Ampersand is located adjacent to a large retail and transit hub, the RioCan Marketplace Shopping Centre. As part of the City of Ottawa’s South Nepean Town Centre planning area, the site design for Ampersand was directly influenced by the City’s vision established in the municipal Community Design Plan, concentrating density and mixed-use in a pedestrian-oriented area, within walking distance of the transit hub. Because Ampersand is within 600 meters of a rapid transit station, the City of Ottawa provided a number of incentives, including a development charge credit and a reduced parking requirement of one spot per unit.
The retail centre has several large format stores to support a wide range of daily needs putting 100% of Ampersand’s homes within 800 meters of retail outlets for groceries, clothing, pharmaceuticals, restaurants, cafés and a cinema. Ampersand’s zoning enables the ground floor units to be used for specified non-residential uses, such as day care centres or doctor’s offices. Current site plans for Ampersand integrate 515,000 sq. ft. of commercial-retail and civic uses in later phases of the project. Minto is exploring options with the City of Ottawa on the planning of a multi-purpose civic center in a later phase of Ampersand, which would put 100% of Ampersand homes within 600 meters of a civic complex.
At completion, Ampersand will offer roughly 1,000 homes in stacked townhouses as well as 4-storey and high-rise condominium-apartments, at an overall density of 190 occupants per hectare. Phase 1, with completion and occupancy in 2012/13, will include 300 homes in the form of stacked townhouses and 4-storey apartments, all condominiums.
Phase 1 of Ampersand, with 300 units, has two housing types:
4-storey condominium-apartment blocks with elevators and tuck-under parking, called Gallery Suites, from 641 to 1,763 sq. ft., and
back-to-back stacked townhouse blocks with underground parking, known as Dual Terraces, from 1,100 to 1,400 sq. ft.
All of the residential units are condominiums. Future phases will integrate about 650 units in the form of high-rise condominium-apartments as well as the 4-storey blocks.
Based on a market study and actual home purchases at Ampersand, Minto identified four different client groups for this type of housing product: empty nesters, first-time home buyers, single-parents and investors. These groups are looking for homes that are affordable and near public transit, shopping and amenities. They also require less parking and floor space than is offered in typical homes in a suburban context.
By identifying different factors that motivate the purchase behaviour of these groups, Minto has produced a community that offers housing alternatives that are attractive and affordable to these groups. The fact that 80 units sold within the first 10 days that Phase 1 went on sale confirms this point.
Prices for Ampersand’s stacked townhouses, from 1,100 to 1,400 sq. ft., ranged from $215,000 to $287,000 for the base unit. Based on data from CMHC’s Market Absorption Survey, the average price for new townhouses in the Ottawa area in 2012 was $464,850. For Ampersand’s condominium-apartments, from 641 to 1,763 sq. ft., prices ranged from $194,400 for a one-bedroom to $375,900 for a two-bedroom penthouse unit. This compares to an average price for new condo-apartments in the Ottawa area in 2012 of $300,782.
In addition to competitive purchase prices, the project’s energy- and water-saving features will result in significant operating cost savings for occupants. Based on preliminary models, estimated average cost savings are about $800 per unit per year for energy and water use in Ampersand compared to code-built units. Most of the savings come from reduced natural gas consumption. The monitoring Minto will undertake will help verify actual savings.
Minto kept sales prices at Ampersand competitive, even while targeting high environmental performance. One of the ways this was achieved in Phase 1 is by building unit- types that yield relatively high densities, which lowered the land and servicing costs, yet are no more than 4-storeys, which enabled wood-frame construction. Minto estimates that the difference between wood-frame and steel-concrete construction is about $100 per sq. ft.
Ampersand is a new prototype that Minto hopes to learn from and replicate many aspects of in the future. EQ Communities funded some of the research behind the innovation. Similarly, Minto received a grant from the Asia Pacific Partnership for the testing of innovative technologies aimed at achieving net-zero energy use on a community scale, including roughly 42 kW of photovoltaic panels on the roof, spray-foam insulation in the walls and triple-glazed windows in one of the Phase 1 blocks. These contributions in part helped Minto keep the project price-competitive for purchasers.
Even with this funding, Minto absorbed additional costs due to the challenges of installing some of the innovative features, such as additional steel in the roof of the net-zero energy target building to support the PV panels. Another example is the 4-storey wood-frame format which is a new product for Minto that required additional resources for familiarizing the trades with this type of construction and additional time in design and approvals. But the expectation is that future applications of this product type will have reduced costs.
