Sustainable, modern living in Vancouver's urban core

Green Investments

Green Investments Summary

Gordon Nelson has made millions of dollars of green investments over the past several years.  These investments have helped protect, enhance and extend their rental apartment buildings useful economic lives while significantly reducing their environmental impact.

The primary cause of global warming is greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions are the main greenhouse gas but others include methane and nitrous oxide.  In British Columbia the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions are cars and trucks followed by space heating and cooling.

BC Per Household Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2008


Biggest Impact

There are many headline grabbing investments that are promoted as “solutions” to global warming: solar panels, wind farms, complex energy management systems, LEED Gold, etc., however the biggest impact one can have on the environment is minimizing driving and living in efficiently sized spaces to minimize heating and cooling costs.

Walkable Locations:

According to David Owen, author of “Green Metropolis”, the average New York resident consumes 90 gallons of gas per year compared to 545 gallons for the typical Vermont resident.  Why?  Because New Yorkers take transit or walk to work.

Gordon Nelson has invested in purchasing buildings with high walkability, in fact, according to the website Walk Score®, all of Gordon Nelson’s buildings are considered to be a “Walkers Paradise” and “Rider’s Paradise”.  Tenants can walk to many amenities: grocery stores, entertainment, beaches, parks, drug stores, etc. while also being close to downtown jobs and transit routes.  In fact, the building’s scores are the same as buildings in New York City and San Francisco.  Gordon Nelson’s buildings actually offer little or no parking for cars due in part to limited demand as the west end or downtown lifestyle truly affords a tenant the ability to not own a car saving both money and the environment.  A recent study talks about how living in transit friendly and walkable areas saves families 10% of their disposable income.  Please click here to read more.  Another report shows that it costs on average $10,000 per year to own an average car in Canada.  Please click here to read more.

For those tenants who choose not to own a car for financial and/or environmental reasons, Gordon Nelson has partnered with Zipcar to offer preferred rates on the popular car sharing service.  Several Zipcars are located near Gordon Nelson’s buildings.  Please click here for more information on Zipcar locations nearby.  In addition, all of Gordon Nelson’s buildings provide bike storage options so that tenants can take advantage of the new City of Vancouver bike lane network.

Gordon Nelson’s 1057 Barclay Street Walk Score and Transit Score










Prudent Unit Sizing and Layouts:

Another major reduction in energy consumption comes from doing more with less.  For apartments this means small but efficiently laid out units.  For example, in terms of heating and cooling related energy consumption, every additional square foot means a proportionate increase in greenhouse gas emissions.  A 600-sqft-bachelor unit requires 50% more energy to heat than a 400-sqft unit.  Gordon Nelson challenges itself to create great 400-sqft bachelor units.  These units reduce greenhouse gas emissions; more effectively utilize other resources such as building materials; and ultimately help the government justify investments in transit.  In each unit type (bachelors, one, two and three bedrooms) efficiency is maximized by prudently sizing each apartment.  Combining efficiently laid out units with the close proximity of jobs, beaches, parks, shopping, the entertainment district and restaurants means you can live a high quality of life while treading lightly on the environment. Overall, smaller more efficient and well-located units have a significant positive impact on the environment.  Check out this post from a great blog on apartments and apartment living – “Smart Advice from Small Space Dwellers” and this post on great designs for sub-600 sqft New York City apartments – “Small Spaces, NYC Style”.  Here is a awesome video from the blogger of Life Edited, who runs the best “less equals more” website and who held a TED Conversation putting his thesis into perspective:


Building Systems

Gordon Nelson does not stop at owning and investing in efficiently laid out units in convenient locations, it also makes further investments in improving the building systems that protect the conditioned spaces and power the energy demands.

Heating System Upgrades:

At Gordon Nelson’s 1057 Barclay Street and 1133 Barclay Street apartment buildings, the original approximately 70% efficient, non-condensing gas fired boilers were replaced with new state-of-the-art IBC Technology modulating and condensing boilers with rated efficiency of 90-95%.  Greenhouse gas emission and natural gas consumption have since dropped approximately 35% at each building.

These new boilers have the added benefit of being small enough to literally hang on a wall freeing up approximately 200 sqft of space.  In the case of 1133 Barclay Street, this contributed enough new space to allow the creation of a new wheelchair accessible rental unit.

Fuel Switching:

In British Columbia, BC Hydro has the luxury of sourcing the majority of its electricity from renewable resources such as hydroelectric power.  Due to this significant natural advantage, the carbon footprint of BC’s electricity is extremely low.  In fact, BC Hydro is mandated to be completely carbon neutral by 2016; that means no net greenhouse gas emissions for the power consumed in BC.

In the City of Vancouver, they have set an ambitious goal of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020.  As part of this goal the City has identified electricity powered heat and hot water as a fundamental component due to 94% of BC’s electricity being generated by renewable sources. Click here for more information:

When it came time to replace the old, inefficient, gas-fired steam condensing boilers at Gordon Nelson’s 1209 Jervis Street building, electricity was the best choice.  The entire building is now powered by electricity generated from BC’s renewable resources.  Greenhouse gas emissions have dropped approximately 60%.

