Powering the Future of Sustainable Building

Howland Green

No one will ever suggest Dave de Sylva is not able to see the forest for the trees.

De Sylva, President of Howland Green Homes Ltd., is leading a revolution in home building, commercial developments, and condominiums. He’s a visionary, who began looking at ways to create environmentally friendly developments long before the “green” conversation became mainstream.

Now he’s taking Net Zero standards to an entirely new level – Net Positive.

Simply put, this new standard delivers buildings that not only use less energy but actually contribute positively to the country’s energy resource grid by reducing the Global atmospheric footprint.

“Our biggest source of pride is trying something different and innovative, and getting a positive result that will have a large impact for generations to come,” de Sylva says.

Beyond Net Zero
In North America, the homes we live in are our society’s third-largest power users, after transportation and industry. Being able to modify this aspect of our living space is vitally important to our sustainability – because there’s more to living green than just having a Tesla in the garage and a Nest thermostat on the wall. And Howland Green is leading the way.

Net Zero buildings are defined as grid-connected constructs with an array of features that make them both air-tight and energy efficient. The result? These buildings produce as much renewable energy as they consume over the period of a single year.

Net Positive buildings take Net Zero to a whole other level, with technologies that make them so efficient they actually reduce the global atmospheric footprint.

Methods to achieve this include insulated concrete forms (ICF), lithium ion energy storage systems, thermal resistance values of at least R40, and the latest in geothermal technology – all of which result in significant energy savings. The power demands of the property are then offset by a large photovoltaic array to harvest the sun’s energy, powering the property and creating far more energy than is consumed, or reducing existing carbon emissions in remote facilities.

“We operate at about 18 percent of the normal demand,” de Sylva says. “As a result, it is easier to utilize renewable energy sources that primarily come from photovoltaic systems.” Further, he notes, “beyond Net Zero can also be achieved through remote offsets. The problem is global and so, too, can be the solution.” Examples of remote offsets could also include the purchase of wind-powered electricity to meet the power demands of these properties.

Seeing green
De Sylva has more than 45 years of experience in the property development business, first founding Del Ridge Green Life Homes, which has built a reputation for sustainability throughout the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). As a civil engineer, he always found that small tweaks to property developments could result in large-scale energy cost savings. That said, the industry as a whole has been slow to adopt what he passionately sees as vitally important solutions to save the planet from the ravages of climate change.

“I have been in construction for 47 years and noticed a strong need for sustainable design and implementation for the last 15 years,” he says. “I was building under the Del Ridge Green Life banner which was guided by Net Zero standards. I started Howland Green with the objective to go beyond Net Zero in an attempt to make a bigger and positive effect.”

His companies, of which Howland Green is the newest brand, annually develop more than $100 million in new construction assets, employ nine head office personnel, and contract a large number of general contractors, engineers, architects, specialty trades and other suppliers in the local market.

Driving change
Bringing new ideas to life takes time, and De Sylva notes that some of his ambitious concepts can take 20 years to see through to market adoption. “The largest challenge is to find any level of government that understands the new technologies,” he says. “Government only has history as its guide as opposed to thinking forward.”

Though a recognized leader in sustainable building systems, de Sylva says he is still learning and expanding his company’s green focus. “Each building improves on the last and there are many examples of this, including recapturing decant energy from inverters or transformers.” Recapturing decant energy is a proven method of capturing airborne heat generated from inverters and transformers and redirecting this heat to the domestic hot water supply, thereby reducing overall energy demand.

De Sylva is a proponent of leveraging new systems to reduce energy consumption. Among his favourites is the use of geothermal, especially in condominiums. He estimates that his building systems can reduce energy usage by 85 percent in a typical condo setting. He is also an advocate and innovator of ICF and has consulted with a block manufacturer to provide feedback on how to make the product even more efficient. The change in tooling for this product results in ICF walls with an R42 value, whereas standard ICF block is R2.

This is a key element in overall efficiency, as reducing heat loss from a building’s basement or attic is critical in keeping the living space comfortable. Think of a building like a person – out in the cold with no hat or good boots, the body quickly loses heat to the environment; the person is chilled and uncomfortable. But add a wool toque and suitable footwear, and much of the heat loss is reduced and body heat is maintained, allowing the individual to remain comfortable for longer periods even in a frigid environment.

The roof, as noted, is another location for thermal transfer to the environment, a place of heat loss, and a key focus for Howland Green, which prides itself on R80 insulation factors in its roof construction, exceeding the standards of the Ontario Building Code four-fold.

Current projects
Howland Green is currently constructing the Bronte West Condominium project in Milton, Ontario. This building serves as de Sylva’s latest example of ecology, economy and technological advancement under one roof.

“Bronte West is impressive not only because we will reduce operational demand, but sustainable living means significant reductions in operating costs and condominium fees,” says de Sylva.

Indeed, these Bronte West condos include an arsenal of 16 different energy features designed to deliver the ultimate eco-friendly experience for owners. Features include solar panel roofing, triple glazed windows, geothermal cooling and heating, solar powered electricity, and state-of-the-art waste water recovery processes.

Further, this development will result in the planting of 100,000 trees, which is about 757 trees per unit. Trees are undisputed in the science of climate change as the best method of carbon sequestration, and Howland Green is committed to planting thousands of them. Collaborating with Forests Ontario, the company sponsors mass plantings of new trees throughout the province each time a new development project is undertaken.

The outcome of this infusion of innovation and environmental stewardship is an extremely comfortable home environment with minimal operating costs for the owner. These features also provide the units with a major competitive advantage – the lowest condominium fees in the market.

Looking ahead
De Sylva is committed to a greener future, with developments that will continue to innovate and bring real change to building systems around the world. This commitment includes even more production of clean energy from solar and wind sources, and a continued objective of positively adding to the energy infrastructure.

In fact, new innovations are on the Howland Green horizon as de Sylva hints at his progress in flywheel energy storage (FES) and pneumatic storage of potential energy. For the uninitiated, a flywheel is a rotating mechanical device used to store and release energy. The storage system can provide peak energy shifting, flexible capacity, and additional services like voltage smoothing and frequency response for reliable utility operation. It also gives the user the ability to purchase and store electricity during off-peak hours, resulting in significant savings.

The bottom line is building Net Positive is entirely possible – and getting better with each Howland Green development to come.

From Here to There

Throughout history, humans have been limited by simple logistics – how to get from here to there? For thousands of years, venturing out of one’s village required braving wild and rugged terrain. Travel was inherently dangerous. Roads were rough and rudimentary, if there were any at all.

September 29, 2020, 10:43 PM EDT