“Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings.“
Jane Jacobs, Writer and Activist, 1916 – 2006
On November 29th I purchased a piece of the old New Edinburgh for the fair price of $585,000. Given that my previous Passive House and LEED Platinum certified development project was only a block away, I had often admired the deteriorating bungalow sitting at the corner of Crichton Street and Dufferin Road.
After viewing the interior of the building for the first time on October 27th I realized the potential to create something exemplary at the gateway to New Edinburgh’s Heritage Conservation District. It certainly wasn’t the existing building’s relatively poor condition that sold me. It was the original architectural plans for what was to have been built on the site in 1945 that sent my mind racing.
Members of Ottawa’s New Edinburgh neighbourhood pride themselves on the built history that has manifested itself within the 3 block by 6 block historic core of the community. (The neighbourhood’s name is terribly ironic.) This nucleus is a fascinating case study of the challenges facing Canadian homeowners as resources continue to increase in value and our buildings continue to deteriorate.
Of the 13 million dwelling units in Canada, about 85% are more than 10 years old. The vast majority of those buildings need some form of improvement and approximately 10% of them need major repairs right now to avoid becoming uninhabitable or unaffordable.
It is within places like New Edinburgh that professionals within the planning, design and building industry need to refine the art and science of creating better living places. Although our expectations of developments on new urban fringes must continue to rise, we need to focus more of our efforts on improving the quality of the buildings and neighbourhoods we have already created.
Although there are many benefits of building better buildings; as long as the proverbial money tree remains a fantasy, the financial benefit will remain the one factor that motivates the masses toward change. Many owners of average sized 50 – 100 year old homes must bear monthly energy bills of $1,000 or more. The financial stability of millions of Canadian homeowners is dependent in part upon the industry’s ability to rebuild the existing urban environment.
With modest changes to conventional building practices, many owners of older homes could realize a reduction in energy costs of more than 50%. The Passive House building standard encourages a superior level of performance, with homes typically using 10 – 20% of the energy consumed by a conventional building.
Two years ago I built Canada’s first PHIUS Certified Passive House building in New Edinburgh, outside of the neighbourhood’s Heritage Conservation District. Since the project involved new construction (instead of renovation), the achievement of the Passive House standard was relatively easy. Unfortunately, the knowledge, skills, resources and legislation needed to improve our existing housing stock to match the standards achievable in new construction are not widespread.
At the corner of Crichton Street and Dufferin Road I saw an opportunity to demonstrate our capacity for change, toward an improved Canadian urban environment, within the constraints of an existing Heritage Conservation District. My goal in purchasing 205 Crichton Street is to show that a new New Edinburgh is possible. Specifically my goal is to:
- Accommodate my growing family (soon to be four and a cat)
- Do this within a certified Passive House and LEED Platinum building
- Preserve an existing home partially built in 1945
- Realize the original intention, to create 3 dwelling units on the property
If my goal can be achieved in the New Edinburgh Heritage Conservation District within a timeline and budget typical of any custom home project, my goal could be achieved anywhere.