Through EQ Communities funding, Minto explored the feasibility of green loans to help purchasers pay the additional costs of building for high environmental performance over several years, based on monthly savings on utility bills. Green loans work best in a situation where utility costs are covered in the condo budget, for example, in a more typical high-rise application, as opposed to being sub-metered and paid directly at the suite level. Since each unit in Ampersand is sub-metered and billed individually for electricity, water and natural gas, Minto did not pursue green loans for Ampersand.
Ampersand is located within 400 meters of OC Transpo’s Marketplace Transitway Station, offering bus-rapid transit (BRT) to downtown Ottawa and local bus service. This transit hub is a central planning feature of the South Nepean Town Centre which concentrates a large retail centre around the BRT station and mid- to high-density residential mixed-use development around the BRT/retail hub. Future plans to build a light-rail transit (LRT) line within walking distance of Ampersand would also enhance the neighbourhood’s access to rapid transit.
Because Ampersand is within 600 meters of a rapid transit station, the City of Ottawa provided a number of incentives, including a development charge credit and a reduced parking requirement of one spot per unit.
The design of Ampersand supports the City’s vision of a transit-oriented development (TOD) for this hub. With a target density of 190 occupants per hectare at completion, Ampersand also integrates an improved level of pedestrian connectivity compared to typical suburban patterns. This includes planned direct routes to the adjacent retail/transit hub, pleasant walkways including routes through parks and car-free spines as well as a high level of tree canopy coverage along public walkways.
All buildings, including the Reference Block, in Ampersand Phase 1 are built to consume roughly 30% less energy than conventionally-built homes, through the following features:
improved Insulation: R 41 in the roof, R 22 in the walls, R 3.5 (U-value of 1.65) in the windows and R 10 in the basement floor
ENERGY STAR™ qualified windows: double-pane, low-e, argon gas-fill
overall window to wall ratio of 40-50% to maximize natural daylight and solar heat gain while reducing heat loss that occurs with higher percentages of fenestration
ENERGY STAR™ rated appliances offered
high-efficiency ENERGY STAR™ boilers for space and domestic water heating
compact fluorescent lights (CFL)
an all-off control switch, conveniently located by the front door, regulates all fixed lighting and some electrical plugs to control phantom loads
high-efficiency Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) in each suite to enable individual-suite ventilation
each suite is sub-metered and billed individually, allowing occupants to control and pay for what they consume in terms of electricity, including air-conditioning, as well as natural gas for space and hot water heating.
Ampersand builds on Minto’s experience with “Inspiration — The Minto Eco Home", a single-family home that it developed to research and demonstrate the potential for a net-zero energy home under CMHC’s EQuilibrium™ Sustainable Housing Demonstration initiative. Minto applied what it learned from this single-family house to the design and construction of a 14-unit, 4-storey condominium-apartment block in Ampersand that targets net-zero energy consumption.
To reduce energy demand in this block, Minto used spray foam insulation in the walls, giving them an R-value of 31. It also used triple-glazed windows, with an R-value of 4 (u-value 1.44) and added insulation to the roof, giving it an R-value of 51. The foundation R-value is R-10. In addition, this block includes all the energy-conserving technologies used in all the other Ampersand blocks, as described above under “Energy Conserving Building Features.”
Photovoltaic (PV) panels are mounted on the roof of this block, aiming to generate 45,100 kWh annually. The energy produced will feed into the public electricity grid, while the bi-directional meter runs backwards on the condominium corporation’s bulk meter. The condominium corporation will pay the net-metered value, depending on the amount of production vs. consumption, and be reimbursed by each suite owner based on sub-metering of individual suites and their portion of the common uses. For more information refer to the “Solar Photovoltaic Panels” section below. An Asia Pacific Partnership grant provided capital funding for these PV panels as well as the triple-glazed windows and spray foam insulation.
Minto will monitor this block for 3-years as well as the almost identical block next to it, known as the Reference Block, which includes energy-conserving technologies, but not the spray foam insulation, additional roof insulation, triple-glazed windows or PV panels. Each suite will be monitored for consumption of electricity, water and gas for space heat and for hot water, and compared to consumption in the Reference Building. Based on preliminary models, estimated average cost savings in the Reference Building-type units are about $800 per unit per year for both energy and water use. Most of the savings come from reduced natural gas consumption.
