Sustainable Urban Development for a Better World – Many Homes at a Time

Minto Communities Canada

Faced with the twin challenges of expanding cities and accelerating climate change, sustainable home development is crucial. In Eastern Canada, Minto Communities has built a reputation for doing just that over 65 years of growth and innovation.

Minto Communities traces its lineage to 1955 when four brothers worked together to sell their first home in Ottawa. Originally known as Mercury Homes, the company changed its name three years later to honour Lord Minto, Canada’s Governor General at the time. The newly re-branded Minto expanded quickly throughout Ontario, Florida, and more recently to Alberta and South Carolina.

Today, the company has evolved from ‘family-owned and operated’ to professionally managed, while still retaining familial ownership. This divergence allows Minto Communities to continue evolving while remaining true to its founding values.

At the very heart of Minto Communities is its long and proud history as a sustainable developer, even as the definition of that has evolved over the years. “Sustainability has been part of our core values for over 50 years,” says Roya Khaleeli, Director of Sustainability and Innovation. And through decades of experience, Minto Communities has proven that energy-efficient homes can be designed and delivered economically, with high quality and aesthetic value.

The fruits of sustainability
As far back as 1960, the company was using prefabricated components in low-rise home construction to both increase material efficiency and decrease waste, and in the 1970s began installing eco-friendly windows. This focus on efficiency through innovation has only increased over the decades.

In 1992, Minto Communities’ “Innova House” was one of nine homes selected nationwide to demonstrate new techniques in energy and water efficiency, as well as waste reduction. In 2008, Minto Communities built one of the first net-zero energy homes in Canada, “Inspiration – The Minto Eco Home”, and from 2015 to 2016, built and labelled five homes to the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) Net Zero Energy Homes standard. These initiatives have helped to move the industry forward in delivering high-performance low-rise homes at a production scale.

With growing societal awareness of the need for more energy-efficient homes, Minto Communities was well-positioned to become a leader in this area. The company was an early adopter of building low-rise homes to the ENERGY STAR for New Homes standard in 2003. Minto Radiance was the first LEED-certified high-rise residential condominium in Toronto in 2006, and Minto Midtown, at the time of construction, was the largest LEED Gold-certified condominium in North America in 2008. As the business has grown and evolved, it remained true to its vision of building better places to live, one home and one relationship at a time.

As Minto Communities honed its craft and further developed its niche in home building, recognition for leadership in sustainability followed. The company is a four-time winner of the EnerQuality Ontario Green Builder of the Year award (between 2011-2015); recipient of the EnerQuality 2020 High-Rise Building Innovation award for airtightness testing at Minto Yorkville Park, and winner of the 2020 CHBA Net Zero Home award for 2019 Minto Dream Home in support of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Minto Communities has also received a number of design-related industry awards including the Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) 2020 High Rise Building of the Year for 123 Portland; CHBA’s 2020 Mid to High-rise Condo of the Year for The Saint, and the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) 2019 Production Home of the Year. These honours point to not only the quality of home building but also to mastery in building a broad range of developments in line with the company’s principles.

The 1-2-3 of high performance
Minto Communities’ most energy-efficient project to date, 123 Portland in Toronto’s Fashion District, is just a short walk from the waterfront. It’s a prime example of the company’s view to combining sustainability, livability, wellness and technology within one residential tower. Well underway, with a 2022 completion date for this 14 storey building, 123 Portland promises 117 residential units with commercial space on the ground floor and high-end amenities for residents.

With 123 Portland, Minto Communities’ product development and sustainability team were faced with the challenge of increasing building energy performance. Vice President of Development Agnieszka Wloch sums it up in a rhetorical question: “What does an eco-home look like?” To address this, Minto Communities focused significant efforts on making the building envelope more energy efficient while also maintaining a high level of aesthetic appeal.

Khaleeli explains that the building envelope, while critical, is only one part of improving building performance. “Our strategy overall looks at improving both the building envelope and mechanical system,” she says.

Khaleeli notes how Minto Communities continues to improve building performance with each new community. With high-rise towers, the process of learning and improving is especially challenging given the timeline of each project. “We’ve learned through experience as we’ve evolved our buildings, specifically 123 Portland,” she remarks, “and that’s not easy since each project spans five to eight years through completion.”

