Ottawa’s ‘Beaver Barracks’


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The rather unfortunately named ‘Beaver Barracks‘ is an ecologically oriented housing development, being put up by the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC). Two buildings are under construction now, at 464 Metcalfe and 160 Argyle, and they are expected to accept their first residents in November and January, respectively. The building on Argyle will be four stories, while that on Metcalfe will be eight, with a roof terrace. Two additional buildings are expected later. In the middle, community gardens will be put in when construction is finished. The whole complex is located just south of the Nature Museum.

I first found out about the place by means of Zoom’s blog.

Sustainability features

For me, the most notable feature of the buildings is how they will be the largest residential development in Canada heated and cooled using ground-source heat pumps. Sylvie Trottier, CCOC’s Green Animator, sent me some details on the system:

The system we are building is a central distribution loop designed to deliver a specific temperature (70 degree F) to heat exchangers located at each of the four buildings. As well, it will provide this same 70 degree temperature to the domestic hot water system via a double wall heat exchanger. The geothermal ground loop is designed to provide 70% of the peak load of the system via the heat pumps; this design actually provides 90% of the annual load. The boilers plumbed to the central loop are incorporated to assist the geothermal heat pumps in maintaining the design temperature of 70 degrees during the peak demand period. The Domestic Hot Water system (DHW) is connected to the central loop through a double wall heat exchanger. The central loop provides the DHW heat pump with a temperature of 70 degree. The DHW heat pump raises the temperature to 150 degree F. The boiler attached to the DHW system is used for the peak periods when the heat pump system requires assistance in maintaining the design temperature. During the cooling season the heat being removed from the building is captured by DHW heat pump system and used to supply the DHW. This feature enhances the overall efficiency of the central plant system. Also important to note is that the central distribution system will maintain itself through a balance of heating and cooling during the shoulder seasons, when the loop temperature is simply maintained through the space conditioning requirements of the tenants.

The central distribution loop will then feed heat pumps in each unit that will provide tenants with control over their own heating, cooling, and hot water.

Geothermal heating and cooling seem ideally suited to Ottawa, given how the city experiences extremes in both summer and winter temperatures. Other sustainability enhancing features include a green roof, low-flow fixtures, efficient lighting and appliances, and a high performance building envelope.

The architects are Barry J. Hobin & Associates Architects Inc.

Unit selection

I attended one of their information sessions yesterday, and ended up submitting an application to live in B^2 (as I prefer to think of it). My top two applications were for 683 square foot one-bedroom apartments in 160 Argyle, with this layout:

The balcony and windows look south, into what will eventually be the central garden area. For the immediate future, they will overlook a construction site.

Reading floorplans isn’t something I have much experience with, so if any readers have the mental ability to turn these pictures into an image of what the apartments will be like, I would appreciate your feedback.

The other unit I applied for, as a third choice, is a 602 square foot one-bedroom apartment, located on the 5th floor of 464 Metcalfe. It has this floorplan:

The bedroom window would look north, toward the Museum of Nature, with the balcony above the central garden area.

The rent for each unit is $956, plus various expenses. For the units I selected at 160 Argyle, heating and cooling are $62.83 per month. For that at 464 Metcalfe, it is $55.39. HST, electricity, laundry, and internet would be on top of that. Both places are significantly more expensive than my current place, but I think it would be worthwhile for a couple of reasons: primarily, for the benefit of living in a situation where I would be more likely to meet new people, and in order to encourage more sustainable construction.

Lots of other unit types are available: ranging from bachelors to three bedroom units. Heating and cooling costs are set per square foot.

[Update: 1 October 2010] I got word from CCOC. I will be moving into a place modeled on the first floorplan, on 1 January 2011. It will be on the fourth floor of 160 Argyle. It will be my second non-university-residence home.

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

zoom September 28, 2010 at 9:57 pm

Excellent. I’m happy to hear you’ve applied. I especially like the layout of the first one, with the study. That’s almost a two-bedroom.

