wells baker When it comes to green building, Minto is at the forefront of the development industry. The company was founded in Ottawa in 1955 by four brothers hoping to break into the real estate business. Today, Minto manages more than 85,000 homes across North America.

The company’s innovative approach to eco-friendly living continues to garner much success — in 2009, its Minto Midtown condo project was hailed as the largest LEED Canada certified condo in North America.

We caught up with Wells Baker, the Manager of Sustainable Developments at Minto, to learn more about enviro-friendly living and how to reduce your eco-footprint. Wells also reveals some of the cutting-edge features in Minto’s latest project, Minto 30 Roe. Here’s a hint: electric car stations.

BuzzBuzzHome: What does your position, Manager of Sustainable Developments at Minto, entail?

Wells Baker: Minto isn’t the only company creating sustainable buildings, but our approach is relatively unique. Rather than outsourcing that service, we have an internal team that collaborates with disciplines across the company — it helps us grow our knowledge over the long-term and build better product.

There are a number of engineers and environmental specialists working on the team to make sure the new buildings Minto constructs are more sustainable, and also that the existing residential rental properties Minto owns operate efficiently and ensure resident comfort.

BBH: Was the sustainability field always something you wanted to be a part of?

WB: I kind of fell into it. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo for a year and a half before deciding to make a switch into engineering. At the time, this would have been in the mid-90s, it was a really slow period for architecture. There weren’t a lot of jobs to be had, and the industry as a whole was struggling a bit. I decided to try mechanical engineering instead, and kind of got away from building.

While I was studying mechanical engineering at Queens, I got involved with the solar car team and it was really that project that sparked my interest in renewable energy and sustainability in general. After graduating I thought, rather than get a job working for a car company, I could make use of the experience I had in architecture school and get back into the building industry. In the early 2000s I started working with green buildings.

BBH: Minto has projects like 30 Roe that are aiming for LEED gold certification. What does it take to ensure a large condo like that achieves that certification?

WB: We build on the success of our past projects. Green building at Minto is something we’ve been doing for a number of years. We built the first LEED certified condominium, Minto Radiance, back in 2005. A few years later, we built the first LEED Gold residential building, 150 Roehampton, just down the street from 30 Roe. So we’ve been perfecting the different design and building elements and continuing to enhance our buildings year after year.

Minto Midtown at Yonge and Eglinton is also the largest LEED Gold residential building in North America. After our efforts at Minto Midtown, we are confident that we will have another high performing building at 30 Roe!

Minto 30 Roe rendering

BBH: You mentioned that some of your work also involves existing properties such as Minto’s rental buildings.

WB: Minto started out as a home builder in the 1950s in Ottawa. Our team was actually founded in the late 90s to try and find cost savings in our existing rental buildings.

As a company, we recognized that utilities cost a lot of money, and if there were ways that we could make our buildings operate more efficiently, that would help save us a lot of money and reduce our impact on the environment. We did a lot of research and investigated ways to retrofit the buildings and replace old, inefficient boilers with new ones, change out lighting technologies, and find plumbing fixtures to help make our operations more efficient and more profitable.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that a lot of things we were looking into for our own buildings were features that home buyers would also be interested in having in new homes as well.

BBH: A lot of green tips for homeowners typically focus on things that are very specific to people who live in houses. What are some ways condo dwellers can reduce their eco-footprint?

WB: Well, it’s funny. A lot of the features that you think would be targeted mainly at single-family homes are equally applicable to high rise buildings. At 30 Roe, we provide sub-metered electricity, hot and cold water consumption measured the same way as in a single-family home.

In a typical condo, everyone pays their condo fee, and that covers all the utility costs. The bad thing about that is there is no incentive for your or your neighbours to conserve energy or water consumption. Some may think, ‘Well I’m already paying a certain amount each month, I might as well get my money’s worth.’ If everyone in a building does that, they all use more utilities and at the end of the day, everyone ends up paying for it.

By having utilities sub-metered people are more aware of what electricity and water they are using and in many cases that drives them to use less and reap the rewards of their conservation efforts by also paying less.

BBH: Are there any innovations in green building that you think will take off in the future?

WB: We are starting to incorporate LED lighting into a lot of our buildings. The kitchen lights at 30 Roe are going to be LED rather than halogen lights. It won’t be long before other new types of sustainable lighting technology are also developed sufficiently enough that they are reliable and make economic and aesthetic sense.

LED lights are great. They use a lot less power than conventional incandescent and halogen bulbs, they last a lot longer than fluorescent, and they don’t have issues with mercury. All in all, they’re a much better technology. For years, the LED industry struggled with performance issues, like the colour or output of the light, so they weren’t quite good enough to be considered a replacement for conventional technology. But the industry has gotten to the point where that is no longer an issue, and they are becoming more cost competitive as well.

BBH: Is there anything else you would like to discuss about sustainability?

WB: We’re including infrastructure for electric vehicle charging in 30 Roe. There are certainly more and more electric cars on the road these days.

One of the big criticisms of condo living is that there is no place to plug in an electric car. What we’re doing is providing the infrastructure to enable electric vehicle charging equipment should a homeowner find they want to install it in the future.

BBH: And it fits in nicely with your history of work on solar powered cars.

WB: Yeah, exactly! I finished engineering school only to get into green buildings. And now that I’m in green buildings, I’m getting back to electric cars.

Like the sounds of Minto 30 Roe? Take a peek at some of the project’s newest renderings:

Minto 30 Roe rendering Minto 30 Roe rendering

Thanks for buzzing with us Wells!

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