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Green building gaining traction in Newfoundland

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Only one building in Newfoundland and Labrador has received certification under Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) and a technologist with Morrison Hershfield says some government proponents have abandoned certification efforts due to the cost.
Construction is underway at the 29-room Fogo Island Inn
Construction is underway at the 29-room Fogo Island Inn

Scan the Canada Green Building Council’s website for a list of completed, certified projects, and there aren’t many entries for Newfoundland and Labrador.

In fact, the number of buildings certified through the CaGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in Canada’s easternmost province stands at one. A house in Salmon Cove earned silver this past December.

The number stands to grow, however, as several dozen registered projects, including schools, hospitals and office buildings, edge closer to completion and green construction gains traction across the province.

Not all projects will pass the test. Sharon Cave, an architectural engineering technologist formerly with Sheppard Case Architects and now with Morrison Hershfield in St. John’s, says some have run into design and construction issues, and government proponents have abandoned some certification efforts due to costs and paperwork complexities, though the buildings will still follow LEED principles of sustainable design.

Progress, Cave anticipates, will come largely on the private side.

“I see more and more commercial clients interested in pursuing LEED certification as they see the benefits of attracting tenants, as well as the improved energy efficiency achieved through sustainable design,” she says.

With Sheppard Case, Cave was involved in several projects in St. John’s eyeing LEED. Fortis Place, a 12-storey office tower currently under construction, is aiming for certification with ground source heating, energy-efficient lighting and sensors, electric vehicle charging stations, recycled materials, a green roof and high-performance building envelope, and plumbing fixtures that stand to reduce water use by more than a third.

Another, the recently-completed Ches Penney Family YMCA, has closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling that preheats domestic water, and air handlers use waste heat from the swimming pool’s dehumidifiers. Some of the building’s materials are recycled and locally sourced, and stormwater is managed on site rather than directed into city drains.

However, like many green projects in Newfoundland, the YMCA project isn’t registered with LEED. The budget was too tight, Cave says, though the client requested LEED be used as a design guideline.

Costs associated with certification, an issue for developers across Canada, aren’t the only obstacle in Newfoundland. It’s hard to source local building materials because few are extracted or manufactured here.

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“Lumber is probably one of the only ones, and this is often hard to acquire in large enough quantities for commercial jobs,” Cave says.

Manufacturing is also largely done out-of-province. A small amount of polystyrene insulation is made locally, but Cave says a gypsum board plant on the west coast closed several years ago and Newfoundland has no brick, carpet, tile, flooring, cladding or roofing manufacturers.

The cold, humid, wet and windy climate is also challenging, and green roofs are conspicuous by their absence. However, Fortis Place will have one, as will a 12-storey office complex and parking garage underway at 351 Water Street.

“We have nine different species of local flowers and grasses that are hardy and grow well in our climate,” says Strat Barrett, the project’s architect and a principal with PHB Group.

Barrett says green building is becoming the norm across Canada, and Newfoundland can expect its share of projects.

“The next level of green building is getting more into really high-end buildings such as in the Living Building Challenge. It’s happening more and more in other areas of Canada and I’m sure it will eventually come to Newfoundland as well.”

In the meantime, many eyes are on a cluster of buildings, including artist studios, restaurants, a cinema, a community centre and a 29-room inn underway on Fogo Island, north of Gander.

“The project is about sustainability,” says Sandra Lester, a sustainability consultant with Affecting Change, a Toronto-based firm that has provided guidance to the proponent, the Shorefast Foundation.

Plans call for wood cladding sourced from local mills, as well as photovoltaics and solar hot water. However, Lester says sourcing environmentally-friendly building materials hasn’t been easy.

“We tried to go as local as possible, but in the end we wanted triple-glaze, low-emissivity argon windows to increase the building efficiency. We’ve also tried to prioritize Canadian manufacturers over American, and a shorter distance of travel rather than a longer one.”

by Saul Chernos

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