Tristan September 29, 2010 at 12:06 am

I think the 2nd play looks nicer. It reminds me more of Fairview.

Ah, Fairview.

alena September 29, 2010 at 12:22 am

What a great idea. I hope that you will be accepted. How is the selection made? Also the rent is not bad considering that the place would be new, environmentally friendly and in line with your philosophy. Is there a lot of concrete in the building? I went to see the units at the Olympic Village and they are also very attractive, but too expensive. Of your choices, I like the one with the study because you can also use it if you have a guest and your bedroom and work area are separate. Roman Czemerys is an architect and he would be very informed and approachable.

Milan September 29, 2010 at 8:15 am

It reminds me more of Fairview.

One major way B^2 is worse than a university residence is the lack of building-wide high speed internet access. Given that they built the place recently, I can’t understand why they wouldn’t run ethernet cable into every unit and offer everyone good internet access at a reduced price. It makes no sense for everybody to have their own individual $50 DSL connection.

. September 29, 2010 at 10:55 am

Beaver Barracks dodges a bullet
Posted Aug 26, 2010 By James Rubec

EMC News -The Beaver Barracks development won’t get caught with a bill for over $500,000. The city’s community and protective services committee unanimously agreed last Thursday to grant the Beaver Barracks project on Metcalfe and Catherine St. $531,678 to cover the costs of work mandated by the provincial government. Despite approval by the city, sewer and plumbing systems in the affordable housing community had to be changed, according to staff of the housing organization.

“It was a little snag in a huge project,” said Ray Sullivan executive director of Centertown Citizens Ottawa Corp (CCOC). “The Ministry of the Environment didn’t like the set up of our sewer and septic system. It had been approved by the city and construction on it was almost complete. We had to install some large pumps and rework the pipes.”

. September 29, 2010 at 10:58 am

“Geoexchange, also known as geothermal heat pump technology, takes advantage of the abundant low-grade solar thermal energy that is stored in the ground year-round — literally free energy under your feet. This energy is captured by use of a ground-heat exchanger (GHX) and standard heat pump technology. Only a small amount of electricity is used to operate the system, resulting in overall energy efficiency 300 to 500% greater than common natural gas or electric equipment. Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced dramatically by the same degree.

The geoexchange system at Beaver Barracks includes 60 boreholes drilled 137 metres deep through soil and limestone bedrock. The individual loop pipes are thermally fused together into a continuous parallel piping network that forms one large geoexchange field. The field feeds to a single central energy plant, which provides heated and chilled water and domestic hot water to the individual buildings.

The central energy plant uses modular high-efficiency heat pumps to maintain a two-pipe central loop tempered to 23-31°C (73-87°F), This feeds a secondary loop in each building, maintained at 21-32°C (70-90°F). Small individual heat pumps in each apartment draw from the secondary loop to maintain the temperature desired by the occupant.

Once final commission checks are completed this summer, the geoexchange district energy system at Beaver Barracks will be the largest of its kind in Canada.

. September 29, 2010 at 11:09 am

“The City of Ottawa owns some property (called the “Beaver Barracks site”, named after the temporary buildings built during WWII for the Department of Defense) which is designated to be used for affordable housing. The site has also hosted community gardens since 1997. In 2004, the City of Ottawa constructed a building on the site for paramedics to rest while waiting for calls. This particular location is useful because the proximity to the Queensway and to Centretown arteries allows ambulances to serve Centretown well.

A new affordable housing development on the site will require this Paramedic Post to be relocated within the site (the new one will be completed before the old one is demolished).”

R.K. September 29, 2010 at 11:31 am

Do you have an estimate of the greenhouse gas emissions reductions associated with the geoexchange system in this complex?

It would be interesting to see figures for both the entire life of the project and per resident per year.

BuddyRich September 29, 2010 at 10:18 pm

I think both look nice. I like the floor plan of the one with the study better, but the view of the Museum of Nature from the other unit would be better, IMO. Of course I absolutely love the Museum of Nature’s building so I am biased.

