Finding the right fit through a retrofit

Alberta Urban Municipalities Association considered a new building. Here's why renovating made more sense.

The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association's (AUMA's) new headquarters at 8616 - 51 Ave. in Edmonton is more than just an appealing workplace for about 50 employees. It also serves as a model for how to retrofit an existing building and bring it up to current energy-efficiency and sustainability standards.

In fact, lessons learned during renovation and operation will be shared with the association's 284 member municipalities. An Energy Demonstration Centre and Municipal Climate Change Action Centre within the headquarters, known as Alberta Municipal Place, will allow the association to lead by example and provide municipalities with insight on projected energy savings, payback periods and potential carbon offsets.

Energy upgrades are expected to save the group more than $200,000 a year.

"One of the main intents of the design and our investment in this building was to help municipalities see how alternative energy technologies can be implemented," says Brian Jackowich, the group's senior director of energy services and business development.

The association formerly was located on Saskatchewan Drive. While it afforded a spectacular view of downtown Edmonton, quarters were cramped. The group considered a fresh start in a brand new structure, going so far as to acquire land for that purpose. But, upon weighing options, it decided that renovation was more cost-effective.

In 2009, the association acquired a three-storey, early 1980s-era building, which formerly had an engineering firm as anchor tenant. Through the renovation, the building has been transformed into an up-to-date structure in which the group occupies the third floor (12,000 square feet) and leases out 30,000 square feet on the two lower levels.

With the Wolski Design Group Ltd. as architects, Stantec Inc, as engineering consultants, and Emcee Construction & Management Ltd. as general contractor, the renovation began in August 2009. Upgrading encompassed just about every aspect of the building-including mechanical, lighting, HVAC, the building envelope, fire alarm and pneumatic-controls systems.


Retrofitting may not always offer the right option. It was, however, in this instance.

"There is an increasing number of aging buildings around that need some serious work," points out Emcee general manager Mark Lindquist, "and it is much more environmentally friendly to keep what is already there and upgrade it than continuing to build new and abandon old. While this building needed a lot of work, it also had a lot of positive features. The structure was sound. The location is great. And it was much, much quicker than building new."

Of course, a three-decades-old building had deficiencies. Graham Hogg of Humford Management Inc., the landlord rep for the project, lists a deteriorating roof with leaking skylights as a serious shortcoming. Roof improvements (along with skylight removal) involved adding four inches of depth throughout. A higher solar-reflective index helps reduce the roof's heat island effect. A new vapour barrier and foam insulation reduces heating and cooling requirements. A rooftop patio adds new useable space. The roof also supports a vertical-axis wind turbine, which provides visible evidence of a commitment to renewable energy. An adjacent array of solar panels is projected to supply 6,390 kilowatts of electricity a year. Plans call for unused power from these renewable sources to be fed into the grid.

Hogg ranks the various roof renewals as among "the most important efficiency upgrades." Renovators also had to deal with mould that was uncovered during pull-down of portions of the building. Despite such challenges but given the overall soundness of the structure, Hogg observes, "it was still cheaper than building from scratch."


Besides building-wide insulation improvement, other major exterior upgrades entailed installing new customized widows throughout. Sourced through All Weather Windows Commercial, the replacements have high-insulation and high reflective values. They minimize heat buildup and glare, eliminate 99 per cent of ultraviolet rays and improve air conditioning and heating efficiency.

The glare-reducing windows lessen the need to close blinds and therefore help with deeper daylight penetration. Glass interior walls allow 80 per cent of building occupants to enjoy direct daylight and outside views. Supplied by DIRTT Environmental Solutions of Calgary, the inside walls move easily to reconfigure to meet changing needs.

While the original building employed baseboard heaters, office space heaters now are located in ceilings.

Additional energy savings are being realized through replacement of the building's two original steel-tube boilers with new 90 per cent efficient units. They have the same capability but are expected to save $36,000 annually. Also, substituting three original chillers with a single high-efficiency unit will halve chilling costs. The direct-fire hot water boiler generates domestic water kept at a constant 60 degrees Celsius to prevent growth of legionella bacteria. Insulating all heating pipes reduces heat loss.

The building's three original rooftop ClimateMaster air conditioning and handling units were replaced by scroll compressors. Variable-frequency drives on fan motors optimize the amount of air circulated to required levels, thereby minimizing electrical consumption.

From a 24/7 operating schedule, heating and cooling has been adjusted to a 12-hour daily, five-day-a-week schedule matching the building's normal use patterns. This alone is expected to translate in annual savings of $39,000. A micro-generation and natural gas cogeneration will serve an electrical generator and backup generator supplementing heat and electricity during the winter.

Occupancy sensors permit light and heat sweeps of the entire building to determine what offices are occupied. If unoccupied, area heating is set at 18 degrees Celsius.

Environmental enhancements extend to the parking lot, where pole-mounted high-pressure sodium lamps provide light. Timers and ground-moisture sensors combine to reduce water consumption and excessive watering of outside green spaces. Parking lot runoff is gathered for irrigation. Further water conservation occurs inside the building with plumbing that employs low-flow, automatic dual-valve systems.

Emcee's Lindquist calls the project the most interesting one he has worked on.

"The products and systems specified were innovative and unique," he says. "It involved some scopes of work that we had never been involved with before, including the solar, cogen and windmill pieces. It was a great experience to work with a client that wanted a very specific end product. AUMA was great to work with. They were reasonable and quick with decisions and change, which makes a retrofit project go much better."

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