Tag Archives: Builder Bites

THE INDUSTRY INSIDER: Affordability is a challenge

Affordability is a challenge: The prices of condos have been rising

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Affordability is a challenge: The prices of condos have been rising

The prices of condos, which used to offer homebuyers a more affordable choice, have been rising, reducing the advantage of this option.

Every fall, BILD invites experts on economics and housing to join us for breakfast and speak to our members about what the GTA housing market will look like in the coming year. This fall was no exception and I was heartened by much of what I heard about current and future trends from Patricia Arsenault of Altus Group and Dana Senagama of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). I also saw we have much left to do around housing supply and affordability in our region.

There’s no doubt we have a lot to look forward to in the GTA. Economic conditions are expected to be solid in the short term, with the employment growth rate projected to be 1.8 per cent in 2019, according to Arsenault, who is Altus Group’s executive vice president, data solutions. More GTA households than last year are planning renovations of over $5,000 in the next year, and the percentage of GTA households that currently rent but plan to buy a home in the next year has rebounded after softening last summer, according to Altus Group’s survey.

But these survey results only indicate what homeowners and potential new homebuyers intend to do, not what they are ultimately able to do, and Arsenault noted that households may take longer to save for that first home in the face of new mortgage hurdles and housing affordability challenges. The prices of condo apartments, which used to offer potential homebuyers a more affordable choice than single-family homes, have been rising, reducing the advantage of this option. In September, the benchmark price of new condo apartments was $789,643 and the benchmark price of new single-family homes at $1,119,533.

Despite rapid price gains in both ownership and rental markets, the supply response has been weak or inelastic, said Senagama, who is CMHC’s manager of market analysis. That means our housing supply is not rising in response to increased demand for housing and the corresponding increase in the prices of homes, as the law of supply and demand would lead us to expect. In fact, Senagama showed that Toronto is one of the markets in Canada that are not at the risk of overbuilding.

I was not surprised to hear this. BILD has consistently delivered the same message. We have said that we are not building enough housing to accommodate the 115,000 new residents who are arriving in our region every year. We should be building 50,000 homes every year, and last year we only built 38,000. A big reason for this supply shortfall is the lengthy development process that housing projects face in the GTA, slowed down by outdated regulation and red tape.

We should be updating zoning bylaws and official plans and streamlining the list of conditions for municipal approvals, so that we can build the housing our growing region needs. Only then will potential homebuyers be able to afford to make their dream of owning a home a reality.

David Wilkes is president and CEO of BILD.


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THE ENGINEERING INTERN: Five reasons to cheer highrise development

Five reasons to cheer highrise development — when it’s done right

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Five reasons to cheer highrise development — when it’s done right

Reduced traffic, better commutes, improved streetscapes and more positive impacts that might turn a NIMBY into a YIMBY.

I recently attended my first community information meeting about planning for future development in the downtown core of London, Ont. The meeting helped me understand the negative stigma that residents in lowrise communities often have against highrise development close to their homes.

At this meeting, many attendees spoke out against the concept of highrise development. This inspired me to discuss the topic with other Stantec team members, including one of our planners, Stephanie Bergman. She explained that, unfortunately, this is the reality at these sorts of public meetings. The “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) voices nearly always overpower the “yes in my backyard” (YIMBY) voices. The result is less highrise development.

If highrise developers match the façade of existing buildings in the area, and couple that with new and improved landscaping, it can really improve the streetscape.
If highrise developers match the façade of existing buildings in the area, and couple that with new and improved landscaping, it can really improve the streetscape.

So, what’s the solution? According to Bergman, we need more YIMBYs taking part in the processes that will shape communities and help promote some of the positive impacts of highrise development. If highrise development is done right, there can be many positive effects. Here are five benefits that just might shift you from NIMBY to YIMBY.

Highrise development gives young professionals the opportunity to live downtown: The housing market in London has boomed over the past few years, which makes it difficult for freshly graduated young professionals to find affordable living. I fall into this category. If I want to live close to work — something I value greatly — my only option is to rent. Single-family homes in this location are too expensive. For this reason, highrise condos have become the only available means for a single person to own property downtown and, in general, close to where they work.

