At play on the banks of the Grand

Enermodal Engineering had justifiably lofty goals for A Grander View, their newly christened office building in Kitchener, Ont. From inception to completion and beyond, this project is meant to showcase the best in green building design; to create a healthy and productive work environment; to support the revitalization of the Bridgeport neighbourhood; and to increase an appreciation of the Grand River.

As of 2009, 10 buildings have been LEED Canada-NC (New Construction) Platinum-certified. Enermodal not only wanted A Grander View to join this illustrious group, but aimed to design the first building to earn a triple-Platinum rating: LEED-NC, LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors), and LEED-EBOM (Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance). More specifically, because a building’s energy use is its most significant impact on the environment, A Grander View was designed to use 65 kWh/sq.-m. compared with the Canadian average of 400 kWh/sq.-m. and claim the title of Canada’s most energy-efficient office.

Also, Enermodal wanted to demonstrate what is possible when technical expertise and ingenuity are fuelled by strong commitment. A Grander View showcases never-before-used materials, an innovative mechanical system, and an unconventional approach to interior fit-up. A primary design influence was the desire to create a beautiful and comfortable work environment for employees.

As with every project, the process begins with the design team selection. However not every architect is willing to place energy efficiency strategies and mechanical systems on the same level of importance as attractive design. Fortunately for Enermodal, the Kitchener-based firm of Robertson Simmons Architects Inc. takes a progressive view of building with the environment in mind and had the additional advantage of being very familiar with LEED requirements, having worked on over a dozen such projects, most of those with Enermodal.

Unlike typical projects, in which architectural vision is given priority over building performance, excellence in mechanical design took precedence in A Grander View. “There’s a tendency to think that a green building looks different in some way, and architects have gone to great lengths to distinguish their building from conventional buildings with features that don’t have anything to do with sustainability,” says Patrick Simmons, lead architect on the project.

With Enermodal’s clear vision in mind, Simmons and his team created a simple geometric solid with a long, narrow floorplate to accommodate maximum natural lighting. To balance the unrelieved façade, Simmons incorporated a variety of materials such as wood, stone and steel, with each telling a story about material sourcing and sustainability, where they came from and the virgin materials saved. The result is a light but energetic form that fits smoothly into its bluff-top location on the Grand River.

Respect the land

It starts with the land, and one of the many goals for this project was to inspire by example other property developers on how to manage stormwater, promote biodiversity by utilizing native plant species, creating or maintaining wildlife habitats, and achieving a pesticide-and irrigation-free landscape.

To begin with, several construction site techniques were used to prevent erosion. Silt fences along the river bluff prevented soil erosion by wind and rain, and all construction site storm drains were double-wrapped in filter cloth to strain debris and soil from stormwater. To prevent dirt and construction debris from defiling the neighbourhood and entering municipal drains, a specially- constructed truck entrance was lined with gravel so that trucks would not track soil onto roadways.

While other building owners are often divided on the aesthetics and upkeep of a natural landscaping, here it is a key part of the plan for the property, which features a parking lot island surrounded by native trees, space in front of the building for employee garden plots, and a hill behind the building for native species of plants such as aspen, sumac, dogwood and raspberry bushes. “This is really a showcase for office owners about what a native-species, natural site can look like,” says Brian Roth of Roth and Associates, the principal landscape architects. The parking lot island is not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional, providing stormwater management through a drain at its lowest point that manages the volume and filters stormwater before it flows into municipal drainage system.

See the light

Artificial lighting is a major energy draw in typical offices. Here, daylighting is the main source for light, and the desire to maximize it determined three key building features. One is its unusually narrow footprint — only 12 metres across for the three-storey, 2,150-sq.-m. building– allowing every workspace to receive light from two directions and in most cases an outside view. A second feature is the use of internal glass walls wherever possible, includ- ing in meeting rooms and enclosed offices, allowing natural light to penetrate deep into the building core. The third feature is a large skylight that provides natural light to flood the central atrium, stairs and corridors.

Tools to reduce the energy needs of artificial lighting include lower wattage fixtures such as T8 lamps and ballasts, compact florescent pendants, sensors that automatically dim the lights when daylight is sufficient, and occupancy sensors that turn lights off in rooms not in use. Taken together, A Grander View is predicted to achieve just 8 W/sq.-m. lighting power density -38 per cent below energy savings required by ASHRAE 90.1.

Check the air

As any building science professional will attest, an airtight build- ing envelope is one of the most important elements in achieving a high-performance building — in fact, 34 per cent of the energy consumed by buildings is lost through building envelopes.

