Almost half of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions come from burning fuel for heat and electricity in homes, offices and industrial buildings. Nearly 30 per cent come from transportation.
In response, researchers and developers are building a new kind of net zero residential community, one that will produce at least as much energy as it consumes.
Under construction now in London, Ont., with cutting-edge energy efficiency and electric vehicle features, EVE Park is the first of its kind, designed to meet consumer demand while not contributing to global warming.
Along the way, it's also tackling a fundamental problem faced by the growing sustainable living movement: most people don't want to cede comfort or aesthetics when buying a green home.
"Consumers are reluctant to make any compromises, that's just human nature," says Ashley Hammerbacher, developer s2e's project lead on EVE Park. The community's genesis can be traced back to a MITACS-funded research partnership involving Carleton University engineering researcher Scott Bucking and it relies on key contributions from Carleton master's graduate Seungyeon Hong, s2e's modelling and data specialist.
"We're focusing on providing a sustainable lifestyle without that sacrifice," says Hammerbacher. "In fact, a lot of our components offer an improvement to traditional lifestyles."
Located in the northwest corner of the larger, 70-acre West Five sustainable community that's under construction near the Thames River west of downtown London, EVE Park will consist of 84 townhouses, ranging from one to four bedrooms and about 1,300 to 2,200 square feet. Phase one — half of the units — should be ready for move-in by next summer.
While on the outside the development looks like many other new residential neighbourhoods, on the inside it is very different. Assisted by a micro-grid that's linked to both a community-scale battery and the local electricity utility, solar panels will produce as much energy as the development uses. There are no natural gas lines in EVE Park, and navigating through the zoning and regulatory approval process to allow this setup has created a path for future sustainable developments to follow.
EVE Park will also have mechanical parking carousels outfitted with EV chargers, reducing the land needed for parking to create more communal outdoor space and foot/bike paths, and an EV car share program. Other environmentally friendly features include smart, energy-efficient appliances and fixtures in all units, large energy efficient windows, strategic building orientations to maximize natural light, non-toxic materials throughout, natural landscaping and intentionally designed inner courtyards in each building to foster a sense of community.
"We're really rethinking what a medium-density neighbourhood can look like," says Hammerbacher. "We want people to experience, as our tagline says, what it's like to live in a park, not a parking lot."
Net Zero Buildings Can Encourage Socializing and Energy Efficiency
"Commonly, well-intentioned net zero buildings don't look that exciting — they just look like big boxes," adds Hong.
"At EVE Park, we're trying to change that with unique architecture. A building that consumes less energy is actually a more comfortable space to live in. And the courtyards each building has will encourage both socializing as well as energy conscious living."
"None of these technologies are brand new, but it's the amalgamation into a package that is somewhat unique," says Hammerbacher. "We'd be really happy if other developers looked at us and the lessons we learned and did something similar, which is part of our broader goal of trying to build sustainable housing at scale."
Hong, who started working for s2e as an intern in 2019 and joined the company full-time in 2020 after graduating from Carleton University, has been concentrating on sustainability engineering work for EVE Park.
During the planning stage, that consisted largely of cost-benefit analysis using computer models and simulations to determine, for example, how much the energy efficiency and occupant comfort would improve by installing a particular type of window and whether it was worth the cost or if other eco measures would offer better returns. Now he has shifted to reviewing and coordinating drawing packages from engineers to help ensure that the build matches the design.
"Everything I learned in grad school has really come in handy," says Hong, who was a big part of Carleton's Northern Nomad project — a net zero tiny house built by students to showcase sustainable building technologies that has now been transformed to serve during the construction of EVE Park as an on-site sales centre powered by the sun.
"EVE Park is just one type of living," says Hong.
"Northern Nomad shows that there's a range of different things that you can do to make sustainable living possible."
"Whenever you try to surmount a big challenge, which the tiny house project did, you bond with the people around you," says Bucking, Hong's master's supervisor. "Seungyeon was pivotal. No matter was the problem is, he's capable of solving it.
"Our tiny house touched a zeitgeist button," adds Bucking.
"People are interested in compact, modular, self-sufficient dwellings that can be easily manufactured. We built a prototype and it's part of an important conversation about sustainable and affordable housing."