More people walking to work means less commuter traffic: I’ve spent my life driving everywhere I need to go in a car. Since I began renting an apartment close to work, I find myself walking rather than driving, not only to the office, but to most of the places I frequently visit. In the community information meeting, one issue that came up was increased traffic due to higher densities of people in a small area. While this makes sense in theory, the reality is if someone is looking for a place downtown, it most often means they work downtown as well. It also means that the downtown resident will likely prefer to avoid driving to work — taking transit, a bike, or walking instead — which would lower overall commuter traffic.

Many new highrise buildings utilize the ground level for commercial, retail, or some other active use.
Many new highrise buildings utilize the ground level for commercial, retail, or some other active use.

The creation of active ground floor uses: Most of the new highrise buildings I have seen developed over recent years utilize the ground level fronting city streets for commercial, retail, or some other active use. This opens new possibilities for retail shops and restaurants to open, where previously there was only a parking lot or old building that had been underutilized. This gives new life to areas that were once bare. If a new café wants to open along my walk to work, count me in!

Improved and updated streetscape: Another hot topic at the information meeting was the look of highrises near residential communities. In my experience, developers want their buildings to stand out in a good way. A lot of effort goes into the look of the building, particularly the first few floors, as these are the only floors people see when walking by. Matching the facade of existing buildings in the area, coupled with new and improved landscaping, makes areas that were once asphalt pads look renewed and become something enjoyable to see on your morning run.

More eyes on the street: Increasing the density of people in an area means more eyes on that area. This creates an artificial “neighbourhood watch,” where more people constantly interact and truly see one another. More people on the street creates an atmosphere of safety and provides informal surveillance of the urban environment. Bergman mentioned this point to me, and I find it very interesting, as it doesn’t seem like something people would think about when looking at a highrise development proposed in their area.

I’m hoping that readers can see what a highrise development done right can do for a community. There’s a value that comes with it. I’ve always seen development as progress, and progress for your city is a good thing. Let’s get more people saying YIMBY instead of NIMBY.

Derrick Rice is an engineering intern at Stantec‘s London, Ont. office.


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THE COUNCIL: Keeping the trades satisfied

Keeping the trades satisfied: Labour crunch leads to survey

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Keeping the trades satisfied: Labour crunch leads to survey

Labour crunch leads to survey to learn how to keep construction workers happy on the job.

Ontario construction is facing a labour crunch in the next 10 years with almost 90,000 trades workers set to retire during that time, according to BuildForce Canada.

Learning about that figure triggered a conversation that led RESCON to join forces with Job Talks, an organization with a strong track record in academia and in construction. Together with the Ontario Residential Council of Construction Associations, they have launched a survey to learn what satisfies trades professionals day-to-day as they build Ontario.

“We’re thinking about the future,” said Andrew Pariser, vice president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON). “We’ve seen labour shortages on and off in different trades for more than a decade. We must prepare for how this will affect all construction sectors including residential and infrastructure and how it will impact our ability to build in the future.

“Our goal is to better understand how we can retain current workers, recruit new workers, and build a labour force to match tomorrow’s needs. If we recruit the right people and provide them with the right opportunities, we can greatly improve all training and apprenticeship initiatives.”

The academically-based survey analysis will be carried out by Job Talks. Recent Job Talks projects include a national survey of workers in Red Seal trades and a complementary interview series on YouTube, as well as a national study that reveals new distinct segments of Canada’s working population.

“It takes at least 20 minutes and is open to any person who works on tools or owns a pair of safety boots in infrastructure and residential trades in Ontario,” said Jon Callegher of Job Talks. It has multiple choice and open-ended questions that “help us understand how construction workers really feel about their jobs and to gauge their happiness on the job.”

The results of the survey will inform a report on retention and job satisfaction of trades workers in construction. It is available here.

For more information, email dibe@rescon.com.

Richard Lyall is the president of RESCON.


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THE DESIGN CONSULTANT: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

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Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

Take the time to evaluate your workplace, align it to the overall business plan and empower it to maximize your most critical asset: the employee.

