Dicaire: Ottawa’s affordable housing can be a model of sustainability

Friday is Earth Day. There has never been a better time than now to think about the future of affordable housing, thanks to the significant innovations in green building technologies.

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Affordability is about more than just rent. Using energy-efficient building systems and sustainable design practices allows savings to be passed along to the tenant and money to be reinvested into the community.

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It is no coincidence that in the last five years, the city of Ottawa has declared both a housing and homelessness emergency and a climate change emergency. They are strongly linked and affordable housing providers such as Ottawa Community Housing are at the forefront of tackling both. We can look beyond just the cost of monthly rent and take a long-term approach to promote innovative and sustainable practices that contribute to overall savings — benefiting those who live in our communities for future generations.

There has never been a better time than now to think about the future of affordable housing, thanks to the significant innovations in green building technologies. Leveraging advancements in solar arrays, more efficient mechanical systems and LED lighting can ensure long-term affordability for all. Those savings are immediately reinvested back into the communities they serve. This type of strategy has never been more evident than in new affordable housing development across Ottawa.

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Through the city of Ottawa’s Climate Change Master Plan, housing providers are provided with a roadmap to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This means that we can re-think how we construct new buildings and plan for retrofitting current buildings to increase energy efficiency and preserve our existing housing stock.

Take, for example, a home built more than 20 years ago. Yes, you can offset expenses upfront by choosing cost-effective methods, but if you aren’t also investing in making homes energy-efficient, energy costs might outweigh the affordability of building them in the first place. That’s why OCHC invested in the Presland Net-Zero Deep Energy Retrofit (PEER) project, a block of four two-storey aging townhomes in Overbrook which was at the end of its lifecycle.

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The Ottawa Community Housing sustainable housing project at 203 Presland Rd.
The Ottawa Community Housing sustainable housing project at 203 Presland Rd. jpg

By converting the homes to net-zero, they were given a new life. We built a highly insulated and airtight shell and placed it over the home’s existing roof and walls, right down to the foundation. We replaced the heating and cooling systems with electric heat pumps to eliminate carbon emissions. Also, doors, windows and the roof were replaced to improve tenant comfort and preserve heat. Finally, an array of solar panels was installed on the south-facing roof of the four townhomes, which will generate enough power annually to offset the consumption of the four homes — making them net-zero.

Another example is OCHC’s new development at 811 Gladstone Ave., which will provide 140 new, affordable homes. It’s being constructed using passive housing standards. The impact on tenants will be significant.

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Through innovative building solutions such as the ones used on Presland Road in Overbrook, energy and heating bills will remain under $100 a year for every tenant in every home. This represents the future of affordable housing in Ottawa: both affordable and sustainable.

When you realize that up to 85 per cent of the total cost of building ownership will come from operation and utility costs over the next 50-to-75 years, investing in energy efficiency from day one makes perfect sense. Keeping operating and utility costs low is another way we ensure that the housing we build remains affordable for everyone in the long term.

At the end of the day, projects like the ones you just read about benefit both affordable housing communities, their tenants and Planet Earth. And that’s a win-win for all of us.

Dan Dicaire is an award-winning energy engineer who is the Manager of Conservation and Sustainability at Ottawa Community Housing. Twitter: @OCH_LCO.

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