Kermit the Frog, step aside: It's easy being green. So says architect Janna Levitt of Levitt Goodman Architects, and to prove her point, she's inviting the entire city - naysayers and green-curious Torontonians alike - to have a peek at her home during the eighth annual Doors Open festival tomorrow and Sunday.
She and husband Dean Goodman designed the 1,550-square-foot house at 328 Euclid Ave., just below College Street, in 2004. Perched on the sofa in the living room as a cool cross-breeze blows through giant sliding doors in the non-air-conditioned dwelling, she philosophizes about what it means to be green.
"Our generation is the first that didn't live sustainably," she begins. "I think about the way I grew up: My father would trail behind us turning out the lights because electricity was expensive; nothing got thrown out if it could be repurposed; you didn't have plastic bags for everything, you had paper. There was that kind of consciousness of the real cost of things. ... and I think that's what sustainability is."
On a 20-foot-wide lot, sandwiched between (and perfectly scaled to) two conventional houses, the home sports the city's first purpose-built green roof on a single-family dwelling, radiant floor heating supplemented by a wood-burning stove, and an "on-demand" hot water heater, among other things. But it also has something not usually associated with green architecture - sex appeal.
"You can make a house that's as sexy as any other house and it just happens to be good citizenship," she explains. "No one walks in here and says 'Oh, wow, this must be a green house,' and I think that's an attribute."
With its ultra-long kitchen island made from reclaimed Douglas fir, a skylight over the stairwell to the second floor, 12-foot ceilings and polished concrete floors, it's sexy in a warehouse kind of way, the result of a distillation of the things the couple liked about an actual warehouse conversion they did many years ago on Croft Street with four other families.
When John Bentley Mays toured the Euclid Avenue home in September, 2005, a highlight for him was the roof garden off the small, second-floor master bedroom, which he declared "a tour de force of intimacy and charm in a big-city situation." Two seasons later, it's better than ever and full of surprises.
"Every day is a treat," says Ms. Levitt. "I've already seen some Lamb's ears this year, which we didn't plant, and last year we had Black-eyed Susans, which we didn't plant ... and you get tons of bees coming. It's very cool."
At an amazing $200 a square foot to build, the Levitt-Goodman house proves also that green can be affordable for a middle-class family. Other examples around town, notes Ms. Levitt, are either "really expensive" or they're "so out there" that folks can't make the "conceptual leap," which is one of the main reasons she decided to allow the public inside this weekend.
"It's a home that speaks to the possible, not the fantasy when you're talking about building green," says Jane French, project manager of Doors Open Toronto, who, with the Clean Air Partnership, established criteria for the Levitt-Goodman house and the 20 other green buildings on this year's roster. Green roofs, breathing walls, recycled or local building materials, and native or draught-resistant plants for landscaping were just some of the things considered.
Some buildings on the tour will eventually be so green, they'll leave the power grid behind, such as 75 Ravina Cres. While the wind turbine has yet to be installed, visitors to this 80-year-old home in the area of Danforth and Jones avenues will be able to see the computer-controlled, 95-per-cent efficient boiler that's the size of two breadboxes, and the adjustable solar array on the roof.
Just down the road at Queen Street and Broadview Avenue, the Residences at the Regal Hand Laundry (743 Queen East) will make a case for its geothermal heating and cooling system and energy-recycling technologies. And downtown, at 20 Blue Jays Way, megabuilder Tridel will unveil its "eco-suite."
Located on the 21st floor of the builder's new Element condominium building - the first to use the Enwave deep lake water cooling system - the 1,900 square-foot suite features materials and finishes certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. It has LED lighting, energy-efficient appliances and water-efficient features - even an eco-friendly wall-hanging by "an artist who only uses environmentally friendly materials" (according to the press release).
Created by interior designer Andrea Kantelberg, the eco-suite is an important first step in a city where the condominium has become the new starter home.
In addition to the regular Doors Open program guide, the Clean Air Partnership is offering a "companion guide" with "more in-depth information about all 21 [green]buildings," Ms. French says. It's worth picking up, since many green features aren't immediately apparent to the naked eye.
"There's very little green in a real green building," Ms. French notes. "It may have a green roof but a lot of it is hidden in the walls, and I'm hoping [that]on the Doors Open weekend, people will start to understand what builders, architects and designers mean by a green building."
Hopefully, they'll also walk away singing a slightly different version of Kermit's song, too.