Take the Leed

The silver lining of this home is its sustainability and savings

By Jack Kohane
Photos by Daniel Dutka

Barbara and Stephen Rudberg have found the silver lining. It’s their eco-friendly home that’s so energy efficient it’s been Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certified. But building their dream home, they say, that’s been planned from the ground up on the latest in sustainability principles, wasn’t a totally smooth process. Despite unexpected delays, the anticipated return on investment could well prove worth the effort.

“A project like this takes a great team, lots of skills, design ability, people skills, like dealing with trades and neighbours, including the Toronto City Planning Department and home inspectors, plus a heck of a lot of patience, time and money,” says Stephen from his family’s new two-storey, 3,862-square-foot, French Provincial-style home in the upscale Lytton Park neighbourhood of midtown Toronto. “Some home constructions just aren’t for the squeamish,” he says.

Why go LEED? “My husband and I built a house in 2005 and we were very disappointed with many aspects of our custom home,” says Barbara. “I realized there were elements beyond the finishes and fixtures that
played a much larger role on home builder and peoples’ lifestyles. One of the biggest issues was the lack of indoor air quality and indoor air efficiency. Our new goal was to achieve optimum air efficiency.”

Through the BILD (Building Industry and Land Development Association) organization, Barbara took an Energy Star Course given by John Godden, a Toronto-based rater and consultant for the LEED for Homes programs (as well as the R-2000, ENERGY STAR and EnerGuide programs). He first sparked her interest in going for LEED certification. “The integrated design approach that LEED uses helps owners/builders understand all of their choices with respect to their house,” says Stephen.

Among the criteria required to gain a LEED cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in any new family home: inno­va­tion and design, water use effi­ciency, energy efficiency, mate­ri­als and resources, and indoor envi­ron­men­tal qual­ity.
Though skepticism remains among some house inspectors and trades people about the sustainability claims espoused by the green home movement, the Rudbergs are firm that LEED’s principles work for them. Even so, some of the materials and systems were so new that the city’s engineers asked the Rudbergs for full documents to check it out.

Among the home’s innovations was a dual purpose hot water heater which also provides space heating and hot water for the house (an integrated mechanical system); paints with no VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that help to minimize a source of harmful vapours; and higher-end doors manufactured locally.

Heating ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC) at the Rudberg residence are powered by high-efficiency (up to 80 per cent) electronically commutated (ECM) motors that can use from less than one third to one half of the electricity used by traditional induction motors. “That translates into lower operating costs and shorter payback periods,” says Stephen. ECM’s high efficiency also means that these motors run ’cool’, and reduce the amount of waste heat produced. High-efficiency at the motor level also typically translates in reduced operation at the compressor level, which allows further energy savings.
Sheathing on the exterior of the frame walls of this home is called Roxul stone wool, a combination of stone and recycled slag (a by-product of steel production that would otherwise go to landfill). Because its primary material is stone, Roxul is both fire-resistant and water repellent, while providing a solid barrier against noise.

A LEED certified home can be an important selling point or re-selling asset. “It is important in today’s housing market because it focuses on sustainability,” says Stephen, a real estate agent specializing in residential properties in central Toronto. “Green buildings save energy, use less water, generate less waste and provide higher levels of indoor quality and comfort,” he says. The big benefits of green buildings, he continues, are focused around three key principles of sustainability: Economic benefits, including reduced operating costs and enhanced asset value; health benefits by improving air, thermal and acoustic environments; and environmental benefits through reduced solid waste and conserving natural resources.

Because costs of water and electricity are constantly increasing, in tandem with mushrooming numbers of people affected with allergies who are seeking homes offering superior air quality, Barbara predicts more green homes will be coming to market soon. “By living in a green home, people are better able to control energy costs and live in a healthier environment,” she says.

The Rudberg home project took 18 months to finish, 10 of which were spent landing city approvals (re-zoning changes in the city have delayed building permits). The construction portion took eight months and was completed in late August 2011.

“Creating a sustainable home can be a stressful experience, not for the faint of heart,” says Stephen. “But in the end it’s been rewarding for us.”

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, overseen by the Canada Green Build­ing Coun­cil (CaGBC), offers four certification levels for new construction — Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. LEED seminars and workshops are open to the public at local chapters across Canada.