Lessons learned from the EQuilibrium™ Sustainable Housing Demonstration initiative provided Minto with valuable knowledge in the design and construction of this block. For example, based on experience from the Inspiration home, the wall design was much simpler. Some technologies that were used in the Inspiration home were not included in Ampersand, such as solar thermal panels.
Two arrays of photovoltaic panels are mounted on the roof of the block targeting net-zero energy, one faces east and the other faces west. This system has the capacity to generate approximately 45,100 kWh annually. The energy produced will feed into the public electricity grid, while the bi-directional meter runs backwards on the condominium corporation’s bulk meter. The condominium corporation will pay the net-metered value, depending on the amount of production vs. consumption, and be reimbursed by each suite owner based on sub-metering of individual suites and their portion of the common uses.
The orientation of the panels is based on sun studies Minto conducted to optimize solar exposure within the building’s roof footprint. An Asia Pacific Partnership grant provided capital funding for the PV panels for the testing of innovative technologies aimed at achieving net-zero energy. However, Minto incurred extra costs, for example, the additional steel structure required to support the load of the PV panels on the roof of this building.
After the demonstration period, one option for the PV system may be ownership and operation by the condominium association so that all units can benefit from the power it generates through reduced electricity bills. Currently, the roof and its contents, including the PV panels, are themselves one condominium unit owned by Minto.
District energy system
Through EQ Communities funding, Minto conducted a feasibility study and business case analysis for a future District Energy System (DES) in Ampersand, examining technical and financing options as well as ownership arrangements. The goal of the DES would be to lower energy consumption through the high level of efficiency provided by a centralized, automated system and the possible use of local, low-carbon energy sources. The resulting system would benefit the home owners by freeing up storage space in the units by significantly reducing the in-suite equipment.
As a result of this analysis, Minto is looking at the potential of integrating an energy plant and DES in future phases of Ampersand. It is exploring the possibility of working with a utility company that would own and operate the future DES.
For immediate application, natural gas as the heat source appears to be the best option and shows significantly better returns and promise for business operations than a geo-exchange based DES. This is due to the current (2013) low price of natural gas and the imbalance between the energy flow into and out of the buildings during the heating and cooling seasons and the impact on the design of a geo-exchange system in the Ottawa climate. EQ Communities funded research indicated that there would be a strong third party business case for a geo-exchange system when natural gas reaches $15/GJ. However, including commercial buildings in a mixed community geo-exchange application would require an incremental increase in capital to meet peak cooling and this might out-weigh the potential benefits from better ground energy balance.
Through a combination of strategies, Minto targets a 50% reduction in potable water consumption compared to conventional homes. Future water use for Phase 1 is estimated at 155 litres per person per day per unit, compared to 309 litres for conventional residential construction, through the following features:
dual-flush toilets (3L and 6L flush options)
low-flow kitchen and bathroom faucets (6 litres per minute)
low-flow shower heads (6 litres per minute)
home owner education and empowerment
all suites are sub-metered and billed individually for water use
Water sub-meters are installed in every unit at Ampersand, which will encourage occupants to reduce consumption since they will pay for what they consume. The condominium corporation will pay the main water meter bill and recoup that cost by billing each resident for their water use via the sub-metering system. The benefits to the condominium corporation include protection against unbudgeted rate increases and reduced water expenses. Phase 1 at Ampersand is currently expected to have 300 units. Assuming each unit has 1.5 occupants, sub-meters are expected to save about 8 million litres of water each year.
The feasibility analysis for the meters was funded by EQ Communities, as was an analysis of the feasibility of greywater and rainwater recovery. Based on high capital costs relative to operating cost savings, Minto decided not to implement greywater and rainwater recovery in Ampersand.
To reduce stormwater run-off, the site plan and design of Ampersand incorporates a number of water-sensitive urban design (also known as Low Impact Development — LID) strategies. For any urban development project, the greatest source of stormwater run-off comes from impervious surfaces, such as roads and roofs. Minto minimized the area of surface parking by locating nearly all parking underneath the buildings. This strategy also reduces the visual impact of vehicles and enables a pedestrian-friendly environment.
Through EQ Communities funding, Minto analyzed the feasibility of LID features including rain gardens, bioswales, permeable paving and green roofs. These practices were evaluated for initial and operating costs, market acceptability, approval barriers and maintenance issues.
