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February 6, 2006

Green Building

Toronto trades zoning for green

City seeks contractors with green roof skills

Toronto’s new green roof policy will present challenges and opportunities for the city’s construction business but industry representations recognize it was a necessary response to environmental concerns.

“This a real step forward for Toronto,” said Ian Theaker, LEED program manager with the Canada Green Building Council. The city joins Chicago and Portland, Oregon, as top green roof advocates in North America.

“Toronto is demonstrating leadership across Canada. Other municipalities are probably going to be following this really closely.”

The city’s new policy calls for a mix of incentives, education and regulatory measures promoting green roof technology. Politicians agreed to divert $200,000 from city water revenues to fund a rebate program, and staff are to produce a website and training program.

Toronto will also make green roofs part of the approval process for new developments seeking zoning and other amendments to the official plan.

Theaker said he welcomes city plans for training and incentives.

“Most green roof technology is really an extension of existing activities. People are putting decks and gardens on roof tops, particularly in Toronto, so it’s a bit of a variation on existing approaches and knowledge.”

He said the construction industry will need to learn new things to embrace the initiative.

The myth green roofs are prone to leaking continues to persist when in fact the growth media protect the roofing materials from ultraviolet light, so green roofs tend to leak a lot less than conventional ones.

“The guarantees and warranties offered by most green roof people far exceed that of conventional roofing we’ve seen to date.”

Toronto deputy mayor Joe Pantalone, who chairs the city’s roundtable on the environment, said the city will make green roofs part of the approval process when developers seek amendments to height and density.

Buildings will be excluded from the policy if green roofs are deemed inappropriate or undesirable.

“If somebody has a very steep, sloped roof and can’t put in a green roof, or if somebody wants to put in solar panels instead, that’s fine too. The idea is to have environmental solutions as much as anything else.”

The policy calls for the city to contact electricity providers and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation about establishing grant programs.

City officials are also looking to develop a list of contractors with green roof expertise.

Pantalone said the city will be aggressive with its own properties.

Steven Peck, founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, said Toronto’s policy is the most advanced in North America because it covers energy, water, procurement and regulatory approvals and processes.

However, Peck said there is more work to do.

“This suite of policies is essentially the groundwork for a range of initiatives that, if fully implemented, will result in eight per cent coverage over a period of a decade or more. You can’t go from zero per cent to eight per cent green roof coverage overnight. It will take a decade or more

“Toronto will certainly be at the front of the class, but it will need support from other levels of government, particularly the province.”

Toronto Construction Association president John Mollenhauer said his organization realizes there will be some up-front costs but supports the notion of green roofs.

John Mollenhauer

“We can’t afford not to move towards more environmentally-friendly materials,” Mollenhauer said.

“So in the long term there are no options. There’s a cost of making that transition, and it’s time we got started.”

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