Net zero 2050: Multi-family developers are building for the future

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Net zero residential building began with single-family homes and now condo developers are finding ways to increase energy efficiency.

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Calina Hosu had a clear vision of the future when she and her husband purchased a new townhome in Zen Sequel by Avalon Master Builder in southeast Calgary.

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They were keenly interested in saving money on rising energy costs and in protecting the environment by operating their home using clean technology. When they learned that the Zen Sequel stacked townhome project in Seton would offer net zero construction, they were all in.

“We wanted to save energy because the prices are going up right now. I don’t want to pay that much anymore,” she says. “I think this is more modern, too. I’m interested in different kinds of energy, just not gas. And it also feels safer, somehow.”

In 2014, Hosu and her husband were searching for a home with net zero capability but there was nothing available in the multi-family market at that time. They settled for a conventional townhome in nearby Mahogany but happily sold it in 2021 when they successfully purchased a net zero unit in Zen Sequel.

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There are two mechanical rooms in Hosu’s townhome. There’s a tankless hot water heater, a heat pump rather than a natural gas furnace, thicker more heavily insulated walls and multi-glazed windows. The baseload consumption had been significantly reduced with the installation of energy-efficient appliances and LED lighting.

“We’re still learning how everything works but so far, it’s perfect,” says Hosu.

A net zero home produces as much energy as it consumes while a net zero ready home has everything but the solar panels. The Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, passed in June 2021, states that all Canadian buildings must be net zero by 2050.

Avalon is one of six multi-family builders across Canada working with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association to create official net zero labels for multi-unit residential buildings. Zen Sequel was a pilot project, so Avalon built just one building of single-level and stacked townhomes to net zero/net zero ready specifications. The balance of homes in the 124-unit development offer the builder’s already strict standards for energy efficiency.

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The entire project sold out in 12 months.

In addressing the perception that building net zero homes cost more, Avalon vice-president and general manager Chris Williams says the Zen project was “net zero for zero dollars.”

“What we mean by that is, although net zero is more expensive, the increase in your mortgage is less than the decrease in your utilities, on average, for the year,” he says.

The net zero units in Zen Sequel were eight per cent more expensive than Avalon’s standard stacked townhome units and the net zero ready units were two to three per cent more.

“In the summer, you’re producing more electricity and, in the winter, you’re using more energy. Average that for a year and measure the decrease against the extra mortgage payment and you’ve got net zero for zero dollars,” he says.
Williams says buyers prioritize social responsibility in their buying decisions and love the idea of building net zero until they see what it’s going to cost.

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“Some lenders will take this into account and factor your energy savings when they’re doing their assessment to determine if you qualify,” he says.

Calgary multi-family builder Partners Development Group is a certified Built Green builder. Their homes now include heat-recovery ventilators, triple-glazed low-E windows, low-flow toilets and Energy Star-rated appliances. Marketing manager Cale Marklund says that next to location, size, maintenance requirements and access, the big concerns among younger, first-time buyers are sustainability and affordability.

“They’re often looking for energy-efficient homes to reduce monthly costs and to do their part in minimizing their environmental footprint. As a multi-family builder, we’re seen as a more affordable option, and we’re taking steps to address some of these main first-time buyer concerns,” he says. “While net zero building may not be the industry norm currently, we continuously see changes to products and building codes that are moving us in that direction.”

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Westman Village, by Jayman Built, has solar panels on all of its buildings to help provide for its energy needs.
Westman Village, by Jayman Built, has solar panels on all of its buildings to help provide for its energy needs. Photo by Dustin Hoffert /Postmedia

Jayman Built, a large volume home builder in Calgary and Edmonton, launched its first net zero certified home in 2021. An option package, which includes up to 30 solar panels and an air source electric heat pump system, among other features, adds $60,000 to the sticker price of a single-family home. However, the package is touted to save 10.67 tonnes of carbon emissions every year and $2,136 on energy costs.

The builder also offers net zero ready packages in various price ranges.

“We know that a net zero certified home may not be feasible for a first-time home buyer but choosing one of our options will have increased savings each year. First-time buyers should be considering the future impact of this on their living expenses,” says Michael Klassen, sales manager.

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Six solar panels, a high-efficiency furnace, tankless hot water heater and triple-pane windows are already standard features in a Jayman home, saving about $700 a year in energy costs.

Jayman Built has also introduced energy efficiency to its multi-family development Westman Village, in Calgary’s southeast community of Mahogany.

Westman Village boasts more than 1,000 solar panels, with close to 100 panels on almost every building of the complex. Solar energy offsets the “house loads” — hallway lighting, elevators and appliances that serve common areas outside of private residences. Village Centre has a co-generation unit providing approximately 15 per cent of electricity consumed and uses the waste heat to heat three indoor swimming pools.

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