We have seen a significant change in the nature of work. This has been highly influenced by advances in technology and increased need for mobility, generational and population shifts, diversity and inclusiveness. Cities and buildings are changing in parallel to work and work patterns. Land is becoming scarce and buildings more valuable. To stay competitive, organizations must leverage every opportunity – which includes people, place and technology.

As someone who has been practicing in the design field for over 25 years, one of my favourite pieces of advice is, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” While it applies to a multitude of experiences, such as the use of sound effects in PowerPoint, it also applies to trendy workplace decisions, such as the removal of all walls, un-assigning workstations and the provision of beer kegs in work lounges.

Many organizations are scrambling to create workplaces to attract and retain new generations. The workplace is a significant contributor to employee attraction and retention, productivity and loyalty. These are crucial to an organization’s success.

While competition for talent is driving CEOs and real estate leaders to redesign, relocate and reinvent, it should be a collective goal to view the workplace as an extension of compensation – and just as practical. Rather than focusing on trendy solutions that may be short-lived, take the time to evaluate the workplace, align it to the overall business plan and empower it to maximize your most critical asset: the employee.

This can be accomplished in several ways. First, by leveraging the workplace to drive employee engagement, spaces help define the culture. There are clear benefits to having a strong unified culture and the workplace is an example of visually persistent culture. Ultimately, the workplace is a constant reminder of our values, brand and identity.

While there are many influences on corporate culture, two main drivers at present are the millennial generation and technology.

Millennials are driving the workplace changes. They have high expectations and desire a strong corporate image. Tech companies made the entrepreneurial, incubating culture of their workplaces desirable and have spread trends such as “scrum style” work areas, meditation rooms, ping pong areas and lounges like wildfire throughout offices worldwide.

This demand for cool workplaces has increased greatly in the last decade — but what constitutes cool is not so easily defined. It is decidedly dependent on the vision of the company and requires careful analysis of the brand.

Collaborative work environments are at the core of the modern office. Organizations that are collaborative are also more innovative. Brainstorming brings forward the best ideas and strengthens interpersonal relationships between employees, which makes organizations stronger and more robust. Collaboration between departments provides for more transparency and often results in a more efficient use of resources. While digital collaboration is critical, nothing beats face-to-face collaboration fostered by a wide variety of work settings.

Beyond meeting rooms, employees benefit from lounges, coffee bars, decompression areas and places that foster physical activity. Essentially, learning and sharing occurs best when it can be nurtured in different ways: visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary. Good workspace design accommodates all seven.

A great workplace provides a combination of spaces that foster productivity and accommodates both focused work and collaborative work. Modern work environments should not default to monotonous seas of hoteling, benching or touchdown workstations to maximize capacity and save real estate dollars. Careful thought and planning should go into developing future goals and aspirations.

Aligning the business objectives to the workplace plan to drive innovation, productivity and employee health and happiness should be the first exercise in any workplace redesign. By balancing a variety of space types and projecting the appropriate image with visual cues, workplace design becomes an active part in making an organization successful. When designing for productivity, we must evaluate activity-based work settings, public/private zoning, territoriality, mobility and the continuum of work habits.

Cushman & Wakefield’s Experience per Square Foot (XSF) survey measures employees’ current work experience in their office space and identifies the biggest levers for optimizing the employee experience. XSF analysis consistently has found that ensuring minimal distractions in the workplace is the top driver of employees’ ability to focus on their work. Other common drivers include availability and access to data and information, privacy, and having the types of space needed for various tasks.

Three of these four top levers point to the need to approach densification efforts with a focus on employees’ day-to-day effectiveness and not just on cost savings. This requires a variety of space types throughout the office to support individual and group work.

It is important to note that people are territorial by nature. Objects, spaces, relationships and behavioural roles are areas in which people claim ownership. Territory can help to create social belonging and establish a sense of psychological and physical comfort. How does this affect life at the office and the creation of workspaces? The key to a successful and respectful workplace is balance.

While specific success KPIs may vary, facilities managers, designers, architects and real estate professionals are keenly aware of how environments affect occupants. There is increased scrutiny to determine and measure how the workplace can affect productivity, health, sociability, efficiency and responsiveness to change. At Cushman and Wakefield, we have entitled this balanced approach the The Holistic Workplace.

