CaGBC Ask the Expert – Andrew Oding discusses work on Canada's soon-to-be largest LEED for Homes project

Andrew Oding

We spoke to Andrew Oding, Senior Building Science Associate at Building Knowledge Canada, about his 20 plus years experience as a builder, how he got involved in building green homes, and how Building Knowledge Canada is approaching its current project, which could become Canada's largest LEED for Homes project: Downsview Park in Toronto.

1. Tell us about your background, and how you got involved in green building.

My background has been primarily as a "builder" for the last 20+ years. Most recently working as Operations Manager for a large production builder in South Western Ontario for 13 years. The Company (Reid's Heritage Homes) was well known for innovation.

In 2006 we were designing some discovery homes wherein new technologies and practices were being tried. We happened to come across the new LEED for Homes program which existed in the US and decided to explore the programs requirements. Ultimately we ended up finishing the first LEED certified home in Canada (2007) which was Platinum. The Energuide rating was approximately 92.

More importantly, the lessons learned were priceless. From these discovery homes we carried forward with many of the practices making all our homes either Energy Star or LEED Homes certified.

2. What does Building Science really mean and how does it apply to the environmental aspects of a building/home?

It's really quite simple. It is the science of how heat, air and moisture interact with our homes and built environment. Building Science has EVERYTHING to do with environmental aspects. Good building science ensures we are constructing resilient, healthy and efficient buildings while NOT sacrificing the health or safety of the occupants for a supposed "green building" application or product.

3. Is there a green project that sticks out in your mind?

One project in particular was Preston Meadows in Cambridge, Ontario. It was constructed under the LEED for Neighbourhood Development pilot and all the units were at minimum Energy Star certified. The site was a brown field development set in the heart of Cambridge. The beautiful outcome of this project was in the delivery of affordable, medium density housing in an urban setting. Housing that was exceptionally efficient, resilient, comfortable and affordable!

4. Tell us about your latest project, Canada's largest LEED for Homes project: Downsview Park in Toronto, which currently has over 500 homes registered for LEED certification. 

Stanley Greene Neighbourhood,
Downsview Park, Toronto, Ontario

Our role is to take a rigorous design and verification process (e.g. LEED for Homes) and make it dead simple for the developer and builder. Complexity and the "unknown" ultimately affect the builder and the purchaser's bottom line by complicating designs, dragging out build-cycle times and potentially causing warranty issues. There are few fundamental goals we aim for:

A. Focus on the Passive elements first (e.g. the envelope and associated control planes – air control, moisture control, and others).

B. Through good Passive design the active systems can be made simple (i.e. HVAC can be optimized and right-sized).

C. Develop clear, simple construction details and scopes of work.

D. Develop simple (mandatory) trade and site staff training based on scopes and details; give the site teams context. In other words, if I mess up on the air barrier detail around the header I could directly impact both the HVAC performance (air leakage component of heat loss/gain load) and the comfort of occupant.

E. A clear inspection schedule and feedback loop is required.

F. Assist with developing clear and simple occupant educational tools (e.g. operation of HRV/ERV, appropriate thermostat set-backs, appliance filter maintenance, and others).

5. What do you think is the single biggest reason that homes should be built green, or sustainably?

My personal take on this may sound a bit odd. I believe that the key tenets of sustainability and "green" need to be founded upon good, solid building science – then (and only then) will these practices and products lead to healthier, longer lasting, comfortable and efficient buildings. Should sustainability and green claims stray from good building science, then all bets are off.

6. The green homes market is growing but still seems to be slow to catch on. Why do you think this is?

Downsview Park Boardwalk rendering, Toronto, Ontario

There is enough recent data to show the market for efficiency and 'green' continues to improve. The single biggest factor will continue to be the price of energy and water.

It's been said before that as much as we like to think we make good choices for the right reasons (global warming, energy security, etc.) we typically do not change until the "cost" is bad enough for long enough. So as the cost of energy and water continue to hit new normal highs we will continue to see growing interest in change (green).

7. Anything else you'd like to add?

It's a great time to be involved in the construction industry whether it is as a builder, framer, planner, electrician, or other area. For the ones who resist change it will be more difficult to exist year by year. For the innovators, the opportunities to learn and grow their business and to be more successful are better than ever.