Energy Source GHG Factor
(Tonnes CO2 / GWh)
Electricity 25 [1]
Natural Gas 184 [2]

Individual Energy Metering:

Many rental apartment building owners can tell you that windows are often left open during some of the coldest days of winter.  Central, gas-fired boilers provide most apartment buildings heat and hot water.  As a result of the inability to regulate each unit’s heat individually and to bill tenants directly for their share of the central systems energy, opening a window is often the easiest method to control heat.  Furthermore, there are no financial incentives to take shorter showers or turn down the heat.  In BC, electricity provides an elegant solution to this challenge as nearly all apartment buildings units are individually metered for electricity.  In fact, according to an Oakville Hydro study, they demonstrated that energy consumption decreases 22% when tenants are billed individually for their consumption. See link for study details Gordon Nelson advocates that individual metering promotes disciplined consumption and in turn lowers energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

So far Gordon Nelson has converted its 1209 Jervis Street apartment building to individually metered electricity for heat, hot water and all domestic requirements with the exception of the cooking ranges.

Window Upgrades:

Single glazed windows are very inefficient.  The r-value or the resistance to the movement of heat is R-0.91 compared to approximately R-22 for a new standard exterior wall.  New modern technology and products allow for double-glazed, low-emissivity (“low-E”) windows with a R-value of 3.0 to 4.0 – more than triple single glazed.  Low-E consists of a thin layer of metal oxide applied to the exterior face of the interior glazing in a double-glazed window. This coating allows sunlight to pass through, but blocks heat from escaping. A double-glazed low-E window provides similar insulation value to that of a triple-glazed window, but costs less and weighs less. Furthermore, low-E glazing filters out the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which can fade furnishings; and can reduce condensation on the window by keeping the indoor surface of the glass and frame warmer.  These new windows lower heating requirements in the winter and keep units cooler in the summer.

An interesting observation in the City of Vancouver is that almost all of the new residential towers (many of which are LEED certified or promoted as “green”) contain very large amounts of exterior glazing or windows.  One can see from the R-values above, even the best windows are still approximately 20% as efficient as typical exterior walls.  What this means is that Gordon Nelson’s apartment buildings with their more modest and prudent exterior windows are in fact much more energy efficient at 50-100 years old than brand new residential units.

At several of Gordon Nelson’s buildings new double glazed, low-E windows have been installed reducing greenhouse gas emissions 10-15%.

Plumbing Fixture Upgrades:

All of Gordon Nelson’s buildings have had their plumbing fixtures replaced to reduce water and energy consumption.  All toilets, which account for approximately 33% of all domestic water consumption, are new low flow 6 litre models, replacing the original 13 litre models.  The showerheads are now ultra low flow which significantly reduce hot water consumption from 4.5 gpm (gallons per minute) of the original shower heads to 1.5 gpm without sacrificing the tenants shower experience.  These investments have saved thousands of gallons of water and tons of greenhouse gas emissions.


While to many people dishwashers are a welcome relief from the manual work of washing dishes, they can also be considered good for the environment.  Several studies have demonstrated that dishwashers are 50% more efficient than hand washing dishes.  Please see here for an article from Stanford’s Knowledge Base  Gordon Nelson’s 1057 Barclay Street, 1133 Barclay Street, 1209 Jervis Street, 2254 Cornwall Avenue and 1075 Burnaby Street buildings have dishwashers.


During the renovation and refurbishment of Gordon Nelson’s apartment buildings, the exterior walls and ceilings are often exposed.  The 50-100 year old buildings wall insulation is typically rated R-5 (the R-value measures the resistance to the movement of heat), well below the current R-22 standard. In the ceiling Gordon Nelson commonly finds R-10, well below the current R-28 standard.  During renovations, Gordon Nelson upgrades the R-value of the walls and ceilings to meet or exceed current standards reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Green Industry Leadership

Chris Nelson, co-owner of Gordon Nelson, sat on the City of Vancouver’s Green Building Retrofit Strategy Industry Leadership Committee.  This committee worked with the City and its consultants on developing policy measures for existing buildings that will amend part 10 of the Vancouver Building and Bylaws to address energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reductions.  Several of Gordon Nelson’s green investments and lessons learned were shared with the committee.

Gordon Nelson is participating in BC Sustainable Energy’s Green Landlords Project.  The project is developing ways of enabling residential owners and tenants to invest in energy and water efficiency upgrades and encourage more sustainable behavior.  Program partners include the City of Vancouver, BC Apartment Owners and Managers Association, BC Hydro, Fortis, VanCity and the Royal Bank of Canada.  For more information please visit

[2] Omicron presentation to City of Vancouver Green Building Retrofit Strategy Industry Leadership Committee: 51.1 tonnes/TJ (converted to tonnes per GWh at 3.4 TJ per GWh).

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