An 18-storey affordable seniors’ residence in Hamilton, Ontario, is set to become one of the largest Passive House retrofit projects in North America, serving as a model for how cities can meaningfully tackle climate change goals while maintaining much-needed affordability.
The oldest high-rise, multi-residential building in CityHousing Hamilton’s portfolio, Ken Soble Tower has been a fixture in Hamilton’s skyline since 1967. It was fully occupied until 2014 when a mix of aging infrastructure and increasing capital costs led to it falling into disrepair.
The decision to move forward with the Passive House retrofits came about in 2016, after numerous studies and consultations involving residents and community members led to its support. Since then, Ken Soble Tower has achieved a 94 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 89 per cent reduction in thermal energy demand intensity (TEDI). Today, the building serves as an example of a large scale, net-zero-ready retrofit, showcasing a set of strategies which can be scaled up nationwide in support of Canada’s climate and housing renewal goals.
ERA, a Toronto-based architecture firm known for its expertise in restoration and adaptive reuse of existing buildings, including low-carbon retrofits and tower renewal, was brought in to lead the transformation of this property.
“Ken Soble Tower is a true beacon on an international stage, showcasing how low carbon and low energy retrofits are not only sustainable, but also realize the best outcomes for residents’ health, safety and comfort within their homes,” said Graeme Stewart, Principal, ERA Architects. “Many aging, postwar apartment towers provide critical affordable housing for millions of Canadians, but increasingly face complex challenges that require repair. Our hope is that the Ken Soble Tower marks the beginning of a wave of deep retrofits across the country. As we look towards a post-pandemic recovery amid a climate-challenged world, there’s an urgency to apply this type of holistic thinking on a broader scale.”
Through a two-year monitoring process, the Ken Soble Tower will become a teaching tool, offering real-time lessons in Passive House retrofits and design. CityHousing Hamilton, in partnership with the University of Toronto and ERA, will study and measure the impacts of the building on its residents and surrounding environment, including health, safety, and economics, among other targets.
“Comfort-first metrics are at the core of the Passive House certification, achieving the same goals as an energy-first model, but with a human centric approach,” said Ya’el Santopinto, Principal, ERA Architects. “This retrofit has enabled us to enhance the building’s intrinsic value, maintain its original thoughtfulness, and also build an ecosystem of best practices.”
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