ERA Architects

Passive House: A new way of working with existing buildings

Cities are at the forefront of climate change. In the fight for a low-carbon future, a new wave of building standards is changing how we think about energy-efficiency and environmentally friendly design. One of the top standards is Passive House.

According to Passive House Canada, Passive House is regarded as the “most rigorous voluntary energy-based standard in the design and construction industry today.” Passive House focuses on limiting the energy needed to heat or cool buildings through high levels of insulation around the building envelope, overall airtightness and whole-house mechanical ventilation. A Passive House’s energy use is significantly lower than its conventional counterpart. 

ERA aims to improve the quality and comfort for residents of GTHA’s postwar towers by transforming the buildings and their surrounding areas into more sustainable, resilient and healthy places. This alignment is one of the reasons we were drawn to the Passive House standard and its applicability to our tower renewal portfolio.

Passive House is an ultra-low carbon standard which is focused on human comfort and air quality. It’s a natural fit for tower renewal, which aims to improve housing quality and health outcomes in aging affordable housing

Exterior of the Ken Soble Tower in Hamilton

Built in 1967, the Ken Soble Tower is the oldest high-rise multi-residential building in CityHousing Hamilton’s portfolio and has been in decline for several years. After considering several options, CityHousing opted to retrofit the building, making significant improvements at a fraction of the cost of a new build.

With its completion, the project will provide residents with improved comfort and control of their indoor environments, and with the ability to withstand extreme climate events into the future. At its peak, the total energy needed to heat or cool each unit will be the equivalent of the energy needed to run three incandescent light bulbs. 

Though a Passive House requires a significant reduction in energy use, the principle is driven by human comfort. The airtightness and increase in insulation mean no drafts, no cold spots and no overheating, equaling an overall more comfortable home for residents.  

The project kickstarts a broader Passive House development program for CityHousing Hamilton’s portfolio at large, making it one of the first organizations in eastern Canada to adopt the Passive House target. 

Applying standards such as EnerPHit – the Passive House certification for retrofits –  to existing buildings can be paired with architectural conservation to maintain their historic integrity, merging a low-carbon future with the cultural significance of the past.

For example, Gemini House is a prototype low-energy retrofit project on the University of Toronto campus. The project is using Passive House approaches to low-energy rehabilitation with the added complexity of being executed within an 1880s Second Empire-style masonry home.

The project achieves a high-performance envelope and low intensity mechanical systems based on Passive House principles. The retrofit will thermally isolate the building into two zones: “core” and “periphery.” The core space comprises rooms expected to be in daily use (kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom), and is therefore heated on a daily basis in cooler months. The periphery spaces (formal dining room, guest bedroom, basement) are kept at a minimal level of heat, but can be warmed on demand. By building this box within a box, energy use was reduced by over 90 per cent.

With a focus on the interior to achieve ultra-low energy transformation goals, the exterior of this listed heritage property was conserved and rehabilitated, with historic windows used to create a ‘second skin’ in front of the new triple glazed windows within.

At a time when climate change mitigation, healthy living environments and improved social resilience are increasingly urgent, ERA is committed to bringing these outcomes to existing building fabric across its conservation, adaptive re-use and tower renewal portfolios.

ERA talks retrofitting towers (virtually)

Over the past few weeks, Graeme Stewart and Ya’el Santopinto have had the opportunity to participate in webinars to share more about ERA’s tower renewal projects. A large focus of these talks have been about our learnings surrounding the retrofitting of the Ken Soble Tower in Hamilton, which is slated to be one of the largest EnerPHit-certified projects in North America.

We wanted to share these talks with you. For more take a look at the links below.

Passive House Accelerator: Happy Hour

Heroic Concrete: Retrofitting Brutalism A screenshot taken ahead of a webinar, showing the panelists

Accessibility & Heritage Conservation

How do we integrate universal accessibility with heritage conservation principles? ERA explored this topic in a two-day workshop at the Willowbank School in Niagara. ERA Associates Daniel Lewis and Douglas de Gannes worked with the second-year students to develop feasibility reports for two sites: The Laura Secord School and the Battle Ground Hotel Museum.

The workshop gave students a comprehensive overview of the legislation, process, approaches, and examples of barriers to accessibility. Barriers are more than just physical, and often they are rooted in societal attitudes and practices, which can sometimes be addressed through thoughtful design considerations. The students learned about two design solutions: barrier free design (with no physical obstacles) and universal design (accessibility for all people regardless of age, disability or other factors).

The Canada Life Building, 330 University Ave, Toronto.

The Canada Life Building, 330 University Ave, Toronto.

To give the students a better sense of what this design approach could look like, we reviewed ERA projects like the Canada Life Building (330 University Avenue, Toronto). Often, accessible entrances are placed in areas of the building other than the principal entrance, a practice that is now widely regarded as a human rights issue. Adding an accessible ramp to the front of the building, without negatively impacting the existing site’s architecture, demonstrates a commitment to accessibility and heritage conservation. The design has minimal impact and is reversible, a core element of heritage conservation, and the ramp design complements the character-defining elements of the building.

