Gordon Harris & ORIGIN
Take a read at what Gordon Harris, a purchaser at ORIGIN has to say about Sustainability and living on the mountain. Find the article on the UniverCity website: http://univercity.ca/community/sustainability-chat/.
“As President and CEO of the SFU Community Trust, Gordon Harris is responsible for deciding just how hard the Trust can push to achieve environmental sustainability. So we sat down to chat about the costs and complications of environmentally friendly construction.
Given that Harris just bought and moved into a suite in our newest commercial/residential building, Origin, we also took asked him what it’s like to be one of UniverCity’s newest residents.
Q: Many consumers think new homes are always more environmentally friendly. Is that true?
Gordon Harris (GH): Unfortunately, no. If a builder uses electric-baseboard heaters, barely meets the current insulation standard and takes little care in sourcing high-quality, environmentally friendly materials, you’ll wind up with a brand-new home that’s no better than something 20 years old. Mind you, that’s not the case at UniverCity. Our zoning bylaw requires that every new home exceed the national Model Energy Code for Buildings by at least 30 per cent for energy efficiency and 40 per cent for water efficiency. And UniverCity developers are generally outperforming even that standard. A new UniverCity home is definitely better than almost all existing stock and most other new houses, as well.
Q: Should consumers expect to pay more for environmentally friendly homes?
GH: In the short-run, no. In the long-run, absolutely not.
If you look at what’s happening on Burnaby Mountain – if you compare our prices to new construction in other parts of Metro Vancouver – you’ll see that our developers are meeting the most ambitious environmental standards on the continent, and they’re still bringing the consumer some of the most competitive per-square-foot prices around.
And while they are already competitive, our homes will turn into an incredible bargain down the road. With features like a BC Utilities Commission-regulated Neighbourhood Energy System providing heat and hot water, the operating and maintenance costs of our homes will be lower, or much lower, than the competition. Green construction isn’t a premium; it’s an investment that will pay dividends forever.
Q: Homebuilders advertise a bewildering array of environmental certifications: LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), REAP (Residential Environmental Assessment Program), Living Building, etc. How can consumers make sense of these standards, to understand whether a new home is truly sustainable? Is there one certification that trumps the others?
GH: This is a tough question, in part because I wouldn’t want to criticize any of these systems. The most famous, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standard, has done a huge amount to raise awareness about the challenges and potential of green building. But sorting through these standards can be a hassle for home buyers. And chasing certifications can be an expensive distraction for home builders.
That’s why UniverCity chose a performance-based standard. We don’t specify what materials or construction systems builders have to use. We just said the finished product has to outperform the national standard by more than 30 per cent. That makes it clear for buyers, while allowing maximum flexibility – and maximum capacity for innovation – for builders.
Q: What are the biggest misconceptions about buying a ‘sustainable’ home?
GH: Well, we’ve already touched on one of the misconceptions: that green homes need to be expensive. Not true.
Another misconception is that green homes are complicated or uncomfortable – that they have smelly composting toilets and thermostats that keep the heat at Arctic temperatures. That’s so wrong.
All of UniverCity’s new units will have in-floor radiant heating, which is the most comfortable thing I have ever experienced. And our prohibition against the use of toxic building materials means the homes are also safer. You don’t get any of that “new-home smell” because there is no off-gassing from paint or carpets or cabinets. UniverCity buyers will find that sustainable is synonymous with affordable and comfortable.
Q: You recently moved into Origin, UniverCity’s newest building. What were some of the sustainable features that captured your attention?
GH: I’ve already mentioned the Neighbourhood Energy Utility. It provides hot water and the very best kind of heat. It’s currently fired by a high-efficiency gas boiler, but as soon as we have enough units online, we’re switching to biomass: we’re going to fuel the system with construction waste that’s currently being dumped in region’s overburdened landfills. I love that feature.
I also love my half-a-block commute to work. I love ambling by Nesters at the end of the day and grabbing something delicious for dinner. I love that, if my kids were still little, I’d be a two-block walk to the greenest childcare centre on the planet – or two-and-a-half blocks to a LEED Gold elementary school. Finally, I admit that I’ve never been a big transit user, but the other day, when I realized I didn’t have my car keys, I jumped on the first bus to town and got to my meeting, unflustered, in the same time it would have taken to drive.
I’ve been selling the idea of UniverCity ever since I assumed the president’s job in 2007. I’ve been telling everyone that we’re delivering a “model sustainable community.” Well, now, I’m sold: as a resident, I am convinced that as other people find out how great this is, that’s exactly what we’re going to be, a global trend setter.
Now that ORIGIN is complete, LIFT, sister to ORIGIN is well on it’s way to selling out too. With 60% already sold, these homes won’t last long. Get more on the mountain!