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Toronto students design zero-energy laneway home

Students from Ryerson and the University of Toronto designed a net-zero energy laneway home that won a U.S. competition

Students from Ryerson and the University of Toronto designed a zero-energy laneway house that won a U.S. home design competition.

Brandon Wilbur

Students from Ryerson and the University of Toronto designed a zero-energy laneway house that won a U.S. home design competition.

Graduate students from Ryerson and the University of Toronto are joining a push to increase housing density in Toronto by introducing a net-zero energy, laneway home design.

A team of 15 students represented Canada this year and won the grand prize at a U.S. Department of Energy home design event, a competition that spurs university students to design sustainable buildings.

“What made LaneZero unique is that it hit a bunch of birds with one stone,” said Hayley Cormick, who is studying building science at Ryerson. “One of those is urban density in Toronto … and our house produces as much energy as it consumes.”

The city’s housing crunch impacts young people the most, which could explain the students’ efforts, said Councillor Ana Bailão.

Brandon Wilbur

“They would love to live in parts of the city and can’t buy,” she said. “They’re even having a tough time finding an apartment they can rent. This is why they’re putting their hearts and minds into helping us find solutions and we need to partner with them and understand their anxiety.”

One of the problems is that strict zoning bylaws stymie construction, said Matthew Ferguson, an architecture student at Ryerson.

“We would have to go through lots of hoops and expenses working with city council to get this approved,” he said. “Right now the city doesn’t have a way to approve laneway houses that’s standardized.”

The student project, dubbed LaneZero hasn’t been built yet, but a site near Christie Pits has been selected.

The two-storey, 950 square foot model would utilize existing infrastructure to preserve neighbourhood character; south facing windows enable passive solar heating; a roof covered with integrated solar cells generate electricity. The building is relatively “airtight” to increase the unit’s overall efficiency, said Ryerson mechanical engineering student Brandon Wilbur.

“This results in the building requiring about 90 per cent less heating than a typically constructed building of the same size and shape,” he said. “It’s much more efficient, thermally. Beyond that, it’s completely electric, so there’s no natural gas burn.”

Craig Race, co-founder of Lanescape, an urban design and planning group, mentored the students for the competition. Laneway housing is impossible to build because there is no planning framework around it, he said.

Graduate students from Ryerson and the University of Toronto won the grand prize at a U.S. home design competition.

Brandon Wilbur

Graduate students from Ryerson and the University of Toronto won the grand prize at a U.S. home design competition.

Lanescape and Evergreen, a charity working to establish sustainable building methods, released a report in May that targets policies preventing the development of laneway units. “Laneway suites,” ancillary units attached to principal residences, as described in the report, were introduced as a way to work within provincial legislation introduced in 2011 that seeks to increase Toronto’s housing stock. The concept passed full council last week.

“We’re hoping for a report back in the first quarter of 2018,” said Bailão.

Laneway suites have the potential to make housing affordable and allows for multi-generational dwellings, among other benefits, said Race.

“By allowing laneway suites, we’re adding another tool in the tool box of housing flexibility,” he said.

Race applauded the students’ ability to absorb Toronto’s specific needs and create a design that caters to them. The prototype dovetails the laneway environment — and makes it safer. Graffiti artists can use it as a canvas, for example, and increased lighting could reduce crime at night, Race added.

“It was a designed for a laneway, weird spaces where defacing, security and safety is an issue.”

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