A $21-million, fossil fuel-free community is being built in downtown Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood as part of a sustainable launch by Daniels Corporation.
The community features 24 three-storey, three-bedroom townhomes with all-electric building systems.
“The headliner is an 89 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to our typical townhouse product,” said director of project implementation Adam Molson. “For me, that’s what this project is really all about.”
The development is called Field House EcoUrban Towns. It’s the first Daniels community to carry the EcoUrban designation.
Once occupied, the townhouses are also projected to use 52 per cent less energy and reduce overall energy costs by 11 per cent compared to Daniels’ traditional townhouse product.
Field House a template for future projects
The reduction in greenhouse gases is “hugely important, in terms of the challenges before us as a society and the impact that buildings have,” on climate change, Molson said.
Scoring such a dramatic reduction at one of its first sustainable projects “in a way that’s given our team confidence,” means Daniels can plan ahead for significantly larger communities with hundreds of homes.
The company will “start rolling this out into future projects, which is very much the intent … you’re actually dealing with pretty ‘tested and true’ methodologies,” said Molson.
When it comes to dollars and sense, “we’re able to do it in a cost-effective way that doesn’t completely either ruin our profit margins or require us to charge premiums on the product,” he continued. Essentially, Daniels can “build this and charge the same as we would for another Field House.”
The development has 25 parking spaces that are fully wired for electric vehicles (EVs) with a Level 2 charger.
“With this being an all-electric development, we want to make it as seamless and easy for people to switch to EV as possible,” said Molson.
Homes on the market often come ‘EV ready’ meaning there’s a circuit breaker on the panel.
“But then you’ve got to spend a few thousand bucks on top of that,” he pointed out. “We wanted to eliminate that barrier for people.”
Daniels refocuses on “core of our product”
Daniels is a major GTA developer and builder, having constructed at least 30,000 new homes across the region in 35-plus years. Among its many initiatives, Daniels was chosen to partner with Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) to revitalize 53 of the 69 acres in its Regent Park property.
Over the last couple of years, “there’s been a bit more of a focus on getting back to the core of our product in terms of the buildings themselves, because we traditionally were sort of at the forefront of that within our industry,” Molson said. “I think we felt that we . . . weren’t maybe leading quite as much as we used to.”
That has led to a renewed focus with Field House.
“An innovative project, from a sustainability standpoint, very much fits within the spirit of Regent Park,” he said, noting Daniels is “happy to bring it to this community.”
A downtown urban crowd might be more plugged into sustainability initiatives and perhaps “just a little bit more willing” to get excited about a new type of home, Molson added.
Additional sustainability features at Field House include low VOC paint, high-efficiency heat pumps, triple-glazed windows, low-flow faucets, and single flush low-consumption toilets. Suite hydro and water will be individually metered using ‘Smart Meter” technologies, and 18 per cent of the energy needs will be supplied by an integrated solar panel array.
“This project was meant to be a bit of a test case for us,” said Molson. “I think part of the fact that it was only 24 units meant that we could really try a lot of different things and take some risks.”
Electricity gets a “bad rap”
The biggest gamble was going all-electric.
“That’s what led to the big reduction in greenhouse gases, because the majority of greenhouse gases with operating the home is because you’re burning natural gas to heat your home,” said Molson. It is also often used for hot water systems.
Eliminating natural gas and “moving to an electric system, that’s what leads to that dramatic reduction. But, in Ontario specifically, I don’t think there’s a lot of familiarity and comfort with the options for doing that.”
Electricity has a “bit of a bad rap” because people think of the ’70s and ’80s when electric baseboard heaters were common, he said, and people “got really high electricity bills as a result.”
The Daniels approach in 2020?
“It’s all electric, yes, but we’re not using baseboard heaters. We’re using high-efficiency heat pumps with a much-improved building envelope to bring our load profile down and so it’s really … a different animal there.”
Larger townhome footprints
Field House features three-bedroom townhouses — some with a large den that could be converted into a fourth bedroom — ranging from roughly 1,319 square feet to 1,700 square feet.
“I think that we felt that there’s sort of a certain expectation around space,” Molson said.
Many of Daniels’ buildings are predominantly one and two-bedroom units, but it wanted to “provide a diversity of product and we can provide more opportunities for families, especially in the downtown core.”
Molson said he hopes the community will enjoy the solar trellis.
“Most of the time, solar panels go on the roof of a project and you actually don’t see them—people treat them as ugly and something that you don’t want to see,” he said.
Daniels used a high-end bifacial solar panel (meaning it’s double-sided), turning it into an architectural feature of the development.
Prices for townhouses start at $1.1 million.
“I would say that they’re financially accessible and that they’re comparably priced” with conventional products, Molson said.
Construction at Field House is well underway “in conjunction with a rental tower behind it — it’s a fairly long duration compared to a typical townhouse product,” Molson said.
“It’s because it’s on top of a common parking garage with this 29-storey tower,” he said. “(It) wouldn’t normally take you three years to build.”
Construction began at the end of 2017 and occupancy is expected in June 2021.