Ecology Action Centre (EAC): Deep Energy Retrofit

Project Leads: Maggy Burns, Managing Director

In 2013 the Ecology Action Centre (EAC) found themselves with what is, in many ways, a happy problem — they needed more space to accommodate their growing number of staff and volunteers — and for which they found a happy and inspiring solution. Upon considering their options — buying a new space, building a new space, or renovating their current space — the team, led by Managing Director, Maggy Burns decided to demonstrate that energy conservation begins at home.

Recognizing that solving their space dilemma offered a unique opportunity, the EAC chose to set a green renovation example by undertaking a major renovation and deep energy retrofit of their one hundred-year-old building in Halifax’s North End. In doing so they not only brought their offices to remarkable levels of energy efficiency, they offered a real life lesson to their community and well beyond in the value and environmental impact of preserving current building stock.

The EAC understood that a renovated office would serve both the changing needs of the organization and continue to fit naturally into the surrounding area of North End Halifax. Retrofitting, rather than demolishing, not only saves energy it also places value in existing buildings and neighbourhoods. This is an important consideration for an organization built and sustained by the community and from the outset, the EAC was committed to engaging with its community to gather expertise and ideas, share decision-making, give hands-on learning opportunities, and share experiences and lessons learned.

The project consisted of a complete renovation of the basement and main floor, an improved building envelope, as well as a newly constructed, super-insulated third floor. For this ambitious project, the EAC partnered with Solterre Design and Tekton Design + Build over a two year design-build process. The energy conservation methods used in the project include: daylighting, thermal mass, and a substantially improved building envelope, achieved by enhancing insulation, upgrading windows and doors, and air sealing.The renovated office uses only 11% of the energy from before the renovation. That is an 89% reduction in energy unit intensity

EAC’s renovation team was successful at reducing construction and demolition waste from the renovation. Maintaining the original foundation alone, saved around 90 tonnes of concrete. Preserving the existing walls, floors, and roof saved 40 tonnes of wood, 3 tonnes of metal, 20 tonnes of “mixed waste”, and 7 tonnes of drywall/plaster. Whenever possible, salvaged materials were used. The building’s sub-slab insulation is made up of insulated steel door cut-outs, a material that otherwise would have been sent to landfill.

By choosing to maintain the original building and foundation, the project saved 527,208MJ of embodied energy that would have resulted from new construction.

The renovation took advantage of the original building’s orientation and elongated form to maximize daylight, views and natural ventilation strategies. All common and work spaces are within 7 meters of at least one operable window, providing day-lit spaces that maximize natural ventilation and visually connect occupants to the outdoor environment. Low-emitting materials were used wherever possible for paints, adhesives, flooring, ceilings, composite wood and laminates. The new structure reduces the use of municipal potable water use through low-flow and waterless plumbing fixtures. Additionally, native and adapted plantings were selected to eliminate the requirement of an irrigation system.

The building’s Grand Re-Opening, held on April 22, was attended by over 200 people, including media outlets who picked up the story of the renovation ensuring that it was actively shared through social media, blogs, and publications.

Guided tours are given every week. Visitors are also able to take a self-guided tour using a comprehensive signage program or visit virtually through an online tour. EAC’s now 5200 square feet building is a showcase for environmentally-sensitive architecture and renovation in a tight urban setting, an example of what a deep-energy retrofit on a limited budget can accomplish.

The final result of the EAC’s daring, creative and carefully orchestrated renovation project is a fully renovated three-storey, century-old building that uses 50% less energy than its former two-storey structure, even though building area was increased by 50%. This is a building well-ready for its second century of life. In fact, as of 2017 the EAC building is the most energy-efficient commercial office retrofit in Canada meaning it is also a practical and beautiful embodiment of the organization’s values.