The Evergreen community in Ontario is made up of 252 LEED-Certified homes.
The Evergreen community in Ontario is made up of 252 LEED-Certified homes.

Perhaps the greatest lesson Kevin O’Shea learned while managing the construction of Evergreen, a community of 252 LEED-certified homes in Scarborough, Ontario, northeast of Toronto, is the power of commitment to green building from top stakeholders. O’Shea, a director for the Ottawa-based production builder Monarch Corp., said he learned the extent of the backing he had for Evergreen when meeting with Michael Kraljevic, the president of TEDCO, the joint development partner that worked with Monarch. Kraljevic works closely with the mayor of Toronto, and he told O’Shea what the mayor had said about Evergreen.

“This project shows what we can do when you start with the right principles and the right values,” the mayor had said.

That significant backing from the highest levels of local government helped lead to the successful construction, growth, and absorption of Evergreen, but it was only one factor that led to the community’s success. In an educational session at Greenbuild, O’Shea discussed six lessons he learned in the company’s first attempt at building green.

1. Early planning pays. Monarch wanted to shed the common perception that green building has a price premium and make sure that its green-built community was a repeatable and sustainable model, O’Shea said. Early planning helped him blend the right choices for the company with what the customer wanted—the LEED label, but also commitment and quality from the builder. We asked, ‘How do we stay profitable and establish value for our customers?’” he said.

2. Get commitment from the top down. Evergreen had support not only from the mayor, but from the senior leadership of both Monarch and TEDCO. That buy-in from the top was what led to the success of the ambitious green project, O’Shea said, citing the meeting he had with Monarch’s president, who told him, “This is going to work because I’m going to support it.”

3. Build lean. How can builders save money while still providing the level of quality customers expect? Monarch conducted a “lean blitz” to eliminate as much waste as possible from the construction process. Construction waste management practices, which were required anyway for Ontario regulations and LEED certification, helped to keep costs down. The company also tightly planned and controlled its framing packages.
4. Rely on internal knowledge.
Instead of hiring green consultants to perform specific tasks, the company brought some on board to train employees. “We wanted to have the consultants teach us …  to allow us to go out and be successful on our own,” O’Shea said.

For example, before undertaking the main phases of construction, the company built and certified test homes and used them as training opportunities. Blower door testing equipment was circulated among different site builder groups, generating competition to build the tightest home.

5. Communicate with suppliers and trades. Before undertaking the Evergreen project, Monarch gauged the enthusiasm of potential supplier and contractor partners that would be integral to the project. Those conversations helped them develop and revise the scope of work with the contractors, and the company kept that communication going throughout the entire project.

“We followed up to learn about the mistakes we made,” O’Shea said. “We’ve now adopted a series of specs that are baseline standards for every house.”

6. Understand performance claims. O’Shea and his company have learned from experience not to let their marketing team make statements that they can’t back up. On earlier green-built homes, the company made claims about their energy efficiency that could be easily misconstrued.

“That works in a simulated program, but those results get thrown out the windows when the homeowner runs six plasma screens and doesn’t get the energy savings they expected,” O’Shea said.

Instead, Monarch chooses any new technologies carefully, measures the results, and adjusts accordingly. “Deliver what you know you can do,” O’Shea suggested.

Jeffrey Lee is Managing Editor of EcoHome.