Ecoholic

There’s no place like a green home


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Q Are there any environmentally friendly residential developments in Toronto that offer more than an organics chute?

A If The Wizard Of Oz were rejigged for today’s audience, Dorothy would be wearing emerald green slippers – and that home she clicks them for? Well, honey, it would have reclaimed flooring (taken from an old barn, of course) and straw-bale insulation.

I’d get you to invest in a pair of emerald slippers if I thought it would help you track down some eco-conscious housing in Toronto. Unfortunately, it ain’t that easy.

T.O. does have a sprinkling of homes decked out with solar panels (like that cool complex on Sparkhall Avenue in Riverdale that’s off the grid), but the people who live there probably aren’t planning to put their homes up for sale any time soon. Same goes for the four-unit Live Lightly Developments on Queen East, with bamboo flooring, strawboard cabinetry and geothermal heating. But, hey, who knows? Ask a realtor.

For the majority of us who don’t have the funds to completely overhaul our own houses (or even to buy houses of our own to dream of ecofying), there are, of course, alternatives.

For one, if you’re seriously cash-restricted, look into Toronto Community Housing Corporation’s impressive green plans. Not only are they retrofitting old housing with new windows, bulbs and Energy Star appliances, but they’re also building sustainable units from the ground up as part of Regent Park’s redevelopment (think green roofs, a 27-hectare park, and a 75 per cent boost in energy efficiency). Don Mount Court (to be called Rivertowne) will also sport green stripes. All three will be designed as mixed-income neighbourhoods, so there should be something for every budget.

If you have enough saved for a down payment, keep in mind that condo developers are clamouring for green brownie points these days. Several in the downtown core are applying for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification through the Canada Green Building Council.

Minto is one of them. Its Radiance @ Minto Gardens residence was the first condo in the city to receive such certification. The building is 33 per cent more energy-efficient than code, and units use at least 50 per cent less water than your typical condo. There’s a green-bin chute, and on top of ultra-low-emission paints and sealants, more than 40 per cent of materials used in construction were made locally. Did I mention that the building is a member of Autoshare, with onsite Prius rentals? Pretty nifty.

MintoSkyy, the company’s next LEED-certified luxury condo project, is slated for construction at Broadview and Mortimer. Another developer, Tridel, is using LEED standards to build its water- and energy-conscious Verve building at Jarvis and Wellesley.

Of course, you might gag at the idea of living in a high-rise condo development with a bunch of green yuppies (guppies?). But, hey, urban intensification isn’t a bad thing in already high-rise-happy ‘hoods.

The story’s entirely different in places like West Queen West, where even LEED certification failed to give hipster condo developments any cred. The planned 19-storey Bohemian Embassy condo tower, for instance, will simply squash the neighbourhood.

A smaller, more neighbour-friendly model is High Park Lofts on Roncesvalles. You get to pick between bamboo and cork flooring, plant your own green rooftop garden and adjust your pad’s temperature with fossil-fuel-free geothermal heating and cooling. Plus, all the units in this cathedral-style building will open onto a beautiful landscaped glass atrium.

Ryerson’s Sustainable Urbanism Initiative was one of 12 winners of a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation competition that’s doling out 50 grand to developers of energy-efficient home designs. The group’s Davenport Zero Energy Townhouses in the Annex area, with a roof-ful of solar panels, ground-source heat pumps and more, should be up for pre-sale later this year. Other sites have earth-friendly features of note, like the massive green roof atop the Merchandise lofts on Mutual or the Element buildings on Front that keep the summer heat at bay with a deep lake water cooling system. Still, if you’re looking for a community-style home base filled exclusively with tree-hugger types, I have to say it can be a little tough in T.O. Crunchy granola BC has tons of cool urban cohousing spaces (like Quayside Village in North Vancouver or Cranberry Commons in Burnaby) that draw earth-conscious individuals to their cozy, sustainable structures (see www.cohousing.ca).

For that kind of thing here, you’d have to leave the city. Whole Village north of T.O. offers communal living on an organic farm. Otherwise, the burbs are building a few Energy Star and/or LEED certified housing communities, but these might only feed into the sprawl issue.

Adria Vasil’s new book, Ecoholic: Your Guide To The Most Environmentally FriendlyInformation, Products And Services In Canada,will be available in April.

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