November 20 2020
Behind the Project: Ken Soble Tower
A closer look at one of the largest EnerPHit certified projects in the world.
Recently, we spoke with Chris Van Dongen, an Associate and member of Entuitive’s Sustainable Performance Group, about a particularly exciting project in Hamilton, Ontario.
Ken Soble is 18 stories high and home to 146 units of modernized affordable seniors’ housing. It is one of the first such retrofits in North America.
Chris, thank you for taking the time to share more about this project. Tell us a bit more about what EnerPHIT is.
Simply put, EnerPHIT is a slightly scaled back version of the Passive House standard, intended specifically for existing building retrofits. Both are performance-based energy efficiency standards that emphasize careful design, detailed energy modelling, and intense quality assurance during construction.
Incorporating measures like increased insulation, low air leakage, selective glazing use, and heat recovery mechanical systems, these buildings use somewhere around 90% less energy than a standard building, close enough to net-zero energy that remaining use could be made up with on-site renewables (solar, wind, etc.).
Tell us what you enjoyed most about working on this project. Were there any unexpected challenges you had to solve for?
Work on this project was rewarding because it always felt like the challenges we solved for were not just project-specific, but also exemplary of the many future projects we expect to follow.
There are solutions in this project that will set a precedent for other projects, such as removing balconies, fiberglass window systems, and airtightness approach.
Our industry often evaluates energy efficiency projects by the number of years it takes to pay back their expenditure. Are there other ways you suggest we measure success?
Yes! Almost any other way would be better. This way of thinking about and funding retrofit projects has hindered progress toward meaningful carbon reduction. While it was perhaps effective to spur the improvement in energy-intensive mechanical/electrical systems, envelope retrofits, including overcladding and window replacement – crucial elements in energy reduction – would never realize short enough payback periods to make them compelling. This often results in piecemeal, partial retrofits that do not achieve the full potential for carbon reduction.
The approach that modern energy step codes have taken to drive improvements in building performance – reducing GHG consumption in combination with thermal energy demand (TEDI) and energy use intensity – is how the efficacy of these projects should be measured.
What do you see as the benefits of deep energy retrofits to other issues such as fuel poverty and the health of a building’s occupants?
Deep energy retrofits, particularly in the context of affordable housing, are a crucial tool in addressing climate inequality. The types of buildings best suited for these retrofits are often highly susceptible to climate change (overheating, for example), occupied by those most vulnerable to increased energy costs, and unable to take advantage of historic energy incentives due to implementation costs or ownership barriers. Commitment and funding for deep energy retrofits will help address many of these issues and realize the massive collective carbon reductions associated with aging existing building stock.
Equally important, the same measures that achieve improved energy performance have great benefits with respect to occupant health and comfort. Better thermal comfort due to improved cladding and windows, and elimination of thermal bridges, as well as improved ventilation and reduced risk of condensation, mould, and other symptoms of poor building performance all have a direct impact on occupant health.
What do you tell clients who are concerned that sustainable design is too costly?
This project, when completed will likely be a good example that high-performance design need not be cost-prohibitive. North American contractors are now becoming more familiar with the products andmethodologies that are required for energy performance. As these gain traction, price premiums will fall.
In general, there are several studies that suggest once buildings are designed to Passive House/Net Zero levels, they can in fact realize cost savings. This is often due to return of more cost-effective, conventional opaque wall systems (metal cladding, precast, etc.) in lieu of costly glazing; as well as a drastic reduction in complexity and cost of mechanical systems as high-performing envelopes reduce the reliance on mechanical systems for heating/cooling.
Thank you, Chris. We are thrilled to watch Entuitive leaders lend their skills and expertise toward a more sustainable built environment.