Green Buildings Raise the Bar

by Franke James

“Open concept, high ceilings, granite counters, hardwood floors, Master en suite with rainhead shower and body jets” These used to be the ‘bells and whistles’ that would attract buyers in droves. Now the bar has been raised.

“R2000 certified home, radiant-heated floors, green roof garden, solar panels, Low-E argon windows” are some of the new green features that are making buyers salivate. The marketing buzz today is about energy efficiency and environmental sustainability.

It makes sense. Anxiety about global warming is rising, along with energy prices. Given the dichotomy of Canada’s temperatures, being concerned about energy efficiency is looking smart.

How many people are thinking that way? A recent EnerQuality survey found that one third of Ontario new home owners view energy efficiency as ‘extremely important’, and specifically identified energy efficiency as one of their key purchase motivators. A further 51% saw energy efficiency as an added benefit. Lower energy bills were cited as the most important reason for buying an energy efficient home.

The concept of energy efficiency has become so ingrained that 89% of respondents believed that builders should build them as a basic standard. In fact, changes to the building code are coming. The Ontario Building Code is being amended to increase the energy conservation of new homes, demanding more insulation, and more energy efficient windows and furnaces.

But some developers, committed to building to the LEED or R2000 standards believe that the changes ‘do not go far enough’. John Blackburn, an Associate with P&B Marketing, talked to me about the higher ‘Gold standard’ that his client, Brookfield Millhouse, is aiming to reach with their new development on the south shore of Lake Simcoe. Crates Landing will have LEED Canada Certification.’Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’ is an international rating system that recognizes buildings that reduce their environmental impact through design, construction and operational practices.

Blackburn commented, “We’re seeing an increase in buyer’s interest in energy-efficient homes. The fact that Crate’s Landing is being built to LEED standards – and Gold ones at that – is creating a lot of buyer interest. LEED building practices greatly reduce the future impacts of energy price and water fee increases through conservation. At the same time they also result in a more comfortable and healthier building. This is what buyers want.”

Feeling good about the environmental benefits of green buildings isn’t a driver, it’s just the icing on the cake. Charles Lockwood

The ‘green building’ trend started first in commercial real estate. Charles Lockwood, a U.S. based real estate and environmental consultant and author of “Building the Green Way” in Harvard Business Review, offered this insight, “Green buildings only began to enter the mainstream in the U.S. when tenants and buyers were convinced of the bottom line benefits of green commercial buildings – particularly their lower overhead costs and higher productivity – and the demonstrably healthier indoor environments of both green commercial and residential buildings. Feeling good about the environmental benefits of green buildings – reduced use of natural resources, lower greenhouse gas emissions, etc. – isn’t a driver, it’s just the icing on the cake.”

Older homes can be renovated to include many energy efficient features, but it’s really new homes that offer the full, and most satisfying benefits. New construction has the advantage that it can be built to R2000, Energy Star or LEED standards. An energy-efficient home is less expensive to operate, more comfortable to live in, and more environmentally friendly.

Design the building right and you don’t need air conditioning. Rod Nadeau

One of the benefits of an energy efficient home is that it may not need air conditioning.

One example is Palliser Lodge, being built at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Whistler, British Columbia by Rod Nadeau, Innovation Building Group. Palliser Lodge, is a 48 unit condominium style building with a classic ‘Rocky Mountain lodge look’. But it’s the energy-efficient design, construction methods and sustainable materials, that distinguish this development. Nadeau is building it to R2000 and BC Hydro PowerSmart standards.

What really sets Palliser Lodge apart is the construction of the foundation and walls. For centuries now wood frame construction has been the de facto method. But concerns about energy efficiency, and the destruction of trees, have turned people’s attention to the value of insulating concrete forms (ICF). They are also approved for LEED buildings.

Palliser Lodge is built from the foundation to the roof with ICF’s that offer up to R50 insulation. ICF’s keep the interior naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Even with outside temperatures hitting 35 degrees Celsius, no air conditioning is required. In the winter, the 12 inch thick ICF walls, provide an insulating thermal mass that keeps heat in, and means that less energy is required to heat the building. Its airtight construction minimizes drafts and increases comfort. An ICF home can save 50% or more on energy bills than if the walls were wood-framed.

Nadeau offered this advice, “Design the building right and you don’t need air conditioning. Find as many passive energy savers as you can, like Low-E Argon windows and Arxx ICF’s.”

In the future, the ‘standard’ homes of today, will be viewed as ‘sub-standard’. John Blackburn

What does this shift to energy efficiency mean for you as an owner and investor of residential real estate in Canada? You can protect the value of your property, and enhance its future marketability, by adding energy efficient features. Blackburn believes that in the future, the ‘standard’ homes of today, will be viewed as ‘sub-standard’ for their inefficient use of energy and natural resources.

That thought is echoed by Charles Lockwood, “To avoid massive obsolescence and financial losses in the Green New World, real estate owners and investors must learn from the past and undertake green renovations of their properties now”.


Published in Collections Magazine, Winter 2007. Franke James, MFA is the writer of a green marketing blog at, and Co-founder of The James Gang Advertising.

Comments are closed.