Sustainable Orillia: The Housing Sector

Zero emission housing is Affordable housing

by Jim Saunders

 

No consideration of a Sustainable Orillia is complete without addressing the importance of how actions taken with respect to housing can contribute to environmental sustainability.

Extreme weather related to climate change is costing everyone. Insurance payouts in Canada because of more frequent and violent weather events have risen from $400,000 ten years ago to $1 billion and is the reason premiums are rising dramatically. Home repair companies are doing very well, especially those specializing in fixing leaky basements.

Continued improvement in home-building design and materials that reduce energy consumption will help to cut greenhouse gasses. For new housing, the City has a certain amount of control through the building codes. As greener, more efficient new-home building practices are identified, building codes should be modified to require their use. Across Canada and elsewhere, builders are discovering that they can build Net Zero Energy (NZE) homes. These homes use a minimum of energy and, in addition, produce energy which equals consumption. The end result is a home which uses up to 80% less energy than a conventional home, producing very low year round utility bills; superior heating, cooling, ventilation; excellent levels of indoor air quality; and a minimal environmental footprint. Lower bills and more sustainable!  Win-win, for sure.

Retro-fitting older housing can be more challenging, of course, but even there we are seeing that installing energy-efficient lighting, windows, and appliances can achieve savings over time which pay for the cost of the changes and then save the homeowner money every month thereafter. Better insulation can help. Some homeowners may even be able to install solar panel technology to generate electricity or use geothermal energy to generate heat. The communities of the future may well have all housing generating its own electricity for its own consumption.  The missing piece at the moment is storage battery technology—but that may soon be available.

Sustainability Also Means Affordability

Long-time Orillia councilor Ralph Cipolla often refers to the need for “appropriate housing.”  Some residents require housing which is governed by rent controls. Seniors looking to downsize will look for smaller, accessible units.  Some seniors will look to band with other seniors in a collective type of home ownership. People with adult children living at home need space, while some families will seek to build a “granny flat” to accommodate an older parent. These issues are within the control of the city, and recommendations can be made to allow an appropriate inventory of a variety of housing to meet these demands.

The objective must be appropriate and sustainable housing available for all citizens, now and in the future. To meet the needs of a diverse population, it is necessary to recognize that people have a range of requirements:

  • Some need care to be provided in order to be secure
  • Some, because of their economic situation, need financial support in order to live in decent accommodation
  • Some need temporary housing, for whatever reason
  • Many are economically secure at a variety of levels

All housing needs must be met in a way that gives maximum consideration both to affordability (a requirement for all people, really) and, in a sustainable community, to the environmental impact of the housing stock.

To determine what housing will be needed into the future, it will be necessary to:

  • Establish an inventory of current housing and vacant land
  • Through the City’s industrial and other planning, determine the projected population going forward and the type of housing required to meet this demand
  • Add in the requirement that all housing should become increasingly sustainable in every sense

Creating a Plan

Our goal is to encourage the citizens of Orillia and the City to embrace the concept of a better and more sustainable environment. For housing, this can be done by

  • Strengthening, over time, the regulations and building codes to make new housing more environmentally friendly
  • Cataloguing and then publicizing grants and other monetary incentives available to homeowners and landlords to help create more sustainable housing
  • Creating a publicity campaign to inform the community of the many measures that can reduce energy use and help the environment—many of which can save them money in the long run

Ideally, the housing future in Orillia will have everyone in our community living in homes with reduced energy demands and a reduced ecological footprint—homes, which as a result, cost the homeowners or renters less to live in and maintain.

To have a broad spectrum of input on this subject, we encourage people to register for our initial event on May 24th and 25th.   After that we will encourage people to become part of this movement toward a more sustainable community, a more sustainable planet.

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RE REGISTRATION:  Lakehead University is handling the registration for both the Friday nigh showing of Anthropocene and the Saturday conference at LU.