A tale of two builders

One’s big, one’s little, but both will show off the latest green-construction ideas at Doors Open Toronto next weekend

If you were only to consider scale, Tridel and Live Lightly Developments appear to be polar opposites.

One’s a corporate condo-building giant in the GTA, the other is a tiny independent outfit run by a bearded environmentalist named Greg Bonser.

But put Bonser in a room with Tridel’s Rambod Nasrin, like the Star did this week, and you’ll find two men who share at least one part of the home-building spectrum – the green band.

Talk with both for a while – which you’ll get a chance to do next weekend when their latest projects go on display during the eighth-annual Doors Open Toronto – and you’ll find two men who are convinced their initiatives are about to spark major changes in the industry.

“I was impressed by Greg Bonser’s development, which is an old heritage building with three energy-efficient suites,” says Nasrin, manager of research and development at Tridel, recently honoured as the GTA’s greenest highrise builder.

“Ultimately, this kind of struck me as the point where change is happening in Toronto - when you get a big developer like Tridel and a small developer like Greg pushing the envelope.”

Bonser, 29, has been involved in the building business since 1999, but the Residences at Regal Hand Laundry on Queen St. E. is the first project for his company, Live Lightly Developments. Unlike small-time independents in fields such as the arts and brewing, Bonser has praise for the corporate giant’s Eco-Suite at its Element condo on Blue Jays Way .

“Tridel has really stepped up to the plate,” he says. “The rest of the industry will feel pressure. Eco-Suite will educate or expose a lot of people about what’s possible in a beautiful space.”

Bonser, who is living in one of his own suites and sold the other two before construction, might also have reason to be a little green with envy.

He saw things in Tridel’s eco-suite he wanted but was unable to find – proof that being big has advantages when it comes to green technology and economies of scale.

“Tridel has such clout and power with suppliers and tradespeople,” he says.

“The Eco-Suite had really attractive LED light fixtures. I looked far and wide for something like this but couldn’t find it. Tridel has really pushed the boundaries with lighting.”

Nasrin explains the Eco-Suite is intended to demonstrate sustainability to the public and is not a model.

An environmental engineer who has been with Tridel for about five years, Nasrin says LED lighting is still expensive for large-scale use, but may be included in more buildings within a couple of years. LED lighting is 85-per-cent more efficient than regular potlights and 50-per-cent better than compact fluorescents.

Bonser hopes that Tridel’s continued use of LED lighting will help make the technology more available and affordable for smaller developers.

His three suites total just 4,550 square feet; Tridel’s Element has 350 suites. But differences in scale aside, many of the green technologies are similar.

Both use recycled materials, energy recovery ventilators and free energy from natural resources.

Bonser used lots of old wooden doors and other recycled building materials. He chose fibreglass windows over vinyl because the materials are less energy-intensive. And the building will have an insulating green roof that reduces runoff to the city’s sewer system.

The Element, meanwhile, is the first residential building in Canada to use Enwave’s deep-lake water cooling system, though there are a few downtown Toronto commercial buildings employing the technology. Nasrin says all cooling for the building is provided naturally by Lake Ontario .

“There is no cooling equipment, making it really incredible,” he says. “Water at the bottom of the lake is at a constant temperature for 16 kilometres into the lake. Cold water is brought from the lake into the building through a pipeline and is distributed throughout the building to cool it.

“This is complicated on a building and engineering scale, but we are hopeful this will become a standard other developers will follow. Any project that can reach the pipeline should use this system.”

Bonser, who likes the lake-water technology, notes that because the water is warmer than the air in the coldest winter weather, it also has potential for reducing heating costs.

At his project, he uses a ground-source heat pump to pull warmth from deep underground. It not only warms the building, it also supplements the solar-based water heating system.

“The ground-source heat pump has been used a lot in cottage country,” Nasrin says. “And Mattamy has had it in some demonstration homes. But for smaller-scale developers, I know one or two people, but not on the scale of Bonser’s project.”

Both developers are also using energy recovery ventilators, which capture heat from air expelled from by building by things such as bathroom fans.

Bonser calls Tridel’s Eco-Suite “absolutely gorgeous” and says it will be good for Doors Open visitors to see that it’s possible to be green in a space that’s attractive and well-designed.

Nasrin says the message from both suites is that green can be beautiful.

“The dining room table in the Eco-Suite was salvaged from a Tridel site. And the vanity sink is made from recycled glass. The millwork is made of 100 per cent post-recycled wood and there is zero off-gassing. And the drywall is made of 96 per cent post-industrial recycled drywall.

“We also tried to source regional material so there is less transportation,” Nasrin adds. “Green is not just about the products, but where they come from.”

In the end, what matters most to Bonser and Nasrin are the energy savings and consequent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Nasrin says that the annual savings of the Eco-Suite over a conventional suite include 75,000 litres of water, 9,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, 500 cubic metres of gas, and 3.5 tonnes of carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, at Bonser’s building, he says 60 to 70 per cent of the heat going down the drain will be recaptured and reused with the drain heat recovery system.

The solar thermal panels on the roof will generate more than half the hot water needed a year.

“By building green buildings, we can outperform traditional buildings by 20 to 40 per cent,” Nasrin says.

“This means less pollution, less water used, and lower monthly energy costs. Every green building in the city will help to reduce pollution and the number of smog days we have.”

Still, Bonser, who describes himself as “a lone voice in the wilderness” when he was trying to get his green technologies up and running, believes change will not occur overnight.

“Our green suites are a sign that the barriers are evaporating,” he says.

“But no other residential developer on a small scale is doing this amount of green. I approached other smaller builders, but it was not on their radar at all. They don’t want any additional costs.

“The market is starting to shift but there’s a steep learning curve.”

Doors Open Toronto takes place next Saturday and Sunday, with 150 heritage or unique buildings open to the public. For more information, visit doorsopen.org or call 416-338-0628.

About Shelly Sanders

Shelly (represented by Amy Tipton, Signature Literary Agency) is the author of THE RACHEL TRILOGY--Rachel's Secret, Rachel's Promise & Rachel's Hope (Second Story Press).Rachel's Secret received a Starred Review in Booklist and was named a Notable Read from the Association of Jewish Libraries. Rachel's Hope was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for Canadian Literature in 2016. Before turning to fiction, Shelly was a freelance journalist for the Toronto Star, National Post, Maclean's, and Canadian Living.
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