Non-profit Beaver Barracks a model for sustainable housing

The Beaver Barracks project at Catherine and Metcalfe is nearing completion and its developer, the non-profit Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, is starting to spread the word about the features the newly developed site is offering the community. Sylvie Trottier is the “Green Animator” in their communications department and she has been guest blogging on various Ottawa urbanist sites talking about the project.

We asked her to submit something to Spacing Ottawa concentrating on the sustainability features of the new Beaver Barracks.  She sent us the following:

Taxes, transportation, poverty, the environment – with the municipal election looming, discussions over what kinds of policies, and priorities, would make Ottawa a better city are raging. A new poll from Ecology Ottawa and the EnviroCentre shows that almost 80 per cent of residents believe the city should implement a more aggressive energy efficiency program for its buildings and services and operate them with a higher percentage of green electricity or fuels. Clearly, having more green buildings is important to Ottawans. And when one realizes that building emissions are actually responsible for the largest proportion by far of greenhouse gas emissions in Ottawa (58% compared to 39% from transportation)[1], not to mention the potential money saved from wasted energy costs, looking at ways of improving building efficiency simply makes sense.

Green in the city

Examples are starting to emerge of successful green building projects in Ottawa. The new Beaver Barracks will be the first green rental complex in the city. It is is being developed by Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC), one of the largest private non-profit housing providers in the province. CCOC provides mixed housing – with an assortment of market rate, below market and subsidized rents. Beaver Barracks is being built in two phases, the first phase of which has a mix of 160 bachelor, one, two, and three bedrooms units ready for new tenants to move into this November and December. Being right at the corner of Catherine St. and Metcalfe St. means that future tenants will be easily able to walk or bike to most places in the city. There will also be two VRTU cars on site, so residents that sign up to the popular car sharing program can have access to a car for those journeys that need one.

Integrating green practices

There are several other green lifestyle features built into the design – secure bike parking, on-site composting, and rooftop gardening being a few examples (there will also be a Bytown Urban Garden operated community garden in the central grounds once phase II is complete). But what really ups the ante on the green front is when individual green behaviour is combined with the bricks and mortar side of things. The building’s envelope, its fixtures and finishes, and perhaps most importantly, its energy source – have made Beaver Barracks a model of energy efficiency and sustainability.

Heating from the ground-up

A groundbreaking feature is that all of its heating, cooling, and water heating come from geothermal energy. This will in fact be the largest residential geoexchange system in Canada. It works by taking advantage of the Earth’s abundant, free, clean, thermal energy. At this latitude, not too far below our feet, the earth is a permanent 10oC. Whether it’s a balmy 30oC summer day, or a frigid -20oC in February, about 100 meters down the temperature is a constant source of relatively warm (or cool) energy. By laying pipes below ground, a liquid running through them picks up that energy and brings it to a heat pump which concentrates it to about 21oC. In the case of Beaver Barracks, heat exchangers in every building, coupled with a heat recovery ventilator for every unit, distribute that warm (or cool) air throughout the building – which tenants will be able to control through a programmable thermostat. Though some electricity is used to operate fans and heat pumps, geoexchange systems are 3 to 5 times more efficient than conventional systems, simply because they transfer heat from ground to building, rather than creating it from scratch.

Keeping efficiency in mind

Because no one has yet lived in these buildings, we can’t know its exact energy use. However, energy modeling predicts that they will be about 40% more efficient compared with a reference building following the Model National Energy Code for Buildings (37.7% for the 160 Argyle building, and 41.3% for the 464 Metcalfe building). The top notch insulation, namely walls, windows, doors, and roofs, play a big part in this energy efficiency. For instance, the windows are double glazed with an additional low-emissivity (low-E) layer. Low-E consists of a thin layer of metal oxide, which allows sunlight to pass through, but blocks heat from escaping. Energy efficient lighting uses about 67% less energy and low-flow water fixtures will save nearly 7 million liters of water a year[2].

Making green affordable

“We really tried to include everything” says Ray Sullivan, CCOC’s Executive Director. “All the best practices from leading international standards, things like with Energy Star appliances, low flow water fixtures, low maintenance durable materials, energy efficient lighting… We wanted to make Beaver Barracks a really good example of green design, really prove that green can still mean affordable and accessible. I am proud to say that I think we have accomplished that.” Having such a green building developed and operated by a private non-profit that specializes in mixed social housing demonstrates that accessible, affordable housing can also be sustainable. That’s important, especially when green initiatives are often accused of being too expensive.

A caring community

CCOC has been a community leader for over 35 years. With mixed housing, you are bringing people of all different backgrounds and incomes together, providing integration and a sense of community. With 50 buildings housing over 2000 tenants, they have made it possible for groups that are typically disadvantaged – people with low income, seniors, students, single parents, people living with disabilities and other challenges – to meet their basic right to affordable, appropriate and secure housing: a key tenet of social sustainability. Choosing to live in a building run and owned by a company like CCOC means that you are making a socially responsible choice. At Beaver Barracks, you know that you are supporting something that helps the community and that helps the planet. During a time when folks across Ottawa are asking municipal candidates to make their city better – cheaper, greener, more accessible – Beaver Barracks provides a unique opportunity to make your home where your mouth is.

If you are interested in renting at Beaver Barracks, be sure to visit their website

[1] City of Ottawa. Inventory of Air Contaminants and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Report to Planning and Environment Committee. Nov. 14, 2007. Ref N°: ACS2007-PTE-ECO-0015.

2 For 160 units, where each has one 7 minute shower, 4 toilet flushes, and 5 min faucet use per day.