Last Thursday night, my work had a panel event in conjunction with Green Energy Futures called Chasing Net Zero. Chasing Net Zero is a webisode/blog initiative between Manasc Isaac (under Sustainable Building Consortium) and Green Energy Futures. This series works through several Net Zero Ready buildings in Edmonton (mostly houses) or buildings that fall within the path on the way to Net Zero such as infill housing or Solar Decathlon.
A Net Zero home is a building that produces as much energy as it consumes within a year.
I along with a few other co workers have worked on putting this series together since March and this panel event was the conclusion of the project which featured several of the people in the 4 webisodes. You can take a look at the panel event and episodes here if you are further interested.
Usually I try not to write too much about what I do at work – as a way to keep from feeling like I am working all the time. BUT one of the panelists we invited was Dave Turnbull, a product development manager at Landmark Homes. We featured them in the fourth episode because they are a home builder that provides Net Zero ready homes to the average consumer. They are also unique because they construct as much as their buildings as possible within a factory and then ship out large assemblies to the site where they are then put together. Because this blog is about suburbia (where I live) I found out that they built all of Magrath Heights, which is the neighbouring area next to me.
Dave said that there are three things that people consider when buying a home: Location, Design and Cost. I thought it would have been a different list: Location, Cost, Design but he told me it was untrue. He also said that the typical process for new developments are as follows:
1. Land Developer: They work with an architectural agent to produce the vision of the area.
2. Architectural Agent (not a real architect): The agents create drawings of the street scape and front elevations, envisioning what the area is to look like for the consumer.
3. Home Builder (in this case Landmark Homes): Takes the front elevations from the Architectural Agent (not a real architect) and then builds the rest of the home around it. They have no control on the front façade, but they have control over the interior and how it is constructed. Sometimes there are restrictions on that too, depending on the architectural guidelines of the particular area which is under the control of the Home Owners Association. For example if you want photovoltaic panels on your roof sometimes neighbourhoods will disallow the aesthetic. The builder also sells the buildings to the home owner.
Another interesting point Dave said was that every home they build all look essentially the same. While I realize this is not a revelation (and probably a cost savings for a company like Landmark so they can repeat and refine their factory process) I could tell even he was aware of the lack of individuality these neighbourhoods had to offer the consumer.
A few weeks ago I toured Magrath (the area Landmark built) on my bike and I was upset and appalled. Upset because I found out they have an amazing area for biking and walking which gives points in favour to the area. Appalled because of the terrible detailing taking place in the neighbourhood. People spend so much money on these monster ugly houses (sorry if you live there and I insulted you) and then are not able to control the tiniest detail about them because they have bought into the oatmeal aesthetic.
Below are a few examples of the flashing (thin pieces of impervious material installed to prevent the passage of water into a structure from a joint or as part of a weather resistant barrier). In my mind there’s no reason for the flashing to be unpainted for these facades (as terrible as they already are). In these photographs they mostly look like an accent but in person they are highly reflective when unpainted setting it apart from the façade. If they were trying to keep continuity I’m not sure this trade was in the loop about it. Apart from the aesthetics the flashing installation is also terrible. Below are a few photos with some detail.
Here is the sigh part. They have an extensive natural path over looking Whitemud Creek. It pains me to write about it, because it is beautiful and I can see the appeal of living so close to a protected sanctuary that sneaks into the River Valley.