A Tour of 7 College Ave. West

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

  • fully renovated 7 College

    fully renovated 7 College

Written by www.thecannon.ca

Accessible and Environmental: a tour of 7 College Ave. W

How would you like to live in a house that combines a pro-active approach to sustainability as well as a barrier free living environment? 7 College Ave. West is a housing project that combines these pressing issues. It is brought to you in part by the Guelph Campus Co-op.

The projects designers took into account accessibility issues faced by students with disabilities when looking for appropriate housing while incorporating green technologies. Redevelopment began May and was finished in time for 12 students to move in this past September.

Front and back entrances can be used by those with wheelchairs and just inside the back door is an elevator that gives students who cannot use stairs access to four floors. Each bed room is fully accessible so students with disabilities can live where ever they choose. All common spaces, like bathrooms and the kitchen are openly accessible in design. Every appliance, on top of being energy efficient, is barrier free.

"If you want to retrofit for barrier free you are faced with a pile of Guelph building code violations, it's a bloody challenge to meet all the requirements." Explained Tom Beernink, manager of housing and member relations for the Guelph Campus Co-operative. The extra costs the project generated through compliance with city standards meant that certain ideas couldn't be seen to fruition, like the initial goal to have 100% recycled soda bottle fiber carpeting. The housing Co-op needed to work within a budget in order to insure a cap on rent of 400$ a month including utilities. Tom credits a great team of builders; willing to learn and explore and an architect with vision for the success of the project within a deadline, despite unexpected costs.

The exterior of the house combines the original brick structure with a brand new addition to the house, producing an impressive hybrid looking aesthetic. The new addition is built on a North/South axis to maximize the amount of heat passively collected from facing the sun. Solar panels installed on the roof heat a hot water tank, which in turn warms tubes that snake through a concrete floor. (This is called in-floor radiant heating.) During the warm seasons, plant life will keep the building cool. Cedar trellises covered in vines vertically climb the outside walls. The trellises will also provide shade on the roof patio which overlooks a large trough, fed by rainwater, that will also contain plant life. Other passive temperature moderators were built into the design: an open spiral stair case, effective ventilation, sky lights and good windows all help keep 7 College cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Rain water collection is essential to the functioning of the property. The yard has been dug into a berm so rain stays contained, meaning healthier trees and plants. Over sized eves-troughs collect rain fall from the entire surface area of the house and funnel it down into the basement where multiple 1500 liter tanks collect and store it. The tanks currently use the rain water to flush toilets after going through a three part filtering system; rough, to take out sticks and leaves, UV, then charcoal. Water from showers is also used in this fashion. Sadly the City of Guelph will not permit grey water to be used other than to flush toilets. If these regulations could be changed, Tom Beernink imagines using filtered rainwater for showers and to wash clothes.

"i believe the next decade our attitudes towards water will change radically." Tom said, and brought up the current situation in Australia, which is now in the grips on the worst draught in decades. Crops are failing and water usage may be restricted by the government to drinking only, spelling disaster for farmers. He thinks people in Canada are going to have to re-evaluate how we use water very soon, and that when that happens rain water collection will be one of the viable solutions.

Reuse of water is closely linked with reducing consumption. All toilets are low flush. The urinal uses only 1 liter per flush and the 'regular' toilets have a dual flush option: 4 liters for little flush, 6 for a big one. Brand new front loading washing and drying machines use 50% less energy and water than regular ones.

"One of the benefits of building is it becomes an educational tool." Says Tom Beernink. The building illustrates how sustainable technologies can be taken into account on every level of the renovating/building process, from appliances to fundamental structure. Tom sees many possible future additions to the house, including but not limited to; a wet land in the front yard, a geothermal heating system, a garden, and space for native plants and habitats. A lot of these plans depend on neighbors and city officials not imposing (or perhaps changing) restrictions. He seems confident that; "Over time people learn to accept what is unacceptable now".

He thinks that Co-ops, and by extension the University needs to be really on top of sustainability and accessibility issues. Change has to start somewhere and, he says; "If not the University and Co-op, than Who?".

All students pay a .87 cent a semester fee to the Affordable Housing Initiative (AHI), a partnership between the Guelph Campus Co-operative and the CSA. The AHI fund is administered by a CSA committee and the Center for Students with Disabilities. The 7 College Ave. West expansion project was chosen as the first recipient of the money.

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