A Grander View has an extremely airtight and well-insulated envelope, made possible in part by insulated concrete form (ICF) walls. To avoid thermal bridging (heat loss between two poor insulators) between the thick concrete walls and the window openings, the construction team lined the window openings with insulation, and plywood bucks were used to protect the insulation. The ICF joints were sealed to prevent moisture from penetrating the building shell. All of these precautions help A Grander View maintain high-quality air conditions and keep it as energy-efficient as possible.

Another key element in a building’s energy efficiency is its mechanical systems. Typical office buildings are heated by boilers and cooled by rooftop air conditioning units — two systems that work independently of each other, often simultaneously. But A Grander View’s mechanical design eliminates this energy depletion by creating one system that both heats and cools but never both functions at the same time. Before entering the building, outdoor air first travels through concrete tubes buried in the ground to temper it using the ambient temperature of the earth. This decreases the amount of energy needed to bring it to the desired indoor temperature.

The building is heated and cooled by three air-source rooftop heat pumps, each pump assigned to each floor. During the winter, heat and moisture recovered from exhaust air is transferred to the incoming air through energy recovery ventilation units (the same processed is reversed in summer), and then delivered to occupants. The building also features 24 rooftop photovoltaic panels that provide 5.5 kW peak electricity. To maintain the watertight roof membrane, the panels are not anchored to the roof but mounted on concrete pads.

Operations & Maintenance

At Enermodal, a key part of monitoring corporate environmental impact is targeting LEED-EBOM Platinum certification. LEED- EBOM (Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance) is a new part of the LEED rating system that
addresses the ongoing business processes and behaviours required to operate a sustainable facility. LEED-EBOM describes the necessary operational policies and must be renewed every five years. Some of the aspects of building operation addressed by this rating system are housekeeping, purchasing policies, and waste management.

Many office cleaning products contain chemicals that are dangerous to janitorial staff and reduce indoor air quality for employees. Therefore, Enermodal implemented a green housekeeping programme specifying that all cleaning products be EcoLogo-certified non-toxic (EcoLogo was established in 1988 by the Canadian government and is now North America’s most respected environmental product certification).

Corporations are a major purchaser when it comes to food, furniture, electronics and consumer products, all of which are being affected by the rising demand for environmental sensitivity. In regards to purchasing policies, every purchase — from new office equipment to food for company events — has an environmental determining factor. For example, at least 50 per cent of all food purchased by Enermodal is either organically or locally produced, or both, and all office coffee is fair trade.

Enermodal also designed and implemented a variety of waste reduction techniques, including: in-ground waste storage with a vertical configuration that uses gravity to compress garbage so it takes up less landfill space; a programme to recycle lamps that contain mercury in order to recover it before disposal; an annual waste audit to ensure Enermodal is meeting diversion targets and to identify new opportunities for recycling; proper disposal for electronic waste that cannot be resold or donated (including personal electronics employees bring from home); an annual occupant survey to collect employee responses about thermal comfort, indoor air quality, lighting levels and building cleanliness; the use of a resin-based ink stick in the colour printer rather than disposable cartridges.

A Learning Process

A major source of resistance to the implementation of green building concepts is within the building industry itself. Architects are unwilling to change artistic vision to accommodate mechanical realities. Contractors do not like to work with new materials. Engineers insist that innovative approaches to HVAC design will not meet code. The resistance goes on. Fortunately, Enermodal worked with a team willing to take a new approach to building design and construction and have shown, with aplomb, the excuses used to support resistance are rapidly becoming outmoded. B

Visit www.building.ca for a tour of another noteworthy Enermodal Engineering project: their satellite Toronto office, which achieved the designation of being Toronto’s first LEED-CI Platinum project.

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Salvaging and Recycling Sustainability

The simplest and most effective way to reduce the impact of building materials on the earth is to reuse pre-existing materials, such as how A Grander View salvaged from these sources:

• The stone façade for most of the first floor was salvaged from the demolition of Calvary Pentecostal Church in Woodstock, Ont.;

• The beech flooring in the lobby was from a demolished building in Toronto;

• The retaining wall on the north side of the property was from the demolishing of the St. Clair River Tunnel, built between Sarnia, Ont. and Port Huron, Michigan in 1891;

• 70 per cent of the furniture from the previous office was re-used here. Next to salvaging materials, the best way to reduce resource consumption is to select products with significant recycled content, which saves harvesting virgin materials and diverts waste destined for landfill. Enermodal’s new office used material with high-recycled content, such as:

• Exterior steel (27%)

• Structural steel (74%)

• Rebar (100%)

• Paint (100%)

• Paper-based countertops (100%)

• Porcelain tile (40%)

• Carpet tile (80%)

• Ceiling tile (80%)

• Gypsum board (95%)

• Concrete (30%)

• Metal studs (62%)

• Mineral (40%), batt (35%) and spray foam insulation (17%)

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