EcoLuxury Homes’ (www.ecoluxuryhomes.com) flagship Leslieville Laneway home in Toronto features the latest cutting-edge products and materials, all of which played a part in the home reaching its LEED Platinum certification.
When the City of Toronto adopted the Laneway Suite By-laws in 2018 permitting the construction of Laneway Suites, it was an important step and a promising solution to add gentle intensification and increase the diversity of housing stock in Toronto’s established neighbourhoods. With 2,400 public lanes that are often underused and have become uninviting places only there for utilitarian purposes, the introduction of laneway houses in the city has become a forward-thinking approach to tackle housing shortages, promote urban revitalization, and the adoption of sustainable living concepts.
Jesse Davidson, President of EcoLuxury Homes, has upped the ante. Not only has EcoLuxury Homes committed themselves to the green building movement, their first project, Leslieville Laneway, has achieved LEED Platinum certification through the Canada Green Building Council, and is Ontario’s first LEED Platinum Certified v4.1 single detached home. The 25-foot by 25-foot laneway property in the downtown neighbourhood of Leslieville showcases the best in energy efficiency and design and has won a Zero Energy-Ready award in the Annual Cross Border Challenge with a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score of 35 (more than 50% better than code). Davidson joins us to discuss EcoLuxury Homes’ dedication to smart growth and the products, processes, and partnerships that collaborated to construct the Leslieville Laneway model.
Q: The well-established Leslieville neighbourhood has become one of the most vibrant scenes in Toronto’s ever-evolving communities. What is it about the neighbourhood that caught your attention?
We were already heavily invested in the Leslieville neighbourhood through our core business: Skye Mainstreet Properties Ltd., an investment firm that focuses on what we call ‘main street’ retail, and commercial properties. We bought a retail storefront on Queen Street East and there was this old, detached garage on a corner of the rear lane that came with it. The garage lot was 25’ x 25’ and had a separate title.
We asked ourselves ‘what can we do with this?’ We thought the idea of building a laneway home was an exciting concept, even before the City of Toronto’s zoning by-law for laneway houses came into effect. Even so, our lot does not meet the City’s definition of a Laneway Home because it is a detached lot without an existing dwelling on it. Our planning consultant, Louis Tinker, from Bousfields, spent a year and a half getting the City planning department on board with our idea. We were ultimately successful in obtaining a long list of minor variances at the Committee of Adjustment (CofA). Once we had our variances, we submitted a building permit application and waited another 13 months for the building department to issue it. Because it is classified as a single-detached home, we had to pay about $90,000 in municipal development charges, which would have been the same amount for a 40,000 sq ft mansion. Ironically, that fee was about $41,000 when we started the project, and was increased at least three times while we were waiting for the City to approve it.
Q: It was at this time that you shifted your full focus to sustainable building?
Our building partner, Amedeo Barbini, from Barbini Design Build, is a pioneer in sustainable building and has a track record and reputation of building high-end, green-friendly, custom homes, primarily in the GTA. He introduced us to John Godden, an energy consultant from Clearsphere and betterthancode.ca. John was integral in writing the annual Energy Star guidelines and he’s up to date on the latest technologies out there in terms of ecofriendly building and sustainability. John was really the inspiration for a lot of the concepts we’ve incorporated into this model. Ultimately, we were really attracted to the idea of building a home that doesn’t burn any fossil fuels onsite, and uses new technologies and optimal efficiency to reduce the energy needs and costs.
Q: With 2,134 square feet of living space to work with, what are some of the innovative design solutions or essential features that make it feel modern, comfortable, and larger than its footprint?
Our architect, Avi Shwartz, did a great job utilizing the space. Despite the home’s modest floor plan, we pushed for maximum ceiling heights and had to be very creative in the design and placement of the staircases, while still making it a functional living space. Its small from the outside in, but large from the inside out.
We are lucky to have 10 ft high ceilings on the first and second floors and 9 ft ceilings in the basement and 3rd floor, with strategically placed double-glazed windows and a skylight that allows more natural light into the house, making the space feel larger. We used a lighter colour scheme with white and light-wood surfaces throughout, adding to a warmer and modern look. By incorporating an open-concept living and dining area that seamlessly flows from the kitchen, we were able to integrate space-saving features such as flat-panel cabinetry solutions, glass railings, and a car lift in the garage. Our goal was to maximize functionality while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing design.
Q: The home sets the tone for how smart design can positively impact a street. How did you manage to ensure the home not only functions well, but also fits in contextually with the neighbourhood and streetscape?
Rather than trying to blend into the neighbourhood, we decided to be bold and hopefully lead the streetscape towards a modern design, especially in the laneway.