Each of these categories offers a distinct way of setting goals and measuring successes. It is an established process that allows us to ask the right questions and predict the outcomes.

For example, when designing for productivity, we must evaluate activity-based work settings, public/private zoning, territoriality, mobility and the continuum of work habits. In establishing a healthy workplace, a thorough analysis of individual and group needs must be performed while integrating sustainable, ergonomic, biophilic and wellness-focused initiatives. A social workplace must promote learning and collaboration while making spaces inspirational and aspirational. Efficient workspaces are streamlined and optimized to align to business objectives, occupancy scenarios and utilization strategies. Responsive workspace design recognizes that organizations are living and constantly changing so the work environment should be able to adapt to suit new needs. By future proofing — a.k.a. designing with an eye on the future — as much as possible, we can provide flexibility, save valuable dollars and provide a great workplace that serves as a catalyst for organizational and business success.

Samantha Sannella is managing director, strategic consulting for Cushman and Wakefield.


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THE STRATEGIST: Five rules of customer confidentiality

Five unwritten rules of customer confidentiality

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Five unwritten rules of customer confidentiality

Did you ever have a potential customer who should have been excited about doing business with you but seemed reserved?

It happened in a weird way for me. The senior managers seated around the boardroom table were excited that their new technology would disrupt their market and separate them from every competitor. They had brought me in to help craft their sales message and to eventually train their reps on how to introduce it to their customers.

Along with their excitement, though, I sensed some tension. So after I was introduced, my first remark was: “I know this goes without saying. I just want it known for the record that everything we discuss here will be treated by me as confidential.”

I immediately noticed this huge look of relief on the face of the CEO. From that point on, things went just fine.

Customers may not feel comfortable asking you for discretion, but they always appreciate it. Unfortunately, in today’s world of social media, coffee shops used as offices and cellphones that record anything anywhere, confidentiality seems to be backsliding into a state of dangerous decline. That’s why you can gain tremendous trust with customers by simply following these five unwritten rules of customer confidentiality. Ignore them at your peril.

Rule #1: Know that you are in a position of trust: We’ve all heard of doctor/patient confidentiality and lawyer/client privilege. Doctors and lawyers are sworn to secrecy about their customers’ affairs for good reason. Your customers deserve the same discretion from you. When you talk to others about your customers, assume that the customer is in the room with you, or will read everything you post or write about them. If what you’re sharing isn’t complimentary and publically known, then keep it to yourself.

Rule #2: Remember Starbucks isn’t a confession booth: I once hired a consultant who was based in another city to do some work on our website. We scheduled a conversation about my brand and target market. To my dismay, he logs into the call from a coffee shop. Throughout our conversation, I’m seeing customers come and go in the background. Not only was it distracting, it felt like a violation of my privacy as a client. There are good reasons why lawyers and accountants won’t host you in their office. Instead, meetings are held in a private room. One reason is that you shouldn’t see confidential files lying on their desk from other clients. Another reason is so your meeting will not be seen or overheard by others. Coffee shops are for casual coffee, not for doing business.

Rule #3: There’s a difference between small talk and prying: Ever have this happen to you in a restaurant while you’re paying for the meal: the server is standing by your table waiting for you to input your credit card PIN on the portable device and asks, “So what are your plans for the rest of the day (evening, weekend, whatever)?” Pardon? When did our relationship as patron/server evolve to the intimacy of me needing to share my weekend plans? The key to making small talk sound natural and appropriate is context and relevance. Unless you’ve been chatting about weekend plans with that person, better to stick to safe topics like the weather as in, “So you’re heading outside…. Have you heard a forecast?”.

Rule #4: Yes, your cellphone conversation is annoying: People who talk at length on cellphones around other people sound like jackasses. Seriously. It reflects a total lack of self-awareness and distain for basic civility. It also tells people around them they don’t respect the privacy of the person on the other end of the phone. They’re damaging their own reputation and are too oblivious to realize it. Don’t be one of them. Move to a quiet area and lower your voice.