Liveability is alive and well
Minto Communities was one of the first residential developers in Toronto to include fresh air equipment in every high-rise suite dating back to 2007. Integrated Energy Recovery Ventilation units (ERVs) bring fresh air directly into the suite in an energy-efficient way. This is compared to ineffective conventional ventilation systems which pump air into the corridors to then make its way into the suites. Wloch explains that Minto Communities worked with manufacturers to help design the right equipment to perform the job as needed – reliably and without breaking the bank.

As part of improving ventilation in common areas, Minto Communities includes bipolar ionization in the systems that deliver fresh air to the corridors. “We want to be sure our systems are efficient and effective to pre-treat against pollutants and smells,” she says.

To deliver heating and cooling throughout the year at 123 Portland, Minto Communities is installing a Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) system, which not only improves homeowner comfort but also reduces energy consumption.

In addition to 123 Portland, Minto Communities offers similar high-quality living with a focus on wellness at The Saint on Toronto’s Church Street. This is delivered in part through the amenities which include a meditation room with a salt rock wall and a spa room.

Both 123 Portland and The Saint are targeting the WELL building standard and boast Minto Communities’ standard sustainability features including air and water quality testing, in-suite water filtration, rainwater harvesting and electric vehicle (EV) charging, among others. These features continue to honour the company’s commitment to better urban living for the 21st century.

Building better for all
In the end, Khaleeli explains, it’s a net benefit to the homeowners. “By focusing on energy efficiency, there’s the added benefit of delivering greater comfort to the people who live in that space,” she says.

Wloch elaborates, saying how Minto Communities ensures it is hitting its mark through a philosophy of continual customer interaction, assessment of their needs and feedback. Through extensive target market research, third-party surveys and lookback meetings, Minto Communities can ensure it stays true to its values while customers remain satisfied.

“Building better doesn’t just mean doing it for ourselves,” Wloch says. “We’re doing it because we believe it’s better for everybody – for our homeowners, for our community, and for the planet.”

She and her colleagues have the advantage of operational history in taking the long view and ensuring Minto Communities continues improving its sustainability and comfort efforts. “While we’re anchored so much in sustainability and customer-centricity, the desire to do better is very important to us.”

Sustainability at an accessible price
There’s no doubt rising housing prices are a problem across North America, especially in large cities like Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.

To ensure housing remains accessible to the average buyer or tenant, the company has been working on more affordable offerings. Minto Communities recently refurbished two buildings in Toronto’s Etobicoke North, bringing 258 renewed units to the GTA rental market. “We rezoned the site and introduced 88 for sale townhouses that are a stacked product – family-oriented and very affordable,” Wloch says. Also, two new towers with a significant affordable rental component were planned. One tower, already delivered, features 204 affordable units for seniors. “The final tower, which we are about to start constructing, will offer 125 market rental units and 100 affordable rental units developed in partnership with the City of Toronto under the Open Door Affordable Housing Program,” adds Wloch.

When working on developing a more affordable product, Minto Communities team members are equally committed to their core values, deploying the same design and development processes and paying attention to all facets of quality and care. “It is important to provide thoughtfully designed, sustainable product to the communities we serve.”

In the time of COVID
As our world continues to adapt to COVID-19, Minto Communities is continually evolving to serve its customers.

The company regularly provides links to government, financial and health resources for its customers, supports small businesses and offers remote sales appointments and video tours so new homes can be viewed virtually and safely. “We’re continuing to provide home maintenance guidance virtually, despite the challenge times we’re facing,” Khaleeli explains.

Internally, the company is developing an Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy to continue evolving its commitment to sustainability. “The strategy allows us to continue our journey as an ethically responsible, forward-thinking business,” Khaleeli says, assuring the company’s investors of its commitment through clear goals with timelines. This strategy clearly outlines the objectives to reduce environmental impact.

While the company may have over 65 years under its belt, Minto Communities is far from complacent; indeed, it is proof that even lofty goals must be updated as technology and society advance. With new inroads in Vancouver, Montreal and Florida, the company is expanding to new horizons, particularly with active lifestyle communities to accommodate an aging population.

Minto Communities has long been a leader in sustainable and ethical development; now, as climate action is more important than ever, it will set ever-improving new standards for 21st century living.

June 14, 2021, 2:48 AM EDT