Minto initiated discussions with the City of Ottawa’s Public Works staff on the possibility of approval to construct planted bioswales in the public right-of-way along Ampersand’s streets. The bioswales would intercept, evapo-transpire and infiltrate run-off from the roads thereby reducing the quantity of run-off and removing pollutants in the stormwater. However, approval was not received for the bioswales on City streets due to concerns about their effectiveness in Ottawa’s climate and maintenance issues, such as snow removal.
The City agreed to allow two rain gardens, each roughly 90 m2, as a pilot project in Ampersand’s park. They will function like bioswales, receiving overland flow from the park and infiltrating most of it. Elevated drains will direct overflow during large storm events into a perforated pipe which is both surrounded by clear stone and connected to the storm sewers. Minto will monitor the rain gardens’ performance and maintenance issues for a year after construction.
The feasibility of permeable pavers was also investigated. In addition to a cost premium over standard unit paving, there are concerns with the durability and visual appearance of permeable pavers resulting from the use of de-icing salts and Ottawa’s freeze/thaw cycles in the winter. Minto and the City have worked together to build a small permeable unit-paver test area in the Ampersand park that Minto will monitor. The test area is a secondary link within the path network that will not be maintained during winter months to eliminate the impact of de-icing and other winter maintenance.
After examining the feasibility of green roofs, Minto hopes to possibly integrate them into future phases of Ampersand, such as in the proposed Civic Block. Green roofs were not installed in Phase 1 due to the high cost of structural reinforcement needed to support them on 4-storey wood-frame buildings and the limited financial payback due to lack of any credit for stormwater reduction.
Through EQ Communities funding, Minto examined the feasibility of landscape best practices in addition to those described above under “Stormwater Run-off Reduction and Permeability”.
In accordance with City of Ottawa’s targets, the tree canopy will cover roughly 30% of Ampersand. Since the pre-development site had no trees, this goal is being achieved by planting new trees on private and public lands. Given the density, hard surfaces cover a substantial area of the site, so the park is heavily planted with trees and space available in private landscape areas and along the streets was also maximized for trees, taking full advantage of large, continuous soil volumes. To reduce the risk of catastrophic loss due to pests, the landscape design incorporates a diverse selection of native species.
In terms of ground covers, drought-tolerant plants were selected throughout Ampersand thereby eliminating the need for irrigation post-establishment. This includes turfgrasses that have the ability to fully recover after 40 days without precipitation. To minimize maintenance and create visual and species diversity, alternative ground covers other than turfgrass are used extensively throughout Ampersand. For example, the park is planted with an Eco Flowering Lawn seed mix that includes native herbaceous plant species, hardy grasses and wild flowers. Instead of lawn in the front yards of the townhouses, which is more typical of suburban homes, they feature drought-tolerant shrubs, perennials, tall grasses and trees, creating a visually engaging design for pedestrians and occupants alike.
To create a vibrant community, Ampersand’s public open space will consist of two neighbourhood parks, one 0.4 hectares and another 0.56 hectares, and one civic plaza. For crime prevention and visibility, these parks are spatially contained with buildings facing them. Streets are also considered public space and, as such, received particular attention, including: broad planted medians; ample tree planting; and well-scaled pedestrian boulevards. All homes within Ampersand will be located within 200 meters of a public park.
Aiming to create a pedestrian-oriented community, Ampersand’s buildings face the street or a public pedestrian route, such as richly landscaped walkways or a park. The Ampersand Green park is surrounded by homes whose facades and front entrances face the park, enhancing the safety, vitality and quality of the space as well as creating attractive views from the homes to the park. This will also apply to planned parks in later phases. All streets have sidewalks on both sides that will be covered by a continuous tree canopy.
The building facades and front-yards adjacent to public walkways are atypical for a suburban context. Because almost all parking is under the buildings, the pedestrian environment is free of driveways and garages and the design of building facades and adjacent landscapes creates a diverse, engaging, attractive design for passers-by.
These features create an integrated system of parks and walkways that connect pedestrians to the adjacent transit/retail hub and other surrounding destinations. Phase 1 features 5.6 pedestrian intersection per hectare and 13 pedestrian route connections per kilometre of project boundary. Minto proposes to include retail uses, cafés and restaurants as well as a civic amenity block in later phases of Ampersand, creating a network of destinations, parks and pedestrian routes that will be animated by residents and other users of these non-residential spaces.