Multi-Family Retrofits: The Case for Going Green

Multi-Family Retrofits

In June 2022, Avenue Living and the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) joined forces to commit $162 million towards deep retrofits across our Canadian portfolio. The partnership will fund upgrades to 220 residential buildings, touching approximately 6,700 homes and helping lower the carbon emissions for nearly half of our Canadian portfolio.

As a key pillar of our ESG efforts and overall strategy, Avenue Living has always made responsible and impactful capital improvements — for example, installing a better-insulated roof, higher-efficiency windows, or a new boiler. These energy conservation measures (ECMs) extend the life of the asset and make living spaces more comfortable in summer and winter.

Our portfolio spans a region with some of the coldest weather in North America, and these upgrades help increase energy efficiency. A better-insulated building envelope, for example, keeps the building temperature more even year-round and allows heating and cooling systems to work more effectively. Upgraded high-efficiency HVAC systems, paired with better-insulated building envelopes, help reduce consumption.

In 2020, commercial and residential buildings accounted for 17 per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions (excluding construction and building materials, which pushes the number to 30 per cent). The Government of Canada is committed to reducing carbon emissions to below 45% of 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero by 2050 — and estimates that, to meet that goal, Canada needs to retrofit 600,000 homes and 750 million square feet of commercial space per year between now and 2040 to meet those commitments.

Avenue Living is doing our part while paving the way to setting a new standard in the multi-family industry. As an open-source advisor and collaborator, we are sharing how these retrofits can benefit investors, residents, and our communities at large. Our partnership with the CIB aims to reduce emissions from buildings in the program by 50 per cent, and pilot projects are already underway.

CHOOSING ENERGY CONSERVATION MEASURES (ECMS)

Retrofitting buildings to create the most energy savings is based on careful analysis, energy audits, and a well-developed strategy for capital improvements. As part of our current acquisition strategy, Avenue Living systematically determines which capital improvements will be the most impactful for each property. Deep energy retrofits are no different.

Before a property can be included in the CIB retrofit program, it must meet Investor Ready Energy Efficiency (IREE) Certification. IREE is a global framework that signals a building has undergone appropriate due diligence and the retrofit projects have been developed by qualified professionals who adhere to a series of protocols for assessing risk, comparing savings, and evaluating opportunities. This third-party certification reduces costs for transactions, capital, and due diligence and increases investor confidence through reliable and consistent projections.

Baselining is essential to determining the viability of any retrofit project, and as part of IREE protocols, our buildings have undergone multiple energy audits. When we examined our portfolio in search of the most impactful ECMs, we discovered our larger properties — those with more than 24 units — presented our best opportunity to reduce GHG emissions. Energy audits have also revealed that wood-frame buildings can be further optimized compared to brick or concrete buildings, which are already quite efficient. In addition, we closely evaluated other aspects of the building’s mechanical operations and construction for ways to increase efficiency — roofs, boilers, and exterior cladding, for example.

“As we were going through the program details, we looked at a number of factors to determine if a building would be a good candidate for upgrades, for example, will the improvements offset enough energy and emissions to be financially viable, or is the building equipment old or inefficient,” says Daniel Klemky, energy manager at Avenue Living. “If building equipment is reaching the end of its useful life, there may be an opportunity for us to modernize that property in a cost-effective way.”

Our retrofits include:

  • Upgraded heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems, which allow us to heat and cool buildings more efficiently and keep temperatures even throughout the property
  • An upgraded building envelope and roof, which improves insulation, eliminates the possibility of pipes freezing and improves aesthetics
  • Triple-glazed, high-efficiency windows, to reduce heat loss (or gain)
  • Low-flow water fixtures, to reduce water consumption and provide a better experience for residents
  • LED lighting and more efficient fixtures, for brighter, more effective lighting in common areas
  • Solar panels, where applicable, allow properties to generate their own power, reduce consumption, and offset operational costs

Implementing these retrofits requires coordination — and manpower. Our plan has incorporated a phased approach, which allows us to make as many updates as possible without overwhelming the trades in each city. This perfectly illustrates the combined benefit of environmental projects: job creation, and the need for expansion in the sector. Canada’s Green Building Council estimates that by 2030 the opportunities for growth in the green building sector could account for approximately 1.5 million jobs and contribute $150 billion in GDP.  

“It is difficult to retrofit multiple buildings in a single market at one time,” says Ward Woolgar, senior vice president, capital investment at Avenue Living. “We’ve planned out our retrofits with projected schedules and dates to make sure we have the tradespeople we need available at each phase to minimize delays.”

