Skip to main content

Luxury buyers are conscious of the existential threat of climate change and are looking for sustainable solutions in their living spaces.ART COURTESY OF TAMMY HOY

Regent Park, in Toronto’s downtown core, will soon be home to a luxury townhouse development from The Daniels Corporation that is dedicated to fossil fuel-free living.

Called Field House EcoUrban Towns, located at River Street and Wyatt Avenue, the development will be comprised of 24 condominium three-bedroom townhomes, using all electric systems while generating renewable energy on site.

According to Adam Molson, director of project implementation, The Daniels doesn’t want to wait for regulatory and marketing conditions to push real estate development into a more sustainable direction.

“We want to help lead our industry in developing sustainable solutions that provide climate responsible housing,” he says.

Field House will utilize such technologies as rooftop solar panels as a source of renewable energy. The fossil fuel-free housing will reduce emissions 89 per cent compared with conventional housing, Molson says.

“Daniels takes climate change seriously and the building industry is a significant source of emissions,” he says.

“Greenhouse gas emissions related to housing are one of the biggest sources of Canadians’ individual carbon footprints.”

The market is pushing for change. Many luxury buyers are far more conscious about the existential threat posed by climate change and are looking for real estate offerings where they can make a meaningful difference when it comes to their own day-to-day lifestyle and habits.

“No one wants to move into a building where 10 years from now someone tells you that’s a last-generation building,” says Mitchell Abrahams, president of The Benvenuto Group/Malen Capital Corp. That’s the company behind Monza Condos, a 10-storey, high-luxury project located in the St. Clair West neighbourhood. It features an innovative trapezoidal design that includes balconies built into the tower’s angled envelope.

“Every luxury developer wants products that people recognize as being relevant for the future, not just for today’s market,” Abrahams says.

It’s a big focus with the City of Toronto government, Abrahams adds, with more incentives offered for builders to lift to higher standards when opting for recyclable building materials, quality of mechanical systems, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, and alternative energy sources.

Abrahams references Monza’s high-quality windows and insulation, and the thermal breaks between those innovative balconies and the suite’s interior space, which ensure that cold air doesn’t flow needlessly into the home.

“Luxury buyers have a broader view of what’s important to them,” he says. “They travel, and they see that other parts of the world are ahead of us in terms of sustainability.”

Buildings that are forward-thinking in terms of their design are increasing a selling point when buyers walk into a condo showroom. Utility savings can be achieved if developers build better-performing buildings. For example, current “window wall” construction and many mechanical systems in Toronto’s mid-rise and high-rise condo towers contribute to higher heating and air-conditioning costs for residents.

Mark Berest, Principal at B+H Architects, a Toronto company committed to sustainable development, also sees more developers switching to designs that are aimed at reducing their carbon footprint, pointing to a “collective consciousness”. For example, he says, higher performance curtain-wall technology in their projects better manages heating and air-conditioning loads.

Berest also says there are financial benefits for developers when they use new and more advanced systems. A connection to the Enwave district energy system for the project at 481 University Ave. translates to reduced pollution and electrical usage as well as lower carbon emissions. But the project also gained more square footage through a reduced mechanical footprint. They picked up 6,000 square feet there, meaning they had more space to convert into sellable units.

Berest also points to a change in city zoning regulations to provide fewer parking spaces. More people living downtown don’t want to own cars and drive. Berest says that means developers can cut the number of parking spots in a project and thus decrease below-grade construction costs.

Matthew Brown, director of product development for Minto Communities, says there is a “general misconception” about the financial impact of building higher-performing and less-polluting buildings. Often it is assumed there is 10 per cent to 15 per cent increase to costs.

“We have it to be well under five per cent,” he says. Building codes, supplemental municipal standards such as Toronto Green Standard and third-party standards such as Energy Star and LEED are evolving every year. The goal is fossil fuel-free buildings.

“Many developers only build to code today and reactively adjust to code changes as they occur,” Brown says.

“These developers should expect this reactive approach to translate to higher build costs and, in turn, higher prices for customers.”

He says Minto is preparing upgrade packages, such as an improved building envelopes, enhanced mechanical and electrical systems, as well as solar panels for projects launching this year. Those are anticipated to become requirements of building codes in less than a decade.

“Offering these systems today allows us time to value engineer and master implementation, which will save on cost and prices for customers,” he says.

With the carbon tax rising to $170 per tonne by 2030, that will push further innovation in larger real estate developments and the construction industry, Berest says.

“The carbon tax will also apply further cost pressures on developments to reduce the carbon-intense concrete building footprints,” he says.

But taking a more sustainable route doesn’t at all mean a developer has to compromise when it comes to luxury offerings and amenities.

“Quality finishes, performance and generous amenities, liveability and resilient, responsible buildings are not mutually exclusive,” Berest says. “There are a number of strategies we employ to improve the quality of the building while also reducing overall building energy consumption and carbon impact.”

Molson of Field House agrees.

“There is no compromise between comfort and luxury and a sustainable building with a low carbon footprint,” he says.

“These next generation sustainable buildings provide high-performance building envelopes that provide meaningful benefits to indoor air quality and thermal comfort within the spaces provided. You get a much better quality home than a conventional product, as the inside air is fresher and the temperature is much more evenly distributed in the home. No more drafts and you can comfortably stand next to your windows in the middle of winter.”

Molson says they are using “tried-and-true technologies” such as increased insulation and large triple-glazed windows that provide an abundance of natural light, as well as air-source heat pumps. Each townhouse has its own private rooftop terrace with an integrated solar trellis, providing renewable energy for the home. All parking spaces in the development come equipped with electric vehicle chargers.

“The technologies we are using have all existed for a while, but are not mainstream,” he says.

“When you combine them in an integrated fashion you can provide high-performance housing that uses all electric systems, without breaking the bank on your utility bills,” Molson says.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.