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Low tech to no tech: how Minto Midtown’s design and management reduce resource use

Minto has made a name for itself as a leader in green building practices by adopting  innovative technologies, management practices, and heavy promotion of sustainable buildings. The company is helping to bring green building to the mainstream quickly – and with style.


February 10, 2010
By Robert Colman

One of the company’s recent condominium developments, Minto Midtown, recently received LEED Gold certification. It’s one of the jewels in Minto’s crown, and Andrew Pride, VP of Minto’s Green Team, sat down with Green Business to explain what makes it special.

The HRV fan coil – fresh air and energy savings
The Midtown development includes a variety of energy and resource-saving technologies that Pride points out enthusiastically — heat recovery ventilators, rainwater harvesting, dual flush toilets, LED exterior lighting, and a rainwater fed fountain, to name just a few.

The most innovative of those technologies is, as Pride jokes, “a magnificent device that is boring” — the heat recovery ventilator (HRV) fan coils. It’s a technology that Minto first piloted at Minto Yorkville and then installed in all units at Radiance @ Minto Gardens.

“It wasn’t our first experience with it, but it is definitely the most innovative piece of technology that we’ve put into our buildings, with the biggest impact,” says Pride. “But it is the most boring product you could ever think of because no one can ever actually see it. And if you do see it, you look at it say, ‘yes, that’s a fan coil.’ Yet it delivers fantastic energy savings and brings in super-fresh air. It cleans up the air magnificently and provides a circulation path in a condominium that no one has ever seen before.”

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The HRV technology is one that is more commonly found in single-family homes. It pulls air in from outside and heats the air through a heat exchanger. Minto worked with the manufacturer to integrate the HRV technology into the fan coil units.

Although Minto was the first to introduce this technology, Pride believes it’s starting to get traction with other developers.

“I’m pretty sure others are picking up on the technology, so much so that a second manufacturer has surfaced that is introducing its own version of the technology,” says Pride. “That sounds like market acceptance to me.” 

Submetering – what a difference a bill makes
With the Midtown, Minto has found other ways to save owners money on their energy bills – installing all Energy Star appliances, front load washers, low-flow showerheads (about 15 per cent more efficient than the standard), and including an “all-off” switch for the lights.

But getting owners to change their energy use habits takes a little more. It’s really an issue of the bottom line – how much is it going to cost.

We’ve been spending a lot of time on engagement and determining how to properly engage people to try and make a difference in resource use, so probably the monumental change we made at Midtown is water submetering,” explains Pride. “It’s fascinating because Radiance saw a 50 per cent reduction in water use. We have now seen more than a 60 per cent reduction in water use at Midtown. That is partly because of the use of dual flush toilets and some other technologies that are more energy efficient. But it is amazing when you start putting a dollar amount in front of people and explain that this is what it costs them to use water — they start to do things differently. That was a really big motivational change for people. I think they’re actually using less electricity because of it as well. Now that they are aware that they have to pay this water bill, they think ‘well, I’ve always had this electricity bill, I should pay attention to that as well.’” 

The speed of change — technologies catching up
Minto is determined to use the most up-to-date technology in its developments, but of course only if they make sense — and they work. Pride is very positive about how much change has happened in the past few years.

For instance, he notes that although dual flush toilets are new, and only a few brands really deliver effectively right now, the market is adapting quickly.

Lighting, of course is also changing quickly. “Compact fluorescent (CFL) is no longer a bad word,” notes Pride. “I remember when I first used a CFL in the 1980s – it was a light over my stove, and I thought everything I cooked was green, it shifted the colour so much. Now, there are some good products out there. Even in Minto’s hotels, the luxury units are using CFLs. I think we’re seeing better products out there.”

And Pride is now seeing showerheads on the market that reduce water use by about 40 per cent — “and they work well,” he enthuses. “There are a couple of new products out from major manufacturers that offer fantastic water savings, which leads to hot water savings, which leads to gas savings. It all wraps together.” And now that he has found the technology, Pride’s determined to include it in all new developments.

Low tech help — green practices make an impression
Other keys to the success of Minto Midtown are decidedly less tech-savvy. For instance, sustainability was also important in the building process — the limestone used throughout the development’s courtyard was all locally sourced, which saves on transportation, and chairs in the courtyard are made from recycled steel.

And surprisingly, what Pride was most excited about when talking about Midtown was one of the lowest-tech installations in the whole development — a bike-share program. 

“Bike share is probably the neatest thing we did at this development that was unique,” says Pride. “It has been very well received – so well, in fact, that we are introducing the program for every condominium we build from now on.”

The idea of including a bike-share program was conceived after it took off at Minto Suites hotel in Ottawa. “The hotel put five bikes in and let the guests know that if they wanted to bike instead of taxiing around the city, they were more than welcome to. I think they have 30 bikes there now. It caught on like wild fire. It was then we thought, ‘why aren’t we doing this for condominiums?’”

Minto’s Green Team — creating the culture
Minto currently has 10 people on its Green Team, and it is focused on two areas:
1. Making sure the right technology is being adopted in the company’s developments, and
2. Measuring the company’s environmental footprint and making sure employees are integrating the green perspective in everything they do.

“We look at practicality, cost efficiency, and making the world a better place,” explains Pride.

Pride notes that the company has a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach to integrating “green” in the company’s practices.

“Top down involves having the right governance practices and processes in the company and incorporating them into broad business measures,” says Pride. “From the employee level, or bottom-up approach, we have a green champions program, which allows individuals to enforce green practices within their own departments. It makes people feel confident that this is the direction the company is taking.”

Moving on up – 775 King West and other new developments
The newest Minto project in the works is at 775 King West (King Street West and Tecumseth in Toronto). This will be the first time Minto has targeted LEED Gold certification during development. Although Minto Midtown got LEED Gold, they had been aiming for silver.

The company will be aiming for 35 per cent energy savings for the development.

“We got around 31-32 per cent energy savings at Minto Midtown,” says Pride. “We’re going to reach that higher number by using higher levels of insulation in the walls. More insulation and fewer windows is the only way you can reach higher efficiency levels. That’s why it’s important to have the right design up front — you have to get the balance right between daylighting and insulation. No one wants the suites to be cave-like.”

No doubt Minto will continue to push the green building boundaries. The company has enthusiastically embraced LEED for Homes in projects in Ottawa and north of Toronto. It also recently announced the very first LEED for Homes certification in Florida.

With the speed at which Minto is pushing its ideas into the market, buyers might soon understand that this is the standard on which they should be basing their purchasing decision. That day may be closer than you think.