The solar project slated for Wetaskiwin Mall, for example, requires extensive work on the roof. “It’s not as simple as just putting solar panels on top of the existing structure,” says Klemky. “There’s a great deal of work that has to happen to the roof first, such as detailed design, structural reinforcement, electrical capacity considerations, and regulatory restrictions.” The mall’s solar retrofit, however, will also account for the biggest reduction in emissions.

BENEFITS BEYOND EMISSIONS REDUCTION

While reducing consumption and emissions is our primary goal, we know that these building improvements have other benefits for residents. As an active property manager, we recognize that happy residents stay in their homes for longer, and these upgrades will enhance the comfort and livability of their rentals. Studies show North Americans spend approximately 90 per cent of their time indoors, so air quality, temperature, and lighting are more important than ever.

These renovations require minimal disruption to residents’ lives or schedules, and in most cases happen outside the suites. Although retrofits like window replacement or upgrading water fixtures do require apartment entry, these jobs can be completed in just a few hours, like any regular maintenance task. That said, any construction work in a building has an impact on its occupants, and we’ve developed a plan to communicate with our residents early and often to ensure they understand the work schedule.

“These updates will have a noticeable effect,” says Woolgar. “For example, our upgrades to HVAC systems will mean there’s more even heating throughout the building, so we’ll avoid the problem with overheated hallways and common areas that a lot of apartment buildings have. New windows and fixtures will also mean residents can enjoy more even temperatures in their suites, better water flow and lighting, and improved aesthetics.”

A GREENER FUTURE FOR MULTI-FAMILY

The United Nations estimates that 80% of the buildings in cities today will exist in 2050. Reducing emissions through deep-energy retrofits is key to ensuring Canada — and the world — meets sustainability targets. For Avenue Living, the benefits of this retrofit project are very close to home: we see these retrofits as an opportunity to demonstrate to the industry what is possible. We aim to create a portfolio of properties that provide residents with safe, affordable, comfortable, and modern homes — ones that are well-equipped for a low-carbon future.

This commentary and the information contained herein are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy, any securities or related financial instruments. This article may contain forward-looking statements. Readers should refer to information contained on our website at https://madison4.wpenginepowered.com/forward-looking-statements for additional information regarding forward-looking statements and certain risks associated with them.


Diverse Voices Drive Growth, Innovation, and Success

Since Avenue Living’s inception, inclusion and diversity have been values that drive our organization. Strong, talented women help fuel our continued growth, and we are proud to say that more than 40 per cent of our C-suite is female (which we proudly featured last year). We believe different viewpoints, perspectives, and levels of experience help us achieve our goals and make our company better. This year’s International Women’s Day aims to #BreakTheBias — which encourages us to envision a world free of bias, discrimination, and stereotypes, and to create one that is both diverse and inclusive. This year, we want to take the opportunity to highlight and celebrate even more talented women at Avenue Living who are taking us to new heights. We asked them to share the professional experiences and insights that guide them.

 

Showcasing a few of the women on our team  

Faye Garlitos, Regional Vice President, has been with the Avenue Living team for three years. Throughout that time, she has gained a deep understanding of our customer journey. 

Kathleen Cowick, Senior Counsel and Director of Legal Operations, brings more than 20 years of legal experience in a range of industries to Avenue Living’s various business segments. 

Marina Post, Chief Accounting Officer, joined Avenue Living in 2018, with many years’ experience working in accounting, finance, and leadership roles for national organizations. 

Tammy Cho, SVP, Marketing, joined the team early in 2022 with 15 years’ experience in leading corporate marketing and communications strategies for technology companies in energy, manufacturing, life sciences, aerospace and defense, and wholesale distribution. 

Vanessa Prosser, Director, Supply Chain and Procurement, has worked in supply chain management since her teenage years, broadening her experience across all facets of the industry. 

Wendy Ell, Director, Public and Government Relations, joined the team in 2021 and brought with her three decades of experience in energy, finance, real estate, and technology.  

 

What inspires you professionally and personally?  

Marina Post is inspired by “being surrounded by ambitious, driven, enthusiastic, and engaged individuals; the opportunity for growth and development; making a positive impact with my team and organization, as well as my family.” 

Personally, and professionally, Vanessa Prosser is inspired by new challenges, growth, and life-long learning. “I love problem-solving, finding solutions, building things, and developing new skills, and I try to seize any opportunity to do so.”   

Team success inspires Kathleen Cowick. “As a lawyer, your work is usually behind the scenes, so you take your inspiration from the success of your clients and their business. Personally, and professionally, I strive for new experiences that keep things fresh.”   

“My parents have inspired me since I was little,” says Tammy Cho. “They immigrated to Canada in the early 1980s with a positive outlook, limited financial means, and minimal understanding of the English language. They persevered through difficult times to ensure a better life for our family.” 

How did you get into your current line of work? 