Rule #5: Strong feelings don’t necessitate expressing them: This is perhaps the most important confidentiality lesson at work and in life. We can’t unsay, unpost, or unTweet our opinions and observations. No doubt you can think of numerous examples at work and in the news where a little discretion and self-restraint would have saved significant fallout. While it’s tempting to be drawn into adding our two cents to a discussion, perhaps the greatest contribution we can make to the relationship is remaining silent. We hope in turn that when we say or do something less than brilliant, others won’t share it with the world. Ironically, kindness and maturity are often best reflected — and trust is sometimes most strongly earned — by simply shutting up.

Jeff Mowatt is a customer service strategist and speaker based in Calgary. This article is based on his bestselling book, Influence with Ease.


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Condominium Cancellations: Why All The Fuss?

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Condominium Cancellations: Why All The Fuss?

There has been much talk in the press this year regarding some high-profile condominium cancellations. One of the most high profile of the cancellations was the 1,200-suite three-building project Cosmo by Liberty Developments, which left purchasers scrambling to find equivalent units in the current marketplace. Overall, for 2017 until June 30, 2018, Altus Group reports 17 projects were cancelled for a total of 3,627 units.

The reality is that over the last seven years, an average of 17 per cent of proposed units have been cancelled for a variety of reasons. The number of units cancelled this year is in line with the average.

In the past, however, most of the projects that have been cancelled due to their uneconomic viability resulting in a lack of financing, a lack of sales or delays in municipal approvals. It should be noted that builders are extremely limited under the current Tarion regimen and have few termination rights (other than purchaser default). These include: (1) lack of specified government approvals; (2) lack of a specified number of presales; (3) unavailability of satisfactory financing; and (4) failure of the purchaser to provide evidence of finance ability. All need a specific outside date to satisfy the applicable condition which simply cannot be later than the outside date under the Tarion rules, as selected by the builder.

Many of the more recent cancellations are not due to lack of sales, but rather a lack of financing and the underlying reasons are usually delays in municipal approvals and escalating costs as a result of these delays.

The public and the press have speculated that the real reason behind these cancellations is so that the builder can resell these units at current and significantly higher prices. The actual reality is far from this conjecture.

The last thing that builders want to do is cancel a project. It reflects on their credibility and reputation both with purchasers, trades and Tarion. Projects are only cancelled within the limited termination rights that builders have under the purchase agreement and only as a last resort. The cost of cancelling a project can be significant in terms of lost marketing fees, real estate commissions and the additional carrying cost of the lands.

One of the real culprits in these unfortunate cancellations is the ever growing red tape and delays in obtaining government approvals. These can include anything from actual rezoning and official plan amendments, site plan approvals and signoffs by various departments to permit the issuance of building permits. As a result of these delays, carrying costs mount, construction costs continue to escalate while the developer is prevented from signing up his construction contracts without having a firm construction start date. And to add salt to the wound, the municipality itself creates extra costs by raising its development charges, park levies, planning fees and building permit fees while the builder waits for his approvals to come through.

The most recent example of this was the significant increase on November 1, 2018, of Toronto development charges on all projects. Avoiding the increase requires payment only when full building permits have been issued. Numerous projects had completed their submissions and were awaiting their building permits, which, in many cases, were delayed by the city beyond November 1, 2018. This alone has resulted in significant increases in DCs that may or may not be passed on to the purchaser. At the end of the day, every development needs to make a reasonable return. Banks will simply not finance projects where this return is not evident and, without bank financing, the projects simply cannot be built. The provincial government has recently asked for input from Tarion and the residential building industry as to the causes of the condominium cancellations and what can be done to best protect purchasers from the unfortunate results of a condominium cancellation.

The reality is that purchasers buy into projects at a very early stage, many even before full approvals are available, on the basis that they are getting in at the ground floor at a lower price. The downside of getting in early is that there is a higher risk of a project cancellation if the approvals do not come through or costs change materially such that financing is not available. Those purchasers that do not want to be exposed to those risks can simply wait to purchase a project at a later stage of the development, i.e. when approvals are in place, or when construction has commenced, or even when construction has been substantially completed so that they can plan their move-in timeframe.

There are certainly other tweaks that can be made to the process to ensure transparency and fairness. Payment of some interest to purchasers on deposits above the currently low statutory rate, and disclosure to Tarion of the underlying economic reasons as to the lack of financing by an independent cost consultant, could be considered.