As for the rent, while expensive enough, for the location it is priced below market rates, especially for what will be new units. While we were dating, my wife was renting an apt. in a 1920’s 3 story walk-up at Elgin and McLeod and paid a bit more than their 2 bedroom price (she rented a 2 bedroom) and that was close to 5 years ago now…

Otherwise that is a prime location, very close to the canal, situated close to the shops on both Elgin and Bank, Parliament Hill is very walkable from there, right in the heart of the city, a short stroll to the Glebe if you want.

I hope you get accepted! Any idea on the selection criteria other than income? The site mentions diversity and a few subsidized units for low and moderate income earners, but I wonder if they are doing any other profiling to get a diverse mix of people?

zoom September 30, 2010 at 9:06 am

I’ve lived in a few of CCOC’s buildings over the years, and if the application process is the same, it’s pretty straightforward. They check references and income. If you pass those checks, it’s first-come, first-served.

I think Beaver Barrack’s unique features and location will attract an interesting group of tenants.

Milan October 1, 2010 at 12:30 am

I got word from CCOC. I will be moving into a place modeled on the first floorplan, on 1 January 2011.

oleh October 1, 2010 at 1:50 am

Well done and congratulations!

I imagine that the first residents, like yourself, will build close connections as you all move in basically at the same time.

I also think the balcony overlooking the central garden area seems attractive.

zoom October 1, 2010 at 8:16 am

HOORAY! I hope you’ll be very happy in your new home, Milan.

Sarah October 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Excellent. I’m guessing it will be nice to have the building warm all winter without feeling guilty! I look forward to seeing pics of it once you move in.

alena October 1, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Fantastic news! It sounds like a wonderful place to live. I hope that you will enjoy your time there and meet many like-minded people.

ihor October 2, 2010 at 12:16 am

you’re leading us like a beacon in the direction that we
should follow. i wish you much joy in your new home !

. October 4, 2010 at 9:40 am

“If you spent it all on new construction, you’d be spending $45,000 per unit. The latest big social-housing construction project in Ottawa is the Beaver Barracks, near the Museum of Nature, where the first apartments are being rented out this fall. That cost $51 million for 248 units, or more than $200,000 per unit. They’re supposed to be pretty nice and the whole project is being done with green-ness in mind. That’s more expensive than run-of-the-mill apartment construction, but not four times more expensive.”

Julia Rys November 8, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Thanks for the tip Milan, I might apply!

New Tennant December 6, 2010 at 7:54 pm

I am moving into the Beaver Barracks next week in the 264 Metcalfe building. My apartment is gorgeous, I can’t wait. I am moving into a 2 bedroom open concept suite. I’m counting down the sleeps!

KB January 4, 2011 at 4:00 pm

I hope your move went well. I moved into 160 into the same layout as yours (the first listed with the largest square footage) and I’m mostly satisfied. What was an obvious rush-job at the end to make it ready in time for tenants is disappointing but so far the positives aspects are outweighing the negative.

Best of luck in your new home.

Milan January 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm

What do you think they rushed?

zoom January 4, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Milan, are you all moved in and sleeping there now? How is it? I’m looking forward to hearing all about it.

Milan January 4, 2011 at 7:41 pm

I moved on Saturday and Sunday, though I am still unpacking.

oleh January 5, 2011 at 4:17 am

Milan and other residents of Beaver Barracks,

I do not know of any one else in North America in a residence with geothermal heating. It is quite inspiring.

How have you found the geothermal heating relative to the other forms of heating that you have been living in so far?

Milan January 5, 2011 at 12:52 pm

From the perspective of the resident, it seems to be exactly the same as any other heating system. You have a thermostat and choose the temperature you want.

One reason why geothermal heating and cooling could be an important climate change solution is that it doesn’t require any special behaviour from the user.

Milan February 1, 2011 at 11:08 pm

One thing I am thinking of doing is starting an environmental reading and discussion group, within the Beaver Barracks. It seems plausible that there would be interest. Indeed, this place may be packed with revolutionary potential.