“Through another woman, I highly look up to,” says Faye Garlitos. “Had she not given me a chance and opening to venture into the property management business, I highly doubt I would ever be part of this industry.” 

“I knew in grade school if I ever wanted to succeed in life, I would have to put myself out there — in jobs that had me working on the front lines, monitoring and tracking the ever-evolving wants, needs, perceptions, and actions of different groups of people,” says Wendy Ell. 

“I was a lawyer for many years at a large firm before joining Avenue Living, focusing on operations,” says Kathleen Cowick. “I followed the highest needs within our group and focused on the things I thought would provide the most value to the organization.” 

“I’ve had a passion for communications and marketing since I was in university because it’s an ever-evolving and changing discipline,” says Tammy Cho. “I enjoy understanding customer pain points, working across various teams to bring solutions to life, and using tools to persuade buyers as to why our offering is the best option available.” 

What challenges have you experienced as a woman in the workplace?  

“I’m fortunate to say that being a woman in the workplace has not in any way impeded my career development,” says Marina Post. “I would attribute that to being part of the right teams with the right culture, with leaders who value input from all individuals, regardless of gender, race, religion, etc.” 

Vanessa Prosser has worked in male-dominated industries — and male-dominated departments — for years. “In general, the men I have worked with have been phenomenal and we have been able to build strong, supportive teams together,” she says, “but there have certainly been times where people have made assumptions about my role, authority, knowledge, and qualifications that they didn’t make regarding my male colleagues.” 

“There is sometimes an assumption that as a young woman, you are not the expert in the room,” says Kathleen Cowick of her own career experiences.  

“Having worked three decades in energy, finance, real estate, and technology, I firmly believe I’ve had to work at least twice as hard to make myself heard,” says Wendy Ell. 

How have you overcome the challenges you’ve experienced?  

Marina Post says she has “been fortunate enough to be in workplaces where there are largely opportunities rather than challenges when it comes to women in leadership positions. I have also seen massive shifts in the overall atmosphere around the removal of the proverbial glass ceiling. I think employers and leaders are much more focused on an individual’s contributions rather than their gender.” 

“I work hard and try to make sure my performance is beyond reproach,” says Vanessa Prosser. “I research and educate myself on the industries I work in to build a strong background and knowledge base. I also actively try to build great relationships with colleagues at all levels so we can all support each other in our growth and professional goals.” 

“I’ve been lucky to have some strong female role models, even in what is still a male-dominated industry and a city where the majority of business leaders are still male,” says Kathleen Cowick. “Having the confidence to understand that you’re at the table for a reason and that there is value in your opinion is important.” 

“In my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s I had the great honour of having some outstanding mentors successful individuals each with national/international acclaim,” says Wendy Ell. “With their guidance, I learned to observe the non-verbal, listen intently, and trust in my well-earned knowledge.” 

What’s the best advice you’ve received?  

Be curious and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be a lifelong learner,” says Marina Post. 

“Keep moving forward,” says Faye Garlitos.  

Vanessa Prosser looks to the words of one of her university professors: Dare to know. “That’s how I try to live my life, and it’s been great advice so far.” 

“To trust my own knowledge,” says Wendy Ell. “It’s less about trusting ‘the gut,’ but more about knowing that as I put in the hard work to listen, monitor, track and relate, then I am generally not only on par with others, but in most cases, one or two steps ahead.” 

Kathleen Cowick was advised early in her career to always find multiple paths to a goal. “There may be challenges or obstacles in your path, be it in life or in respect of a client’s objective, and if you have more than one way to get to your destination, you are more likely to be successful.”  

Tammy Cho’s mentors have given her advice that she uses in her decision making, “Don’t live life with regrets and walk towards, not away from. At the end of the day, you’re accountable to yourself.”  

 What would you tell a younger version of yourself? 

“When one door closes, another door opens,” says Marina Post. “So much of what happens in our lives can seem quite challenging or negative in the moment but can be, in retrospect, the opportunity for growth, improvement, and a path to something better.” 

“Set reasonable expectations and exceed them rather than trying to be all things to all people. And invest early,” says Kathleen Cowick. 

“Slow down and smell the flowers. You’re doing it right,” says Wendy Ell. 

Tammy Cho has found it valuable to “trust your gut, take more risks, and know your worth.”  

 

As we benefit from the insight of different women across Avenue Living, we continue to appreciate our diverse team and the manner in which our female leaders contribute to our ongoing success. We are always looking for dynamic people to join our team. Take a look at our career opportunities.  

 

 

This commentary and the information contained herein are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy, any securities or related financial instruments. This article may contain forward-looking statements. Readers should refer to information contained on our website at www.avenuelivingam.com for additional information regarding forward-looking statements and certain risks associated with them.