At the end of the day, the real key in this environment is to properly educate consumers as to the risks of buying projects from plans. The problem with most new condo buyers is that they do not read the documentation or pay their lawyers to do so, other than the price and the adjustment clause. The solution is really to educate consumers as to these risks, no different from the risks of investing in the stock market or mortgages, or any other type of purchase or investment. Consumers need to go in with their eyes open.

Leor Margulies is a partner at Robins Appleby LLP.



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Accessible Customer Service Is The Law

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Accessible Customer Service Is The Law

As a builder, you may have installed handrails, widened doorways or lowered countertops to make a home more accessible for a homeowner. But have you made your customer service accessible too?

Whether your interactions happen over the phone, in a sales office, on a construction site or within a home, it’s important that you are aware of your customers’ needs and do your best to meet them.

Accessible customer service is not just nice to have, it’s the law. Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, or AODA, businesses are required to comply with the Accessible Customer Service Standard.

So how do you adopt AODA principles as part of your day-to-day business? It begins with getting to know your customers and not making assumptions about what they can or cannot do or what they do or do not need. Disabilities and accessibility issues may present themselves in many different forms and it’s up to you to work with your customers to determine how best to accommodate them.

At Tarion, we are committed to ensuring that we deliver services that are integrated, accessible, and respect the dignity and independence of each individual.

I’ve heard numerous stories of how our staff has put this commitment into action by addressing the accessibility challenges of homeowners. For instance, by bringing a sign language interpreter to a conciliation for someone who was hearing impaired, or offering assistance with filling out warranty forms for someone with vision loss.

It’s important to be aware, however, that not all disabilities will be visible. While a person in a wheelchair or someone with a seeing-eye dog have accessibility challenges that are easier to identify, someone with a learning disability or a mental health issue may also require special accommodations. We have had situations in which Tarion representatives and the builder’s staff needed to wear gloves during an inspection to avoid physical contact with a homeowner’s possessions. In another case, we assigned a dedicated staff person to help a homeowner with a severe brain injury in filling out forms, communicating with the builder and scheduling repairs.

Customer service is only as good as its accessibility. There is no one size fits all approach – it’s about meeting and accommodating your customers’ needs whatever they are.

As a warranty provider, we not only hold ourselves to a high standard when it comes to accessibility, but we expect the same from our contractors. To that end, we offer a training guide with tips and examples for our Tarion approved contractors. It’s a great resource and I encourage you to have a look if you are curious about ways you and your trades can increase the accessibility of your services. The guide, as well as Tarion’s accessibility policy and resources, are available at tarion.com/about/accessibility. You can also reach out to your Stakeholder Relations Representative if you have any questions about meeting a customer’s accessibility needs or how Tarion may make accommodations during the warranty process.

Howard Bogach is president and CEO of the Tarion Warranty Corporation.



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7 Steps Toward Energy Efficiency

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7 Steps Toward Energy Efficiency

Can the way we design or retrofit our buildings help the climate crisis? This is a question that lingers in my mind daily. Cutting greenhouse gas emissions and trying to reverse climate change has never been more important. Investing in our buildings, new or old, can make a difference. Old buildings in particular present a great opportunity to make improvements.

It has always been a challenge to get people to invest in new sustainable buildings, largely because of the idea of higher upfront costs. Thankfully, because of successful projects like evolv1 in Waterloo — a net-positive, multi-tenant building that recently won the first-ever Zero Carbon award from the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) — more people understand that there’s a great business case for green buildings. Not just for the environment but for the bottom line.

While our understanding about the value of green design in our new buildings is taking hold, people are still overlooking all the old building stock out there. For every innovative evolv1 project in development, there are dozens of inefficient existing buildings around us. Most of these old buildings will stand for decades, so what can we do about them today? What strategies can we adopt to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings?

Here are some ideas. Let’s focus on low-cost/no-cost measures. If you follow these suggestions, it’ll make a difference―both for the environment, and for your energy bill.

Don’t leave the lights on

Do you really need to be lighting every floor of your office building all the time? Aside from emergency lights, it makes sense to use control strategies like daylight dimming and occupancy sensors to reduce your energy usage during evenings and weekends. Daylight dimming detectors adjust lighting according to the amount of sunlight available, and occupancy sensors work like indoor motion lights to detect if a person is present.