We worked with the site’s natural topography and took full advantage of our surroundings. There is a large tree across the laneway directly in front of our model house that adds such a great visual from the upper floors. It allowed a unique viewpoint from inside that connected indoor and outdoor spaces and gave the inside of the model a treehouse feel.
Q: A healthy home is a happy home. How did you optimize the home to contributes to overall family wellness?
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is critically important to our concept. The first step to achieving this is our perfectly sealed super-insulated building envelope. We used new technologies such as Aerobarrier sealing, BP Canada’s Carbon-smart R-5XP insulated sheathing, Amvic’s insulated concrete slab with radon blocking and venting, Rockwool’s fireproof stone wool insulation, and Inline fiberglass windows. In addition to allowing for greater IAQ control, the envelope also delivers greater comfort with consistent temperatures, no drafts, less energy required for HVAC and impressive sound attenuation.
Panasonic’s Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) exchanges stale indoor air for fresh outside air while preserving the indoor temperature and humidity level. This is one step better than a code-mandated Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) which is unable to preserve the humidity level.
We have a hydronic floor heating system that is intended to only draw power from the grid during off-peak hours. This substantially reduces heating costs and helps to balance the electrical grid.
You really do notice the difference after you spend time in the house. You breathe easier, it calms you down, and you feel more comfortable and alert. Barbini likes to call it stealth comfort.
Q: Indoor air quality is so important in a post-pandemic era. How does the Panasonic’s BreathWell line improve whole house integration?
Panasonic’s Breathe Well system is the only complete air quality solution on the market. The ERV I mentioned in the previous answer is an integral part of this by bringing in fresh outdoor air. It is combined with ClimaPure ducted and ductless heat pumps for heating and cooling, WhisperCeiling bathroom ventilation fans, and most importantly the WhisperAir Repair spot purification devices with nanoeX technology. It’s the nanoeX that uses charged water particle generation technology to inhibit growth of bacteria, viruses, allergens and mold, and quietly deodorizes unwanted smells. The ERV is paired with air quality sensors throughout the house in our Swidget smart switches and outlets to provide an automated IAQ solution.
Q: How does the EverVolt Home Battery System from Panasonic provide an enhanced solution for energy management?
Panasonic’s EverVolt is an energy storage system that can store excess power generated by a rooftop solar system. The system combines a modular battery design with a powerful hybrid inverter with 7.6 kilowatts of continuous backup power with a single 18 kWh-cabinet. Since energy needs vary from house to house, one of the best things about the EverVolt is its flexibility. It stores electricity whenever you want, letting you use it during peak hours when grid prices are sky-high and it can recharge during off-peak hours when grid prices are super-low. In Ontario, the electrical grid has so much excess capacity overnight, we pay neighbouring jurisdictions to absorb some of it. This problem can be eliminated if more consumers were to shift energy usage to off-peak hours. This leads us to believe that the Ultra-Low Overnight pricing plan (which currently offers electricity at 2.8¢/kwh from 11pm to 7am) will be around for the foreseeable future.
In addition to peak shifting, we also program the Evervolt system to keep a reserve of half its capacity to power critical circuits in the event of a power outage.
Q: If indoor air quality (IAQ) and sustainability wasn’t on our minds before the pandemic, it is now. What major trends do you see shaping the industry over the next 5-10 years?
Any sustainable trend that helps balance our electrical grid should be more than a trend, it should be the standard. It’s becoming more and more important for the construction industry to reduce its carbon footprint on every project. With decreasing costs of battery storage and IAQ technologies, these products are becoming more economically viable. I think you’re going to start seeing battery storage, better IAQ solutions, and smart home controls much more frequently in new developments.
What are some of the water conservation features and technologies you have incorporated into your model?
We exclusively used Moen Eco-Performance products including shower heads that use up to 30% less water without sacrificing performance, and bathroom faucets that use up to 45% less water. The Moen Smart Shower system allows you to set your desired water temperature from a digital control in the shower or from your smartphone or wall-mounted tablet. Once the desired temperature has been achieved, it will pause the water until you step in. The Greyter grey water recycling system we use, takes the drain water from the showers, filters and cleans it, and then reuses it to supply water to the toilets in the house. It’s a seamless process that’s undetectable to the homeowner, until they see the savings on their water bill.
Q: How do you see EcoLuxury Homes evolving over the next 10-20 years?
We are actively looking for new developments where we can roll out this model further. I think we’ve proven that our model is a better way to build, and we feel this concept can be applicable to low rise, mid-rise, and even high-rise residential projects. A lot of homebuyers and builders don’t realize how significant the benefits of sustainable building are to the homeowner. We expect that to change, and we are doing our best to educate the market and accelerate the adoption of sustainable building technologies.