New technologies and a better understanding of green construction are changing the sustainable design process, according to an expert panel speaking at Springfest in Toronto on April 10.
In the Incorporating sustainable design in new & existing buildings: where are the trends heading? seminar, Andres Bernal, managing director of sustainable building services at EllisDon, and sustainability co-ordinator Shane Rehman, provided insight on new technologies and processes that improve building efficiency.
The two said that many developers have a new approach to construction, and the differences are often seen in the design process. Bernal said that the older, conventional approach was for each stage of development to be separate, with a set chain of command. It meant that developers talked to architects, architects worked with consultants and consultants relayed information to general contractors.
But these lines of communications have changed. Bernam said that it is now common for all parties are being brought to the table to work together earlier in the design process. Known as an “integrated design process”, developers, architects, consultants and construction companies work together in starting in the pre-design phase. Throughout the design and construction process, the team will meet to continually refine the project.
The experts said that by bringing the project team to the table early in the design process, teams could utilize tools like building information models to make a project more efficient.
Bernal and Rehman said that there many reasons developers are choosing to look to green construction techniques. There are energy incentive and rebate programs that offer financial incentives to build green, and more tenants are seeking out buildings that are certified green.
“LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is standard across the globe,” Bernal said, adding that more multinational corporations are looking for buildings with this certification while seeking out new real estate.
Developers are also looking to greener buildings as concerns around occupant health rise. Rehman said that there is an increased concern about how building materials affect personal health, with respiratory diseases on the rise. According to the Canadian Lung Association, indoor air quality is an important health issue, as Canadians spend 90 per cent of their time indoors. Poor ventilation and products with formaldehyde or volatile organic compounds can have an adverse effect on tenant health.
The experts said that to promote health, developers and construction teams can look to building products with material certifications. Bernal even compared the health product declarations to the nutritional labels on food.
The panelists said that material and building certifications have created a standardized way to compare building performance. Bernal compared the ability to benchmark buildings across the world to the Big Mac Index, a tool created by The Economist magazine in 1986 that compares the value of currencies to the cost of a McDonalds Big Mac in different countries.
The two also said that provincial and municipal governments in Canada are adding sustainable construction regulations to building codes and standards, which has further pushed the demand for sustainable design across the country. Developers may receive incentives for exceeding the standards of these programs. For example, developers in Toronto that meet the tier 2 requirements of the Toronto Green Standard receive development fee discounts.
Bernal and Rehman said that many of the Greater Toronto Area’s current sustainable design trends could be seen in the new research tower at the Hospital for Sick Children. The tower is pursuing LEED Gold certification, and it utilizes Enwave’s district energy that supplies heat to the building through thermal energy.
However, unlike many other green buildings, the hospital also has a rainwater harvesting system, which furthers other water conservation technologies in the building. Rehman said that he has found that water conservation is often overlooked in the GTA because of the proximity to fresh water lakes.
They said that while SickKids’ utilizes technologies that are common across buildings in the GTA, its rainwater storage tanks also show that certain green technologies are still underused, and there is still room for growth in the green construction industry.
Leah Wong is the online editor of Building Strategies & Sustainability.