Sustainable.TO

The Importance of Resiliency: SUSTAINABLE.TO on Sixty7Architecture Road

Check out the full article at Sixty7 Architecture Road here! 1. Your site lists over 40 strategies that you employ in your projects. Which strategies get used the most and why?

Of the 40+ strategies listed on our website, all of them share the common goal of achieving three things: reducing the overall energy demand by selecting highly-efficient products and materials, reusing energy that nature provides for free through passive techniques, and recycling renewable energy sources through active means, resorting to fossil fuels only as a last resort.

If we had to pick the “SUSTAINABLE.TO Top Three Sustainable Strategies”, we might choose:

- Passive Solar (making use of the sun’s free energy to heat your home in the winter, and carefully calculated overhangs for passive solar shading to keep it cool in the summer)

- Site Optimization (properly situating the building on the site to take advantage of nature’s passive freebies, including natural breezes for passive ventilation)

– Above-Code Insulation (to keep the warmth in during the winter, and keep heat out in the summer)

They’re nothing special or technical, just textbook sustainability strategies, but for us they’re fundamental building blocks that work wonders if you design with them in mind at every stage of development.

2. Are your clients aware of most of these strategies?

With a name like SUSTAINABLE.TO, the majority of our clients already know what they are looking for when they come to see us, but many may not be as familiar with the specifics of how to achieve their sustainability goals. Our job is to interpret their wants and needs, and help synthesize a practical, sustainable, and affordable course of action for them. For instance, they’ll know they want to reduce their energy bills, and improve their indoor air quality– to which we will suggest increasing the amount of insulation and installing a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV). Breaking down the design into individual strategies helps them understand these individual components: the benefits and what they entail.

3. With the METHOD.TO case study, you’re attempting show how Toronto houses can be more energy efficient just by adding more insulation, specifically on the exterior. How is METHOD.TO going so far?

Despite Toronto’s mild start to winter in 2014, we’ve already learned a fair bit from our implementation of METHOD.TO. Our goals from the beginning were to create a building envelope free of thermal bridges, using a continuous layer of exterior insulation far thicker than a typical home and only one continuous barrier membrane for air, water and vapour control – all while being economical and practical to build for a climate like Toronto, which features hot, humid summers and (usually!) very cold winters.

The testing of METHOD.TO began during the test shed’s construction as it was built over two weeks with the blood, sweat, and tears of the SUSTAINABLE.TO team, with some help from our local contractors. With little experience in hands-on, on-site construction ourselves, we found it fairly easy and straightforward to construct — an excellent sign that it would be a practical method to build! We have since tested the airtightness twice — once after installing the air/water/vapour membrane, and again after installing the insulation. Our findings indicate that the shed’s envelope is nearly at Passive House standards — some of the most stringent requirements in the world. Preliminary tests to examine thermal leakage with an infrared camera found that the only thermal leaks presenting in relatively cold weather in late 2014 were astonishingly small — small both in size and in temperature differential. We’ve successfully maintained the shed at a comfortable temperature using only a single 300W lightbulb, which speaks to the effectiveness of both the airtightness and the insulation.

This year we will be begin rigorous testing of our shed and our wall assembly in partnership with faculty and students from the Building Science graduate program at Ryerson University. During the summer we’ll be analyzing and optimizing the structure of the wall itself, and over the next winter the shed’s performance will be accurately and consistently monitored for exposure to moisture and heat. In short, we want to know where the system’s weak points lie so we can fine-tune them, and we are still working to pin down empirically how material-, labour-, and energy-efficient the system is, compared to standard methodologies, but suffice it to say that all indicators right now suggest METHOD.TO works, and it works well without being expensive. We consider this a pretty good interim result for a self-directed research project.

4. What gives the Cabbagetown Cottage a lower energy intensity than a typical home?

The challenge with the Cabbagetown home was to improve the energy intensity and quality of the building envelope while also conforming to the neighbourhood’s stringent Heritage guidelines: we were required to maintain the front 3/4 of the building envelope to preserve the historical character of the streetscape. The main strategy to address the home’s efficiency was to add insulation inside the brick envelope; we performed extensive energy-modelling to support this system, experimenting with various configurations and materials, to ensure that the exterior aesthetics remained unchanged despite the highly-insulated interior changes.

