Picture of Doug Ford in a backyard surrounded by signs

Everyone is looking for solutions to housing affordability.

The federal government thought it had part of the solution. It asked the provinces to mandate fourplexes across the country.

But here in Ontario, Doug Ford is not a fan of four-unit multiplexes.

The Premier said he has no problem with putting four units on a residential lot. But he said – incorrectly – that a fourplex is a four-storey “tower.” Then he said “no” to the opportunity to build fourplexes everywhere in the province.

Seeing is believing
The FlexPlex looks like a single-family home from the exterior

If only Premier Ford had seen our three-storey FlexPlex® before he jumped to conclusions. We designed the FlexPlex – capable of quickly and easily transitioning between fourplex-triplex-duplex-single-family home layouts – to fit into existing residential neighborhoods. We think that the FlexPlex model strikes the right balance between the need for more density and concerns about density in single-family areas.

Even an independent observer, The Globe and Mail, reported that the FlexPlex “presents a handsome, single-family face to the street.” It said the only giveaways that it’s a fourplex-ready multi-unit building are the four doorbells at the front door.

Financial Feasibility

Ontario has mandated that triplexes can be built anywhere in the province. But the response has been low. To finance new housing, investors need more rental income than a triplex can provide.

 That’s why Toronto and Mississauga, among others across Canada, have allowed four multi-family units everywhere and have cut the development charges that stand in the way of building them.

There is no point in allowing something that’s financially infeasible.

Revitalizing neighbourhoods

However, in both cities, neighborhoods are protected from “towers”. Fourplexes are subject to height and setback restrictions just like single-family houses. There are new single-family homes in and around the FlexPlex, in the Mimico area in Toronto, that are similar in height to our three-storey building.

More families can live in single-family neighborhoods with more density

But instead of housing three or four people in a 4,000 square foot single-family home, the FlexPlex can have up to eight bedroom/private bathroom combinations and up to four kitchens or food prep areas in the same size residential building.

Carolyn Whitzman, author of Home Truths: Fixing Canada’s Housing Crisis, is quoted in the media saying the majority of single-family residential neighborhoods in Toronto house fewer people than they did 30 years ago. “That’s not a good thing,” she said.

Amber Shortt’s “Living Here” newsletter for the Toronto Star says providing multi-unit buildings can turn this around. Shortt reported that a New Jersey neighborhood revitalized flagging community by introducing multiplexes into single-family zones. “The population has since risen by 40% allowing the town to reduce its taxes all while seeing a revitalization of its main street.”

Housing Innovation

There’s a growing interest in fourplexes, particularly in suburban settings. We’ve received numerous inquiries from property owners across Ontario who want to explore this innovative approach to affordable housing.

By denying the fourplex model, we think the Ontario government is standing in the way of an important innovation in affordable housing.

Doug Ford has changed his mind before. Hopefully, when presented with additional information and alternative perspectives, he’ll say “yes” to fourplexes as part of the solution to our housing crisis.

There’s misinformation about electric air-source heat pumps out there that could separate you from your money.

We’ll do our best to debunk them.

Urban myth #1
Natural gas furnaces are cheaper than heat pumps.

Heat pumps are the lowest-cost option for heating and cooling most homes in Canada. This finding is based on two recent reports:

These findings are the result of low heat pump operating costs. Heat pumps are unbelievably efficient, typically producing 300%-400% as much energy as the electricity that powers them. In comparison, high-efficiency natural gas furnaces are just 90-99% efficient.

It’s difficult to compare the cost of a heat pump to just a natural gas furnace as the heat pump replaces two systems in your home – the furnace and also the air conditioner.

Using the FlexPlex® an example, the cold climate heat pump wins out over the air conditioner/high-efficiency natural gas furnace, according to the Canadian Climate Institute’s calculator:

Cold Climate Heat Pump Heating and Cooling:                         $1516

Air Conditioner & Gas Furnace:                                                  $1730

Visit www.heatpumpcalculator.ca to try it for yourself.[2]

Urban myth #2
It’s too cold for heat pumps in Ontario

Cold-climate air-source heat pumps work well in Southern Ontario. They work to at least -30 degrees C. The coldest Toronto temperature recorded since 1960 was -25 degrees C.  