At the same time, I am working on a lot of other things.

oleh February 2, 2011 at 5:13 am

Please keep us posted on the environmental reading and discussion group. I have not heard of such a group centered on a residence. However, Beaver Barracks may seem an good place to begin one. There could also be some environmental actions stemming from such a group.

I expect that the residents of Beaver Barracks may not be laden with consumer goods as people within my neighbourhood. However, you may also consider adding to the discussion a desire to share in the ownership of items that sometimes people buy on for their own consumption although the consumption itself is rare and could easily be shared. Possibilities include
1. a ping pong table for the Barracks
2. a piano
3 a canoe which could be stored somewhere on the water nearby (thereby saving the difficulty of getting the canoe to the water)
4. a tandem bicycle.

I am curious what is the bicycle usage of people at Beaver Barracks. I suspect it is quite high.

KB February 2, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Did you happen to make it to the tenant meeting Tuesday night? I wasn’t able to make it in time and I missed everything but I was wondering if anything new was mentioned at the meeting or if it was pretty much just running through the same points they’ve said on the notices they are leaving. I don’t know if you’re experiencing any of the issues with heating/water and I haven’t talked to many people about it either.

Milan February 2, 2011 at 8:22 pm

I didn’t know the meeting was happening. There weren’t any posters up or anything.

Perhaps there should be some sort of website for Beaver Barracks residents – or at least a Facebook group.

Milan February 2, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Also, do you know how to access the smart metering web portal?

. February 15, 2011 at 12:16 am

So just what did the first two buildings on this site cost? Show me the money:

The first two buildings (one facing Argyle, one facing Metcalfe) cost $40.25 million dollars. Of that 28.5 million was to build the buildings; 5.42 million for the land; and 6.3 million for soft costs (architects, engineers, financing). I think it really interesting to see the soft costs and land costs: getting approvals and other overheads are expensive. Modular building techniques, etc are not going to solve our housing cost problem when so much of the cost is land and overhead. And land will only get proportionately more expensive given the City’s smart growth policy is to constrain available development land, forcing up its price, reducing affordability.

So, where did CCOC get the money? They took a 21 million dollar mortgage. The City gave them 3.5 million dollars in grants, plus it gave them $7 million in form of the land and waived development charges, etc. These contributions are especially valuable as there is no interest or carrying charges to pay on freebies. They also got a federal grant of 7.5 million, and ‘other’ grants of $600,000. In sum, the cost is split $21 million mortgage and $18.6 million in grants.

Many rents in the buildings are below market value. This is made possible by the taxpayer subsidy in that 47% of the project costs is covered by grants. (Note that this is for the two buildings already up; there is another apartment tower and two blocks of townhouses yet to be built, presumably with similar grant sums.)

Milan March 29, 2011 at 7:40 am

Every morning, starting at 7:30am, a pile driver has been noisily hammering steel rods into the Earth, to aid with the construction of the next phase of the Beaver Barracks. It sounds just as you would expect: a huge metal weight falls from a crane onto the top of a steel bar. The bar then shivers and rings out as it is driven into the icy ground.

There are distinct downsides to living in an active construction site.

In addition to the early morning noise, there is still no laundry capability in 160 Argyle Avenue.

KB March 29, 2011 at 8:33 am

As far as I can tell, they only drive in one or two rods per morning as well. Can’t they just take one or two days and drive them all in and get it over with rather than currently doing it every morning at 7:30? I suffer with migraines and that pounding has already made two days of the past twelve excruciating.

Milan March 29, 2011 at 6:17 pm

It looks like they drove in about 16 today and are nearly done.

KB March 30, 2011 at 12:54 pm

It’s always as soon as you complain, things happen.
No laundry capabilities for a while longer…

Marcel Roy January 30, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Just to let you know Milan , I have visited a bachelor at 464 Metcalfe St, it has impressed me the tallest and see how it is very well maintained , so I will move there on March 15th .

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