Program that thermostat

Here’s another easy one. To maximize energy savings, it’s wise to use a variable temperature strategy. In office buildings, set your thermostat to a comfortable room temperature for the mornings and afternoons, when the building is occupied. In the evenings, reduce it. For example, during full occupancy times, set your temperature to 21C (70F). Lower it to 15C or 16C (59F-60F) during off-hours. At home, make sure to use a smart thermostat or a programmable thermostat. Why heat a room that much if no one’s in it?

Close down your fresh air damper

Here’s a related point to the last one. Some building operators keep central fans running for too long, which supply fresh air to spaces when it’s not necessary. If there’s no one in your building during nights or on weekends, it doesn’t make sense to provide continuous fresh air. At night, revert to the minimum airflow required for conditioning the space.

Shut off your equipment

Instruct staff members to power down their laptops and desktop computers at night. Reduce the receptacle power use during unoccupied times. I realize that businesses need to update their systems occasionally, so perhaps you can schedule patch/maintenance updates on weekends for a couple of hours. But don’t leave those computers on every night.

Fix those old windows

Windows in older buildings are often leaky. This leads to more heat escaping from your comfortably conditioned spaces, which means that you need to supply even more heat — and you lose more energy this way. Look into fixing or replacing those drafty windows as soon as you can.

Upgrade your equipment

People often don’t upgrade their equipment when they should. All pieces of equipment have a useful service life. For example, if your furnace has a service life of 20 years, don’t let it run for 30. If you are planning on doing a mid-life retrofit to your building, do not replace your equipment on a like-for-like basis, but upgrade and improve on the equipment’s efficiency. Technology improves every day, so the efficiency of appliances and devices also improves constantly. If your furnace is running at a low efficiency, you’re going to be dealing with some big bills.

Design for tomorrow, not for today

Apart from the cost, look ahead to the future. The temperature will be warmer, so if you’re designing/and or upgrading a cooling system, you need to account for extra cooling load in the future. Design for tomorrow, not today.

A few final thoughts

For both existing building retrofits, as well as for new developments, clients are typically focused on upfront costs. Most stakeholders will prioritize upfront cost — how much is this going to be at the outset? But we need to start considering life-cycle cost and think of how much it’s going to cost to operate the building on a day-to-day basis. Can you save $10,000 down the road by spending $500 extra today?

High-performance and low-carbon buildings will produce lower operating costs than more conventional strategies. Like I mentioned earlier, success stories like evolv1 are helping to change this mentality — evolv1 is a living example of net-zero carbon emissions balanced with a financially viable solution.

These are steps that we can take to help address the current climate crisis, while also designing, building, and retrofitting buildings to be energy- and cost-efficient and more comfortable for users.

Afaf Azzouz is a buildings energy specialist with Stantec’s Energy and mechanical engineering group in Ottawa. She recently won the 2018 Emerging Green Leader Award from the CaGBC of Ontario. https://www.stantec.com/en


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Inclusionary Zoning: Collision Course or Opportunity?

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Inclusionary Zoning: Collision Course or Opportunity?

As we prepare to enter 2019, newly elected governments at all levels think solutions the “affordable housing crisis” might it be found in a new regulation — inclusionary zoning. Are we on our way for a severe collision course and another regulatory disaster?

In the dying days of the Kathleen Wynne government, Toronto was given the regulatory authority of what’s being called inclusionary zoning — the right of a municipality to designate or impose a certain number of units of a new development as “affordable.” The definition of affordable and how the inclusion is to be effected have yet to be defined — and may never be — but a negotiated settlement may be part of a site plan approval or subdivision agreement.

This may be the collision course. The unintended consequence will lead to higher prices for market housing and ultimately less affordable accommodation to subsidize the designated affordable units.

And many questions remain: Is inclusionary product contained within an existing building or allocated as cash in lieu of a separate affordable housing project? Are these rental or ownership units and who manages or owns the block of units? These questions are yet to be answered, and that may be a good thing. Let the creativity of each developer and municipality come together to find innovative solutions on a site-specific basis — much better than an arbitrary set of rules.