On the new extension to the rear of the existing structure we increased the insulation far above Code standards to reduce heat loss through the new envelope. Based on performance modelling and metrics this home is performing better than a similar-sized home built to Code-minimum standards, and significantly better than the old, drafty neighbouring homes of the Heritage district. Heritage significance is not a barrier to energy efficiency.

5. Where did the idea for the Solarship Nest originate?

The nest was inspired by the “bird” itself! The structure of the Solar Ship is very light-weight (it’s nearly lighter than air, once it’s full of helium), and it integrates solar photovoltaics to produce electricity for the electric propellers. We used these properties to inspire the design of the nest. The roof is the same light-weight fabric structure as the bird, and integrated solar photovoltaics embedded in the fabric to produce electricity.

The design is also aspirational, looking ahead to future expansion. Larger versions of the Solar Ship are planned that will be able to carry a shipping container. The nest is designed to rest on a base of shipping containers that contain sleeping and eating quarters, workshops, and meeting rooms. When the nest needs to be moved, it is designed to deflate and pack into the containers so it can be flown to a new location. Everything is durable and modular, and it can be repaired with the same equipment used to fix the bird. It is a self-contained ecosystem that can pop-up anywhere in the world.

6. Explain the purpose behind Trapped!

Trapped! is a “real-life escape game” where small teams are locked in a room and must solve puzzles in order to unlock the room and escape within the given time limit. The concept of an “escape game” originated in video game form, but real-life escape games in fixed locations have recently become popular around the world. The hope with these games is to create a fun environment, where participants can “escape” their everyday lives and step into an alternate reality. The concept of escapism is used for entertainment, team-building, and simple fun. SUSTAINABLE.TO worked mainly on permit drawings- not the room puzzles themselves- but we were glad to be a part of this small business’s development.

After completion of the project, the office tried our hands at escaping the rooms ourselves, and we found them every bit as challenging as promised.

7. You participate in quite a few competitions for the African continent. What draws you to providing solutions for that part of the world? Also, what has been the feedback on your prototype for Habitat for Humanity-Cambodia?

SUSTAINABLE.TO has only done one project in Africa so far: the Ghana Mud House, which was a finalist in the NKA Foundation’s Mud House 2014 competition. Nonetheless, we do often take on international competitions, from the Cambodian PHASEhouse, another finalist competition entry that received international press, to the award-winning Low Cost/Low Energy House in New Orleans and other resiliency-focused homes we’ve designed for competitions throughout the United States.

We’re usually interested in architectural challenges of a similar sort: difficult sites, low funds for construction, and climates that present distinct challenges to habitation. The Ghana Mud House and the Cambodian Housing competition both gave this opportunity, but so did the AIA’s Designing Recovery competition, for which we designed a resilient and affordable home for the flood-prone Far Rockaway neighbourhood of New York City- soon to be under construction. Designing for challenging contexts means we are always flexing our sustainability muscles to provide a service where we know it is needed, using the skills and sensibilities our firm has worked hard to develop.

8. The inspiration for the Sky-o-swale in Scarborough came from local youth. Those kids must have been more than thrilled to see their ideas become reality, right?

The kids not only inspired the Sky-o-Swale, but they are also credited with its invention and are in the process of patenting it. Two separate funding streams were available during the initial design period: one for a bioswale and one for a green roof and shading strategy. After it was determined that the soil onsite was not appropriate for a conventional bioswale, the local youth themselves came up with the idea to combine the two, and now that it is built they’re absolutely thrilled. The Sky-o-Swale, and it’s adjoining sports area, are only one phase of a longer series of resident-driven projects surrounding the East Scarborough Storefront that SUSTAINABLE.TO has worked on with a number of other parties, including archiTEXT, E.R.A Architects, and Blackwell Engineering. We’ve found that successfully getting the community’s ideas built is the best way to maintain momentum and the enthusiasm of the residents for the project on a larger scale.