Sustainable.TO

SUSTAINABLE.TO: Staying Ahead of the Curve

Photo of Paul

Written by: Paul

on Thursday, March 10, 2016

Since opening up shop in Toronto’s east end in 2009, SUSTAINABLE.TO Architecture + Building (STO) has jumped leaps and bounds towards establishing the new normal for how we think about building in a post-carbon world. In 2002, leading American architect Ed Mazria founded Architecture 2030, an organization committed to protecting our global environment by using innovation and common sense to develop and implement bold solutions to global warming. Mazria developed energy-reduction targets for buildings leading up to 2030 as a Challenge.

Here in Canada, the 2030 Challenge has been adopted by both the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) in 2009 and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) with these targets adapted from those set out by Mazria:

2010 - 50%
2014 - 60%
2015 - 70%
2020 - 80%
2025 - 90%
2030 - 100%, ie: Carbon-neutral

STO specifically has concentrated on a common sense approach to achieving these targets, following the principles of the Trias Energetica, modeled to reflect the 3 R’s of sustainability:

REDUCE the energy demands of the building. This is achieved by air-sealing and insulating effectively (lowest cost, highest impact on efficiency);
REUSE nature’s energy through passive strategies. (for example, we capture the winter sun for heat, shade & reflect the summer sun to keep the building cool, and utilize breezes for cooling and ventilation), and;
RECYCLE renewable energy through active strategies such as solar panels, converting the sun’s energy into electricity and hot water, and with wind turbines, converting wind energy.

Trias Energetica
Trias Energetica

By spending the majority of our effort on the reduction of energy demand (which also costs the least to implement) we have found that building owners can often avoid or eliminate the high-cost of energy generation all together. Designed by Paul Dowsett in 2002, the Hunter House is an off-grid, straw-bale, passive-solar rural home, built for less than the standard of cost of construction, with natural, non-toxic, local materials, and has achieved an energy-reduction of 54% less than average—even better than the 2010-2013 target for the 2030 Challenge.

Front FacadeFront Facade

View of EntryView of Entry

Straw bale constructionStraw bale construction

The success of the Hunter House was followed up by STO with our Willowdale Passive Solar House in 2010. The Willowdale house was built for no more than the average cost of other new construction in north Toronto, again with natural, non-toxic, local materials, and was awarded the CMHC Healthy Housing Award, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold. It also achieved an incredible 82% reduction in energy use—better than the 2020 target for the 2030 Challenge, and with a Net-Positive Cost of Energy due to 10kW of solar power on the roof.

Finished ProductFinished Product

Thermal mass wall construction from footing to roof eaveThermal mass wall construction from footing to roof eave

Multiple layers of insulation and waterproofing applied to the outside of the structure.Multiple layers of insulation and waterproofing applied to the outside of the structure.

The next generation of STO houses has set an even bolder target for itself. Designed in 2015/16, the Churchill home is looking at the 2025 target for the 2030 Challenge, aiming to achieve a 90% reduction in energy use. These results will be achieved by concentrating on the building envelope: the walls, roof and the basement floor, with well-above code insulation and air-tightness levels, and with energy-efficient managed ventilation. Any additional upfront costs will be offset by initial savings with smaller mechanical heating and cooling systems and ongoing lower energy costs through the life of the home.Sketch of front gardenSketch of front garden

Sketch from back gardenSketch from back garden


All STO homes are also more comfortable and healthy. Affordable,healthy and energy-efficient are the core of what makes our projects successful.

The above three examples are all new homes, yet renovations of existing housing stock present further challenges that STO is also tackling.

Designed in 2005, the Daniels’ Residence is a deep green retrofit of a 1930’s Art Deco masterpiece, a significant piece of Toronto’s architectural heritage designed by Mackenzie Waters, one of the architects who worked on Maple Leaf Gardens. While preserving and enhancing the Art Deco splendour, and meeting the needs of a 21st century family, the home has achieved an energy-reduction of 36% less than the average.

View of new high-performance glass additionView of new high-performance glass addition

View of main house across the pool terraceView of main house across the pool terrace

Green roof installation on main houseGreen roof installation on main house

Green roof on pool houseGreen roof on pool house


At the other end of the scale of Toronto homes, STO’s Queen Victoria House, which started with a much more modest 1914 east-end worker’s house, also provided a home meeting the needs of a 21st century family. Designed in 2006, the Queen Victoria house has achieved an energy-reduction of 37% less than average, with a Net-Positive Cost of Energy, due to 5kW of solar power on the roof.

View of main entryView of main entry

View from back garden View from back garden

View of original houseView of original house

Designed in 2012, STO’s Jones Ave Laneway House, converted a former garage into an infill home, again meeting the needs of a 21st century family, achieving an energy-reduction of 50% less than average, and right on target for the 2030 Challenge.

Courtyard viewCourtyard view

Laneway viewLaneway view

Interior viewInterior view

With each project, STO can achieve increasingly better reductions in energy demands, staying ahead of the curve, while providing for the needs of a 21st century family. Renovations can also yield affordable, healthy and energy-efficient results ... maybe not to the standards of new construction, yet ... but we’re getting there!