I recently met with Fred Heller, a long-time friend of the housing industry, who is part of a relatively new non-profit builder called Trillium Housing, which is advocating for modest income families to provide “housing affordability.” The Trillium model may help avoid an inclusionary zoning collision and, in fact, provide a viable alternative to affordable product with little or no market price distortion.

What Trillium does is provide financing that bridges the gap between the house price and what the families can afford for a first mortgage, all within the province’s affordable housing income guidelines. The beauty of the program is that the Trillium Mortgage doesn’t have to be repaid until the house is sold or refinanced and, better still, the consumer makes no scheduled payments on their Trillium Mortgage. Trillium gets repaid when the property is sold, plus Trillium earns its portion of the equity appreciation. The consumer down payment is as low as 5 per cent and the Trillium loan is considered equity, so there is no CMHC insurance fee on the first mortgage. A $100,000 Trillium mortgage applied against a $400,000 condo means $600 per month lower carrying costs and $24,000 lower qualifying income. This means a family of a modest total household income of about $70,000 per year could afford this home, even with the tough new bank qualifying rules. Not only does Trillium bring financing to the table, it works with the developer, the municipality and others to source the funding. Just imagine for a moment a municipality suggesting that in order to meet affordable housing targets they might just waive all fees and charges associated with a new home — currently these charges range from $100,000 to $150,000 per unit — and imagine the developer, who has to front these charges anyway, instead participates in a non-profit foundation that funds a Trillium-like mortgage. A WIN-WIN-WIN for government, developer and consumer — and no inclusionary zoning collision.

Interesting times ahead for 2019. With programs like Trillium, innovation and creativity will soar and the objective of providing more affordable housing is achieved!

Andrew Brethour is chairman and CEO of PMA Brethour Realty Group.



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THE INDUSTRY LEADER: Province needs to revisit GTA West Corridor plan

Ontario needs to revisit the GTA West Corridor plan

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Ontario needs to revisit the GTA West Corridor plan

By Dave Wilkes

My workday has me driving across the GTA to attend meetings with stakeholders and I often find myself sitting in traffic on Highway 401 going nowhere fast. I see drivers commuting to work, trucks transporting goods across the region and many like me trying to get somewhere on time.

Earlier this year, the Ontario government decided on the advice of an advisory panel’s recommendation not to go forward with the GTA West Corridor; instead, a narrower corridor that is approximately one-third of the size of the analysis area of the environmental assessment will be protected from development.

While there have been some improvements, there have been no significant new highway additions to the western part of the GTA since Highway 407 nearly 20 years ago. A recent Metrolinx study notes that traffic congestion will cost GTA residents and businesses $7 billion a year by 2031.

Something must be done to improve traffic congestion in our region. Transportation infrastructure is vital to each and every one of us as it links people to where we live, work, shop and play.

Where does the cancellation leave the residents of the GTA? The GTA Corridor West was not just a proposed highway. It was a means to unlock both commercial and residential land for development. Its central location, running from Highway 400 in Vaughan, across Caledon and Halton Hills and connecting to highways 401/407 in Milton, would have been a pressure relief for existing highways. The economic benefits of the corridor would have been enormous. In Peel Region alone $1.8 billion in goods is moved to and from the area every day. Furthermore, four in nine jobs in Peel depend on the movement of goods.

The corridor would connect urban growth centres, facilitate the growth of new employment and business areas and create greater economic competitiveness. Much of the recent development in the Town of Milton happened around Highways 401 and 407. The GTA West Corridor would have had the same economic growth potential, bringing new housing to the GTA that will see its population grow to 9.7 million by 2041.

BILD strongly supports a transportation network like the one the GTA West Corridor would enable. It plays a significant role in sustaining the type of development that is in line with the province’s intensification policies. It would allow us to plan and create complete communities within the area, which is needed to meet future population growth.

During the 2018 provincial election campaign, the new provincial government made a commitment to re-visit the environmental assessment for the GTA West Corridor. It is important for the residents of the GTA that the provincial government make good on this promise.

David Wilkes is president and CEO of the Building Industry and Land Development Associatio (BILD).


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