Green Building columnist
John Lorinc is a Toronto-based journalist and author specializing in urban issues, business, and culture. He has written for various publications including The Walrus, The Globe and Mail and Spacing. John has won numerous National Magazine Awards.

The blind spot of low-carbon buildings

Focusing on energy efficiency has blinded us to other unintended consequences of building materials–but a revolution is afoot

About a year ago, Canadian-born architect Kelly Alvarez Doran had an epiphany – or perhaps, more aptly, a wake-up call – about one of the core tenets of energy-efficient construction.

To design new buildings that truly move the needle in terms of reducing heat loss (a chronic problem in Canada’s older buildings in particular), architects have developed exterior walls with as many as 13 layers of insulating material. While these measures drive down energy consumption, carbon emissions and utility bills, they also come with a problematic backstory. After all, most state-of-the-art insulating foams, wraps and panels are made from petrochemicals. “We don’t understand the chemistry of what’s in the walls,” Doran says.

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The case for funding more affordable green housing

Sustainably designed affordable housing projects are increasingly critical to meeting climate and housing crises

In an urban landscape punctuated by glass condos and gleaming offices, the four city-owned parcels that have bobbed to the surface of Toronto’s anxious conversation about housing affordability are nothing to look at . . . for now. They are mainly parking lots with a few desultory municipal buildings, located within steps of suburban or downtown transit stops – all choice examples of “lazy land” in a city struggling mightily with real estate speculation and crushingly low apartment vacancy rates.

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Sealing the deal: The case for cladding leaky old highrises

Re-cladding 18-storey affordable housing unit will help make Ken Sobel Tower North America's first passive house retrofit

When Toronto council recently upgraded its climate change plan, one of its 2050 goals was cutting emissions by 40% for every building. With more modern structures, those reductions may be relatively straightforward to find. But for older brick homes and Toronto’s far-flung portfolio of 1960s-vintage high-rise apartments, owners and landlords will have to be far more aggressive in their planning for retrofits; merely installing efficient furnaces, solar panels and LED lights won’t cut it.

A critically important part of the solution lies in the so-called building envelope – the assemblage of brickwork, siding, windows, and balcony slabs that comprise what architects describe as the “skin” of a structure. Find a way to plug all the leaks – all the little nooks and crannies where draughts lead to over-use of heating or air-conditioning systems – and the fossil fuel reductions will follow.

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Out-of-the-box thinking spawns low-carbon construction revolution

Vancouver startup brings in former mayor to drum up business for certified low-carbon modular builds

Architects and contractors working in the far north, where the building season is short and the risk of water damage to building materials is high, have talked for some time about the transformative promise of modular construction.

Instead of slow on-site assembly, components like wall panels can be pre-fabricated in climate-controlled plants, then shipped and assembled quickly to prevent water damage and reduce the risk of thermal gaps.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that Nexii Building Solutions, a Vancouver-based pre-fab materials firm that recently raised $10 million in venture capital and brought on Vancouver’s high-profile former mayor, Gregor Robertson, originates with a pair of inventors in chilly Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

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Five planet-saving building ideas we need to nail down in 2020

From heating offices with sewage energy to fast-tracking timber buildings, axing carbon must be the decade’s top trend

After years of inaction on climate change, the decade ahead has become the bracket in which humanity gets one last opportunity to at least contain the warming crisis. While mitigation efforts targeting transportation, industry and the energy sector remain mired in conflict, the world of buildings – responsible for about 40% of all carbon – offers vast and relatively uncontroversial opportunities to reduce emissions, create new jobs and produce more livable built environments. Here are five solutions that should be on every policy-maker’s radar.

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Oil Town building carbon neutral community powered by 100% renewables

Edmonton slowly erecting one of the world's largest purpose-built sustainable neighbourhoods

Given that Swedish eco-activist Greta Thunberg has shone a harsh light on air travel, there’s a certain cosmic elegance in the City of Edmonton’s ambitious plans for a 536-acre decommissioned airport site, just minutes from the downtown. Construction crews last year began working on the first phase of Blatchford, a master-planned, mixed-use community that will rise from the sprawling former tarmac over the next 25 years.

What distinguishes this brownfield project isn’t just the size (which happens to be roughly the same as Edmonton’s current downtown). When it’s completed, it will be one of the largest purpose-built sustainable communities in the world, according to municipal officials.

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Powerhouse building produces more energy than it needs

Norway's Powerhouse Brattørkaia isn’t merely a net zero office building – solar and deep-water energy make it energy positive

Last year, the City of Vancouver updated its green buildings regulations to require that all re-zoning applications meet either net zero or low-emissions standards, considered among the most stringent in Canada. The move, combined with incentives, has helped trigger a boom in the development of so-called “passive house” projects that use extremely low quantities of energy for heating and cooling.

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How one gas company CEO is fuelling Canada’s climate politics

The story of a determined energy executive’s mission to kill the carbon tax

Beyond the tight-knit world of Calgary’s oil patch executives and a redoubt of Ottawa-based conservative activists, few Canadians had heard of the “Modern Miracle Network” (MMN) before The Globe and Mail revealed in late April that the group had convened a private retreat near Calgary for energy industry operatives, senior Conservative advisors and leader Andrew Scheer. The top agenda item, according to the Globe’s account: plotting out a strategy for this fall’s federal election battle with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

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York’s “bioclimatic” business school building is breath of fresh of air

Five-storey solar chimney and smart windows and shades are part of Schulich's radical response to climate crisis

When visitors enter the new Schulich School of Business building at York University in Toronto, many immediately pick up on two features that are often conspicuously absent in modern structures: for a large campus building, the light-filled space is surprisingly quiet while the air is unexpectedly fresh.

“People comment about the air,” says James McKellar, a professor of real estate and infrastructure who serves as associate dean and oversaw the development of the $50 million project, known as the Rob and Cheryl McEwen Graduate Study and Research Building. “In a normal building, the air is constantly being re-circulated. In our building, the air is very fresh and people notice."

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How drones are heat mapping high-rise energy guzzlers

Drafty high-rises are the gas guzzlers of the building world and infrared drones are swooping in to spot costly energy leaks

It’s a fact of high-rise life that’s become all too familiar to legions of urban condo dwellers: many apartment buildings leak like sieves, with heating or cooling seeping out through poorly sealed windows, cracks and concrete balcony slabs.

Yet those construction flaws, in the aggregate, add up to something much larger and more problematic. By most estimates, buildings today account for about 40% of all carbon emissions, and therefore play a huge role in the accelerating climate crisis. We should be thinking of all those drafty apartments as if they were gas-guzzlers spewing carbon and other harmful gases into the atmosphere.

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