Heat pumps provide high levels of indoor comfort and warmth.

Heat pump technology is improving by leaps and bounds so by the time you shop for a heat pump, they may very well work below -30 degrees C.  

If your house is highly insulated and air-tight, you won’t notice the difference in heat pump performance on cold days. In fact, the FlexPlex® heat pump system works so well that if the temperature is set above 18 C it can feel a tad too toasty.

Urban myth #3
You need natural gas backup if you have a heat pump
Air source heat pumps work well in Toronto's climatic conditions to provide high levels of indoor comfort in cold weather

Some heating and cooling companies push the idea you need natural gas as a backup for a heat pump (probably based on information from the gas company).  What they’re suggesting is effectively adding a heat pump to a natural gas furnace.

Instead, some back-up electric heat – like an electric coil in the ductwork, or a heat-throwing electric fireplace – can do the trick if you home is well-insulated.

It’s only in very cold climates like Edmonton or Saskatoon that a more substantial back-up heating system is advised. 

Urban myth #4
You’re worse off with heat pumps than natural gas during a blackout
We compare the performance of heat pumps and natural gas furnaces during a power blackout

In an electricity failure, neither natural gas furnaces nor heat pumps will work.

All gas furnaces rely on electrically driven components to work. They also have safety systems that also prevent them from operating in a blackout.

In the case of the Flexplex, this highly insulated building will retain heat for a very long time. We expect that the electricity will be back on long before the building is cold.   

*The information in this article is based on Greenbilt’s research and our operating experience with heat pumps in our Flexplex® showcase home.


References

[1] “Cold-Climate Air Source Heat Pumps: Assessing Cost Effectiveness, Energy Savings and Greenhouse Gas Emission Reductions in Canadian Homes

[2] We made some adjustments to the calculator to make the assumptions realistic for the FlexPlex.

Stairs can add to the sustainability and flexibility of a home

I’m twice over the moon.” 

Two heads are better than one.

Twins are double the fun.

Our language suggests that two are better than one.

We agreed, and that’s why we put double staircases in different model homes that Greenbilt Homes designed and built.

“Double, double, toil, and trouble,” you say! Is the extra cost and effort of a second staircase worth it?

FlexPlex® stairs

Toronto Star photo of exterior staircase of the FlexPlex

A photo of the FlexPlex exterior staircase was published in the Toronto Star in December, 2023

The answer is a resounding YES. A second staircase offered a huge improvement in functionality.

The most recent double staircase design is in the FlexPlex® home that Greenbilt designed and constructed at 19 Burlington Street, Toronto.  We knew that residents of a 55-foot-long building would appreciate having a rear external staircase.

But we thought the tenants would prefer the interior front staircase because it’s a climate-controlled, bright, and appealing.

We were wrong.  The rear staircase is used the most. It’s very handy as it’s adjacent to the kitchen and living areas.

In future, the addition of an exterior elevator down the centre of the stairscase can add to the home’s flexibility for tenants with mobility issues.

Greenbilt House stairs

Second staircase in a sustainable house

The green-certified Greenbilt House in Bronte Habour, Oakville also featured a flexible second staircase.

Greenbilt House was modelled on a mid-1800s farmhouse and featured a grand staircase in a front foyer with two-storey vaulted ceiling.  

In traditional homes, the rear staircase was a servants’ staircase.  In the case of Greenbilt House, the second staircase was located in a large mudroom/laundry with the garage entrance. It’s how goods came and went from house to garage.  It’s how clothes moved to the laundry room, and how people entered the backyard.

As you can imagine, that rear staircase was heavily used.

In future, if a secondary suite were added to the building, it would create a direct exterior entrance for the tenant.

Low-cost sustainability

The cost of adding a second, utilitarian staircase is fairly low.

The second stair represents flexibility. We believe it’s an important element of sustainability.

In the event of a fire, it provides safety.

Ying and yang

But, like most things, there’s ying and yang.

I can bet that at least one teenager has said: “OMG they’re home early. Quickly, out the back stairs.”

Svg Vector Icons : http://www.onlinewebfonts.com/icon