The Cost of Sprawl

The article "City's Expanding FootPrint has a Cost" really drives home the importance of of learning to live with a smaller footprint. A smaller footprint means less infrastructure cost, leading to less property and carbon taxes. A win for the pocketbook and the planet.



This picture shows that Winnipeg has Doubled in Size (96%) with only a 37% increase in population. [Brent Bellamy, Number 10]


The cost of the infrastructure required to support urban sprawl is not sustainable and is responsible for creating an affordable housing crisis.


"Building higher densities with less new infrastructure, we will be

passing the next generations a more prosperous and sustainable city."


In last weeks article Back to the Future with Small Houses we explored the change in appetite for the Big Home. Large detached houses in car centric communities that at one time typified the Canadian dream, are losing followers to households seeking smaller homes in ‘location-efficient’ neighbourhoods.


It also maters how we make use of the land. In the article "Live Lightly on the Whole Lot" we learn to provide work spaces to produce work at home. We need to provide places for a garden to grow some of your own food. We need to take into account solar access to provide a place for PV panels to produce energy. We also need to consider rainwater collection and grey water systems to minimize the size and cost of municipal waste water systems.


By living lightly on the whole lot we can minimize urban sprawl, make better use of municipal infrastructure, which in the end contributes to reducing taxes and making housing more affordable.


In "The Power of Community" we learn that new urbanism is about creating walkable sustainable neighbourhoods with mixed use amenities so that people don't need to leave. We need mixed use, mixed ages, mixed incomes with housing of many different not so big sizes and shapes. There needs to be common spaces, green spaces, gathering spaces all with interconnected walkable pathways.


One of the Masters of community building Christopher Alexander provides us with "A Pattern Language" of how to create a vibrant community.


We also need the homes we build to minimize environmental impact. How far we go is debatable. Do we build Build Extreme Green at a significant cost premium or utilize a Get Green Done approach which is to design affordable NetZero homes for everyone?


The Living Building Challenge standard is often used to define Extreme Green which is to have zero negative impact of energy, material, water, equity and land use. It also requires the project to enhance happiness, well being and beauty. The strategies involve deconstructing and reusing materials from existing structures, building with non toxic natural materials, support local economies and communities, manage carbon foot print, passive solar design, reduce, reuse and recycle.


The Passive House Standard on the other hand focuses on significantly reducing energy use to he maximum allowable measured use of 15 kWh/m2 per year, and 10 W/m2 peak demand. In addition, the total energy to be used in the building operations is limited to 120 kWh/m2 of treated floor area per year. Based upon our experience building a Passive House project in Saskatoon, we estimate the cost premium to be 10%.


The NetZero Ready approach is to build as energy efficient as is economically viable to be competitive in the market. The goal being to minimize energy and so that the cost of PV panels to achieve NetZero energy use represents a good return on investment.(10 year payback)


The decision which green building strategy is most often budget driven, If you can afford to go Extreme Green, go for it as you will be an inspiration for others. If you are on a budget, consider doing all the right things to target NetZero energy and take care in sourcing environmentally responsibly systems and materials.


There are many paths to minimize the environmental impact of our communities.

  • By choosing to live more compact we can minimize land use and infrastructure costs.

  • We can stop urban sprawl by promoting higher density infill development. (Multi-unit, lot splitting, lane houses)

  • Smaller homes cost less and make it easier to achieve green building performance

  • Extreme green like Living Building Challenge is achievable at a cost + premium

  • Passive House is a tough energy standard, achievable at a cost premium

  • NetZero Ready performance is more affordable. Just add PV panels when ready!

  • It matters how we utilize the land to grow food, handle water and produce energy.

  • It matters how we organize our neighbourhoods if we want to create a vibrant community

By downsizing our homes we can build more compact communities. By building more compact communities we can lower property tax and provide better services. By building NetZero we can avoid carbon taxes which are expected to rise from $30 to $300 per ton representing a $4500 increase to the cost of operating an average home.


The bottom line is that we need to take drastic steps to solve the impending housing crisis. Let's work to a triple bottom line solution.


Have an Awesome Day, Till next week

Ramblings by Murray

mguy@eco-smart.ca



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