Markham, Ont.-based developer Howland Green Homes Ltd. promises to deliver beyond net-zero with buildings that produce more energy than they consume – the latest being the Wellington East business centre in Aurora, Ont.
“People look at a building like Wellington East, which is our latest one and they see a giant solar array, and they think that's the story. But that's really not the story,” Dave De Sylva, Howland Green’s founder told SustainableBiz.
“The story is building a building," he said. Wellington East was built using techniques that involve high-insulation windows, walls, and roofs; intricate sensitive lighting systems; and a geothermal system that is 15 per cent more efficient on average.
"This is statistical . . . we operate about 85 per cent less energy than the average building built by OBC (Ontario Building Code). It makes the ability to be net-zero or beyond net-zero so much simpler.”
The building, at Wellington St. E and 404, is being touted as the largest ‘beyond net-zero’ office building in Canada at 100,000-square-feet. It is planned for completion in September 2024.
Howland Green’s beyond net-zero
Originally known as Green Life, Howland Green changed its name in 2017 when it formally integrated its beyond net-zero policy. It has another office in Milton, Ont.
When asked why the company pushed for beyond net-zero construction, De Sylva said it was simply because they could.
“Why don't you go beyond net-zero? What's it going to do, hurt you? It doesn't hurt you. What it does is we farm out the rest of the energy to the grid, and the utility goes to the grid and the utility will charge somebody else for it, and we don't get a nickel,” he said.
“But climate science and sustainable technology and implementation is not about currency. It's about your impact.”
From his perspective, the biggest challenge in adopting a beyond net-zero policy came from convincing consultants and governments of its benefits. Once the market participants understood how lowering utility costs and condo fees with net-zero policies was achievable, then Howland Green was on board.
Howland Green’s energy targets and sustainability measures are set and executed in house, as De Sylva prefers to avoid external frameworks, such as building certifications, which he considers gimmicks.
The company carries forward all of its technologies and strategies to the next project. The one exception being standalone solar parking lot lights, which it moved away from after five or six projects.
“Because a parking lot light standalone means that you capture on the light,” he explained. “You have to have a five day battery supply for the middle or towards the end of December, when solar production is so low or non-existent, and it doesn't pay.”
The company recently finished work on the Bronte West condominium in Milton, Ontario. For Wellington East, Howland Green initially bought the land in March 2022.
The four-storey building features a full bifacial solar array on the roof, capable of generating approximately 870,000 kilowatt-hours annually. The bifacial method means that electric current is generated on the main surface of the panels as well as the underside, which are elevated above the building.
He states they are the first company in Canada to use bifacial panels on a building of this size.
According to De Sylva, the building will capture around 960,000 kilowatt-hours of energy annually and use approximately 450,000 kilowatt-hours.
The building will also feature enhanced insulated concrete form construction, triple pane fibreglass Low E Argon windows, geothermal heating and cooling, high efficiency LED lighting throughout, motion sensing where applicable and 168 electric vehicle charging stations in the parking lot.
It will also have a clean water recapture system for toilets and a grey water recapture system for irrigation – grey water being the untreated, gently used water waste from faucets, showers and the like. The company states this will result in a 92 per cent reduction in water coming from the municipality.
The building will have roof insulation with a minimum value of R80, which measures insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it.
When deciding which technologies and techniques to implement, De Sylva explained: “We generally are guided by the impact that it has on operational energies . . . It’s science. It’s not difficult if you understand science.”
While more people may be tuning in to the benefits of beyond net-zero, De Sylva is happy to keep development at its current pace.
“We like steady because you're not repeating you're always trying to improve,” he said. “We're steady. That's who we are, no need to go crazy.”