7 St Thomas, Toronto (the Sultan Street houses).

Another great example ERA shared with the students is the Sultan Street houses in Toronto. In this case, the stairs of the front entrance were removed entirely, and the doorways lowered to the ground level. This approach also offers an opportunity for interpretive design. For example, a small sliver of the stairs remains, which creates an ongoing dialogue on improving accessibility.

After reviewing these ERA projects, the students got the chance to apply their knowledge. They conducted their own accessibility audits and conservation assessments on the two historic sites and will use this information to produce a feasibility report as their final project.

This hands-on learning experience for the Willowbank students is part of a larger conversation about the importance and necessity of accessibility when it comes to heritage conservation strategies, and using design as an opportunity to promote equal access for all.

Tower Renewal Solutions on CBC Radio

As aging apartment buildings begin to contribute to the housing crisis, (exposed this week in the infrastructure failure at 260 Wellesley, Toronto) the clear response is system-scale reinvestment — and it’s underway right now across Canada.

Of particular note, the Ken Soble Tower Project is one of the most significant and precedent-setting tower retrofit projects in North America, and it’s happening in Hamilton, Ontario:

Listen to ERA’s Graeme Stewart talk about Tower Renewal solutions on CBC’s Metro Morning, January 24, 2019 (the conversation begins around the 4-minute mark).

Click to listen to the audio of CBC Metro Morning, January 24, 2019 episode: in conversation with Graeme Stewart.


A Tower Renewal Primer:
Postwar apartment towers are the backbone of Canada’s purpose-built rental stock, and provide affordable housing to millions of Canadians. Now is the time to explore innovative strategies for transitioning these aging apartment tower neighbourhoods to meet the demands of our 21st century cities.
Tower Renewal is a strategy for action.


For more information on Tower Renewal, visit TowerRenewal.com
For more information on the current Ken Soble Tower Project in Hamilton, visit the link here.

 

Heritage at Home

ERA Associate and Architectural Conservation Lead, Jan Kubanek, has managed and consulted on immense, complex projects like the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa and Toronto’s Union Station—and like so many other Canadians has also faced the unforeseen complexities of his own home renovation.

It’s hard to find a more capable person to offer advice on renovating your heritage home.

Jan got in front of the camera this fall to help Héritage Montréal spread the word about their Home Renovation course held every year and that he has been a part of since 2012.  The course is intended to assist home owners in understanding the heritage value of their homes and assist them in planning and undertaking sympathetic renovations.  Organized around eight evening sessions, subjects include residential building typologies, building inspections, planning sustainable renovations, and how to deal with issues of and repairs to foundations, structure, roofs, windows and doors. Jan’s lecture focused on planning and undertaking successful home renovation projects.

Watch the Héritage Montréal video below (en français)
https://www.facebook.com/heritagemontreal/videos/249081312363741/

or catch his “All in a Weekend” interview on CBC Radio (in english)
https://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/all-in-a-weekend-montreal/segment/15611249  

ERA at Passive House Canada Conference

Last week, ERA’s Graeme Stewart and Ya’el Santopinto joined City Housing Hamilton CEO Tom Hunter to present on the Ken Soble Tower Transformation at Passive House Canada’s National Conference in Vancouver. 

The Ken Soble Tower Transformation project kicks off a groundbreaking program by CityHousing Hamilton to use the ultra-low energy Passive House standard for the retrofit of their existing buildings and as the standard for their new construction. ERA is thrilled to be working with CityHousing Hamilton realize this vision. Built in 1967 as modern affordable housing, the building’s rehabilitation will preserve 146 units of affordable seniors’ housing and ensure that stateoftheart affordable housing is at the heart of the Hamilton’s growing West Harbour neighbourhood. 

Ken Soble Tower Transformation: diagram overview of Envelope, Systems, and Modernization.

The project is poised to be the first Passive House high-rise retrofit in North America and it will demonstrate the tremendous potential for aging affordable housing in Canada to be modernized through Tower Renewal. 

What is Passive House?
Common in Europe, the Passive House approach is centred around high-performance building envelopes, achieving nearly twice the insulation value of building code requirements, which drastically reduces required heating and cooling loads.

The Ken Soble Tower Transformation will:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90%
  • Reduce energy intensity by 70%
  • Reduce resource consumption through a 45% reduction in utility costs
  • Improve indoor air quality for resident health and comfort
  • Extend the life of the building and its systems for another generation

The 2018 Passive House Canada Conference in Vancouver opens up this discussion to a broad audience of builders, contractors, architects, city-builders, and policy-makers, and ERA is proud to be part of the growth of this approach in Canada, sharing best practices with our colleagues and collaborators. A highlight of the conference included a tour of Dockside Green, a master planned community with affordable housing, district energy, and low carbon buildings.

An idyllic urban setting shows the courtyard of Dockside Green with pond and a number of balconies overlooking.

Touring #docksidegreen, a master planned community with affordable housing, district energy, and low carbon buildings on par with the best of Sweden or Germany. Lessons for the rest of Canada in the city of Victoria!

Dockside Green interpretation panels explaining the water treatment systems in use.

Interpretive panels at Dockside Green help to educate and inform about water treatment and usage.