A few weeks ago, while in Ottawa, I contacted Rolf Baumann, owner of RGB Group and builder of the first Earthquake resiliant/LEED Platinum duplex in Canada. He took me on a tour of the building and explained what he was doing to attain the LEED Canada Platinum for Homes certification. To achieve Platinum level, the highest level of LEED for Homes Canada awarded, a house must earn between 90 and 136 points in up to 9 categories. LEED for Homes is a designation used for residential dwellings to demonstrate building or renovating with environmental benefits. LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and takes into account all aspects of building a home from minimizing construction waste, protecting the development site, using local Gand recycled materials and indoor air quality. By contrast, EnergyStar certified homes, are only concerned with how energy-efficient the finished home is.There is no account for construction waste, type of materials used, site location, indoor air quality, etc.).
So, when a builder decides to build a LEED Home, he has a lot of factors to consider. Rolf, however, has already built to LEED Platinum. His Montauk Townhouse Complex (which RGB Group owns and operates) was certified LEED Platinum and is now fully occupied.
When Rolf bought the 3rd Street property, he already had two of the main criteria delivered: “Location and Linkages” and “Sustainable Sites.” The house is situated fifty feet from Bank St. in the heart of The Glebe in Ottawa. It’s a great neighbourhood with access to shops and services, restaurants, tons of coffee shops (Bridgehead is my personal favourite), schools, and public transportation to downtown. Further, regarding sustainable sites, he was building where a single-family dwelling was originally built in the late 1800s, and redeveloping the property into a multi-family dwelling. If, like me, you’re wondering if the previous house was salvageable, it wasn’t. It had been an estate sale, and, as Rolf discovered after purchase, it was still running on a septic system — even after all the sewers had been redone by the city a few years ago! The basement had been dirt, and the wood had rotted beyond repair. So, down it came — but not before Rolf sent out word to all his trades that the house was coming down. The plumber came and ripped out the copper plumbing, the electrician took the copper wiring, architectural salvage shops took the millwork. In fact, by the time the demolition company came, there was so little left to take away, they used half the number of haulages originally estimated.
Energy and Atmosphere: The biggest area for scoring LEED points is in energy efficiency, with a total of 38 points possible. This category encompasses both the building envelope as well as the HVAC system used. Using steel-framed construction gives the home a wider interior than the cinder block alternative. Because the house sits on a 25 foot wide property, the fire code plays a big part in the construction. Building with a steel frame allows for an extra two feet of interior space, allowing 19 ft of interior space instead of 17. Further, while the steel frame consists of 80% recycled steel, it can also be recycled at end of life. Rolf used Baily Metal Products out of Toronto for the frame. The walls are insulated to R25, using Roxul rigid mineral wool insulation (R13) used externally, and CertainTEED batt insulation (R12) used inside.
To ensure his building envelope is as tight as it can possibly get, Rolf hired Ross Elliot of Homesol as his energy auditor and LEED for Homes rater. Rolf says that when it comes time to check to make sure the building is air tight, Ross Elliot and the insulation installer are both present. As Ross finds leaks, the insulation contractor can either immediately fix the problem, or at least make a note of it and fix later if it needs more attention. Having both the energy auditor and insulation contractor present means that no holes will be missed. Doing an energy audit before the drywall goes up is one of the most essential parts of creating a tight building envelope.
Each unit has its own HVAC system that is controllable by the tenant. The LifeBreath Clean Air Furnaces were installed by Boon Plumbing. The HVAC system consists of a boiler that is 98% efficient combined with a fancoil ducted system, so it’s a combined hydronic heating, ducted system.
Windows and doors come from Lambden Window and Door, a local Ottawa company. The windows are good quality, aluminum-clad, where Rolf says the seal between the glass and the frame is the key to a good window product. Further, the windows are double-glazed and treated with UVA/B coating to prevent sunlight from getting in in the summer. Rolf notes that heating bills are almost nothing compared to air-conditioning bills, so the more you can do to curb air conditioning use, the better. Rolf estimates that each unit’s heating and hot water bills should come in around $50/month.
Appliances and Lighting: One of the surprising features of the home is the fairly extensive use of LED lights. Rolf is using a local company, DelphiTech, to provide all the LED lights. I say “surprising,” because as the building owner, he is not responsible for his tenants’ electric bills, but they will certainly benefit from his investment in these lights and the energy-efficient appliances he’s installing. The LED light fixtures he’s using are manufactured in Ontario, and use either 1W or 1.5W but have the equivalent output of a 50Watt or 75Watt incandescent bulb respectively. All appliances (not installed yet), will be EnergyStar rated and Rolf is planning on installing induction cooktops in both units. All appliances are sourced through Universal Appliances.
Water Efficiency: Another area to earn points in LEED certification is through water efficiency. In this case Rolf is installing Caroma dual flush 4 litre toilets. One of the key differences between Caroma and other toilets is the diameter of the drainage hole. In most toilets the drainage hole is 2.8″, but in a Caroma toilet, the diameter is 4″. In other words, it NEVER clogs. The faucets are from Delta, one of the leading companies in low-flow water fixtures. The bathtubs come from MAAX, a Montreal-based company. Instead of using standard 60″ tubs,MAAX makes a smaller 54″ tub that limits the amount of water used. Boon Plumbing supplied all the fixtures.
Indoor Air Quality: One area that is receiving more attention lately is the build-up of toxic chemicals in our homes due to the off-gassing of chemicals from materials used in new home construction, furniture, paints and even household cleaners. In addition to paint, building materials include caulking, adhesives, polyurethanes, insulation (many kinds contain ureaformaldehyde), cabinetry and millwork, etc. contain many toxic gaseous chemicals that can off-gas for years. Rolf uses zero or low-VOC materials during construction, then airs out the homes before tenants move in. Once occupied, The LifeBreath clean air furnace contains a HEPA filter to continuously clean indoor air.
Paint: Rolf has used Dulux Diamond Interior Paint on past projects and is sold on its performance. When applied in white, as it is in all of his units, it is a low-VOC paint (less than 10 grams/litre of volatile organic compounds). But maybe most surprisingly, it has a lifespan of 30 years. Because it is a ceramic-based acrylic paint, it is completely scrubbable, even the flat version.
Materials and Resources: Rolf sources materials as locally as possible. For example, both rigid and batt insulation, and the steel-frame, come from Toronto; Windows and LED lighting are from the Ottawa area, flooring was milled in Haliburton. The stainless steel kitchen sinks are Novanni (north of Toronto), and bathtubs are from Montreal.
For more information on the RGB Group, visit the RGB Group website.