaller footprint projects, are starting to win over homebuyers.

Big bang from your buck in a greener home

An efficient smaller home might be the best 21st century real estate investment you can make. Green construction in single-family residential buildings in the U.S. grew from two per cent of new homes in 2005 to 17 per cent in 2011, according to a McGraw Hill Construction market survey.

Simply put, green homes are increasingly being seen as having higher quality while saving consumers money.

What can make a greener home a good investment? One way is the use of green technologies to not only save energy and money, but to allow for some "luxury" additions.

seven35 townhomes, for example, feature a waste water heat recovery system (the first in North America) that extracts heat in water that would have been lost from showers and dishwashers and reuses 70 percent of this heat for domestic hot water. That helps allow for features such as hot tubs on rooftop terraces, gourmet kitchens, and spacious bathrooms with heated floors.

Heat lost from leaks and cracks in an average home is energy wasted

seven35's townhomes are sealed to be airtight, and that changes everything.

"Our buildings' envelopes are becoming so energy efficient that heating, especially for the Lower Mainland's moderate temperatures, takes a very small amount of their energy use," says Adera president Norm Couttie. "Showers and cooking provide much of the homes' heat."

Couttie says Adera prioritized sealing gaps, adding ENERGY STARĀ® double-paned windows, and insulating well, so that the townhomes could gain 10 points on the building's EnerGuideĀ® rating.

Working with BC Hydro, Adera managed to hit an EnerGuideĀ® rating of between 82 and 84 for seven35. And that qualified it as a Power Smart New Home, which requires a minimum rating of 80. The Power Smart New Home Program provides whole home incentives of up to $2,200 for construction of a single-family home, and up to $400 per townhome or row home.

The green home doesn't have to look like a box or be impractical

There are radical examples of small footprint homes that put sacrifice aesthetics for efficiency. That's not the case with many sustainable homes, including seven35's.

seven35's West Coast interior offers floor-to-ceiling windows with views of Mosquito Creek, open-concept kitchens with stainless steel appliances and quartzite countertops, and eco-certified hardwood millwork and flooring.

Couttie says that while Adera has been heavily involved in conservation for eight years, it believes in "practical green." "We don't do anything unless it makes economic sense," he says.

As home-building technology is rapidly improving, Adera often tries something new on each project, enthusiastically adopting everything from geothermal heating to solar panels.

"Geothermal worked so well for a UBC project that we thought we would use it for the next project, but the rocky soil wouldn't allow it," he says. "We switched to rooftop solar panels, which worked so well that we thought we would use that for the next project, but its roof decks didn't allow space.

"For each site we start from scratch, considering what works best. Otherwise even 'efficient' technology becomes wasteful."

Adera has taken advantage of the BC Hydro New Home Program's incentives to use new energy efficiency technology in over 1,000 suites in the past five years. One of its buildings was awarded "Building of the Year" at BC Hydro's first Power Smart Excellence Awards.

Couttie concludes: "In the future, we may simply apply photovoltaic paint to the roof of buildings to make them net-zero energy. But, for now, we do what today's technology allows to increase efficiency of how homes use energy, water and material resources."

Seven ways your home can score like seven35

1. Innovative heating. You may not have a Waste Water Heat Recovery System, which saves seven35's homeowners 70 per cent in energy costs. But you could install a programmable thermostat for your baseboard heating. And that will save you money.

2. A well-sealed shell. This is one reason seven35 won the FortisBC Energy Efficiency Award for New Construction. Seal up cracks, update windows and replace that old, flimsy ceiling insulation.

3. Practical green. That cool innovation you see in Dwell magazine, or even in your friend's house across the street, may not be a good fit for your home. Do the research.

4. Layer the latest green options. Like most conservation-minded developments today, seven35 uses low-flow faucets, dual-flush toilets, ENERGY STAR refrigerator and ENERGY STAR CFL bulbs. You can do the same thing with your home.

5. Green buildings are healthier. Less off-gassing from cabinetry, low-VOC paints and eco-glued engineered flooring make the things you can't see add up to cleaner air.

6. Old-fashioned solar and wind technology. You don't need a high-tech ventilation system or even lighting during summer. Open blinds and windows for light and fresh air; and hang damp clothes near a sunny window instead of using the drier.

7. Nature. seven35 promotes its natural setting that encourages residents to get out of their car and bike or walk. It boasts a "walkscore" of 83, which means it's a short stroll to stores and entertainment. If your home has a high walkscore, embrace it.