Designer Homes Get Allergy-Friendly, Green and Gorgeous

in Features, Healthy Home
Published: September 14, 2013

Dockside Green Condominiums


Photo: Vince Klassen/Courtesy: Perkins+Will

Condo living may be stylish and convenient, but since developers often opt for inexpensive carpets, paints and other finishes that can off-gas VOCs for months, it’s not always picture perfect for those with asthma, allergies and chemical sensitivities.

But residents of Dockside Green, a waterfront condo development in Victoria, British Columbia, not only enjoy modern perks like gleaming granite countertops and stainless appliances: they can breathe easier knowing they’ve bought into one of the greenest – and healthiest – condo complexes in all of North America.

Designed by Perkins + Will, the award-winning development landed the coveted LEED Platinum certification, and is packed with resource-saving measures including onsite waste water treatment, a biomass gasification plant that creates fuel for heating and cooling, rooftop gardens and low-E windows, as well as social initiatives such as low-income units. The designers also made sure the suites were winners when it came to air quality.

“As a firm we had demonstrated that we could deliver a green building. But the next level was to develop an entire neighborhood that these buildings could fit into,” says architect Robert Drew of Perkins + Will, an international architecture firm that’s well-known for its sustainable designs. “We were able to translate everything we knew about a building into a neighborhood – and then that filtered back into the success of the buildings. There was definitely a reciprocal relationship between the two.”

Heating/Cooling/Air Filtering: Residents of Dockside Green are treated to fresh air year-round, which helps prevent dusts, molds, pollens and VOCs from circulating and re-circulating. Rather, the seaside air is pulled into the suite, passes over a fan coil that warms it when the weather is chilly, then a fan unit on the roof pulls the air back out again. So how can heating all that air possibly be green? Before it heads out, the air passes through recovery units that collect the heat and direct it back into the energy loop. To boot, each of the fan coil units is equipped with a HEPA filter, which pulls out any allergens and pollutants before the air hits the suite.

Flooring: Instead of conventional wall-to-wall carpets, many of which contain a host of off-gassing chemicals, wool carpeting was the flooring of choice for the main living areas of the suites. A low-VOC adhesive was also used in the installation. Durable and easy-to-clean porcelain tiles line the floors in the kitchens and baths – and the architects made sure to use safe grouts that don’t off-gas.

Cabinets and Counters: To keep air quality high, the kitchen cabinets were made from formaldehyde-free wheat board, and owners could choose between a dark wood veneer or a lighter bamboo look for the doors. Kitchen counters were given the luxurious look of golden granite – without any off-gassing downside.

Wall Finishes: Many condo developers keep costs down with paints that emit asthma-triggering chemicals. But at Dockside Green, walls were painted with low-VOC or no-VOC paints, and Drew could literally smell the difference. “I’ve been in lots of buildings where it takes a long time to exhaust all of the contaminants out of materials,” he says. “But those suites never smelled at all – and the paint is obviously a huge contributor to that.”

Insulation: The architects chose a two-layer system to give the buildings’ thermal performance a serious boost. Formaldehyde-free batt insulation was used to fill the wall cavities, then an extra layer of mineral wool insulation was added to the exterior sheathing to minimize energy loss and maximize comfort.

Extras: When the new residents moved in, they received a kit filled with environmentally friendly cleaning products and a compost bin, so that from day one, they could help keep their suites clean, green and more asthma-friendly. The suites were also equipped with programmable meters that allow residents to easily control heat and ventilation – even from smartphones and tablets – and to keep tabs on their energy use.

“We went through a whole bunch of air quality testing in these suites, and got really good results,” says Drew, who says that both buildings are also using even less energy than expected. “In fact, the air quality inside is actually slightly better than that outside, simply because you are able to filter out some of the particulates and allergens.”

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Photos: Vince Klassen/Courtesy: Perkins+Will

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