GreenLife project is first ‘net zero’ building in Canada
June 15, 2012 Tracy Hanes
Del Ridge Homes has taken sustainable condo building to unprecented levels with its GreenLife Downtown Milton project; now it’s aiming to raise the bar even higher with its newly launched GreenLife West-Side condos on the other side of town.
In May, Del Ridge officials flipped the switch on the country’s largest private 250,000-watt solar array to produce power for residents of GreenLife Downtown Milton’s 160 units. Described as Canada’s most eco-friendly condo, Greenlife Downtown is a Net Zero building (producing as much energy as it consumes). It features Insulated Concrete Form (ICFs) construction, geothermal heating, as well as the solar array.
The condo fees are about 12 cents a square foot per suite, which is approximately one-third of what they would be for a similar sized building constructed by conventional means. They are even less when income created by the green energy stream is factored in, which includes the solar array and allocation of energy produced by the GreenLife Energy wind farm in Southern Ontario, which comes on stream later this summer. The solar array will generate around $230,000 a year in income; it will be up to the condo condominium board to decide how that income will be used.
“The residents are so excited. The condo corporation made $26,500 from the solar array in the first month of its operation,” says Dave De Sylva, who with George Le Donne is partners in Del Ridge and GreenLife. And by using only “clean” energy, GreenLife Downtown and the GreenLife West-Side buildings are non-polluting.
De Sylva has been in land development for close to 40 years. He and Le Donne formed Del Ridge more than 20 years ago and have built throughout the GTA, including Markham, Thornhill, Burlington, Mississauga and Milton. Their projects have included custom homes, commercial and retail complexes, single-home developments and condos.
In 2007, they launched an innovative condo project in Burlington called Appleby Woods, built using ICFs, heated and cooled by a geothermal system and with solar panels powering the parking lot lights. While most people bought because of the building’s location and style, they were pleasantly surprised at the low heating and cooling costs.
ICF construction’s superior energy-conserving properties is fundamental to Del Ridge’s green building commitment. ICFs resemble giant Lego blocks; the polystyrene foam pieces snap together to form a building’s structure, are reinforced with steel rebar, and then filled with concrete. The insulated concrete walls effectively stop transmission of energy (i.e. loss of heat).
De Sylva and Le Donne discovered the merits of ICFs when they built a condo project in Markham and started looking at alternative construction means when the demand from China sent steel prices soaring. They built the basement the conventional way, then used ICFs for the rest of the building, including walls between units.
During an inspection, they noted how quiet the building was. Later, they learned from residents that the heating and cooling systems seldom came on. That convinced them to use ICFs in other projects and they started looking at other ways to build sustainably.
De Sylva had also been sold on geothermal heating since 1989 when he installed it at his parents’ bungalow. With the system, which draws heat from the ground beneath the frost line in cool months and expels heat into the earth during hot months, their annual heating, cooling and hot water costs were only about $400.
With Appleby Woods, the partners developed their own proprietary green building program, Enerbuild 7000; they’ve improved on those standards with an Enerbuild 7000e program.
While Del Ridge has become a trend-setter when it comes to green building, it also believes in attractive architecture and doesn’t build condos any taller than six storeys high.
The midrise GreenLife West-Side condos at 6810 Main St. W. in Milton will be set amidst orchards and walking trails. It is geared to empty nesters and will have larger suites (an average 1,230 square feet) than GreenLife Downtown. The suites will be priced at $270 to $280 per square foot — about $340,000 for a 1,200-square-foot unit — and condo fees will be 5 cents a square foot.
The latest geothermal technology will be used for heating and cooling and to help offset water heating, a new lighting system will use compact fluorescent and LED bulbs in custom-made fixtures, and the 380,000-watt solar array will become the largest private one in the country.
The 1872 Johnston Harrison House currently on the five-acre site will be restored and used as an amenity space for condo residents.
Though many of Del Ridge’s technologies are cutting edge and not widely known, its condo projects have struck a chord with buyers. More than 940 people pre-registered for GreenLife West-Side.
De Sylva says about 5 per cent of people who come to the sales office understand the technology of the geothermal and other building systems. A small number of others were interested because they want to live “green” for the betterment of the planet.
“But most people equate sustainable building to low condo fees. It’s a pocketbook thing,” says De Sylva.
He says they also like the midrise building designs — “they are not steel and glass towers” — and at GreenLife Downtown he gives show and tell tours of the geobank for the heating system, the massive inverter that converts the sun’s energy to electricity, the “wall sandwiches” of concrete and polystyrene foam insulation and the thick roof insulation.
For all the building system technologies used, the GreenLife condos hasn’t forsaken some of the simpler sustainability measures: both projects are within walking distance of all amenities, shopping and transportation, reducing residents’ reliance on cars.
Del Ridge is also raising the standards for green office building: it has just started construction on an office building in Markham at Kennedy Rd. and Highway 407 which will become a “net positive” building that generates more energy than it consumers through its solar array.