POWUR Newsletter‎ > ‎Energy Answers‎ > ‎

Rob Dumont

posted May 18, 2010, 11:08 AM by ASHRAE Saskatoon   [ updated May 18, 2010, 11:16 AM ]
A Tale of Two Buildings

While in Edmonton on March 15 and 16, 2010, I had a chance to see two interesting buildings. 

Grandin Green
The first was a multifamily residential building built in 2000. The building is a 55 unit co-operative built on the north edge of the North Saskatchewan River valley close to downtown. Communitas of Edmonton was the Developer. The building faces south. It was completed in 2001.

I received a tour of the building thanks to Brian Scott and Lynn Hanley of Communitas  in the evening of March 15, and was so intrigued I returned the next day to take some photos.
Here is a photo from the south.

Grandin Green from the South

Further descriptions of the building are available at

This building is quite energy efficient compared with its peers. It consumes about 195 kWh/ m per year. For comparison, a survey of Saskatchewan high rise apartments found an average annual consumption of 410 kWh/sq.m per year. Grandin Green is thus using about 52% less energy on an equivalent floor area basis in roughly the same climate zone as the Saskatchewan multi-family buildings.

This energy efficiency translates into a dollar saving of about $150 per month per suite.

Some of the innovative features of the building include the following:

-Unobstructed South orientation 
- An innovative floor plan that provides each of the four suites on each floor with a generous south view
-Use of Visionwall windows with their high R value, relatively good solar transmittance, excellent durability, and very good sound isolation
-External shading of some of the south windows by the balconies to limit solar gain in the cooling season
-Minimal windows on the north side of the building, which contains the elevator, some bedrooms, and not much of a view
-Compartmentalization of the suites to minimize the stack effect and accompanying air leakage. Cross transfer of cooking odours, tobacco smoke, etc. is also greatly reduced.
-A peel and stick membrane attached to the outside of the exterior gypsum board to ensure a well-sealed exterior envelope
-Individual heat recovery ventilators in each suite, which ensure ventilation of each room in the suite. In addition, space is saved in the penthouse because large central equipment is no longer needed.
-Mid-efficiency boilers 

A view of the east entrance of the building is shown in Figure 2.

East Entrance of Grandin Green

A view of the north side of the building is shown in the following photo.

View from the Northeast

Water consumption in the building was 114 cubic metres per suite per year, a 47%  reduction from the average of 216 cubic metres per suite per year for a group of 88 multi-family buildings across Canada.

In a comparison of energy use of innovative multi-family buildings across Canada, Grandin Green was found to use 36 watt-hours of energy per square meter of floor area per heating degree day. This value was slightly lower than that of three other large multi-family buildings built incorporating energy efficiency features. 

The innovative features for the building were financed in an equally innovative manner. As noted in the CMHC report, “The incremental costs associated with the many innovations embodied in the building were financed through a “green” loan of approximately $20,000 per suite. The monthly interest charges per suite for the green loan are offset by the monthly energy savings.”

Some retrofits that were recommended in the CMHC Innovative Buildings Report were the use of condensing boilers, which are now (2010) more readily available, ECM motors (brushless direct current) on the heat recovery ventilators and fan coils (now also more readily available), and changes to the basement parking lot temperature setting and the common hallway ventilation.

Grandin Green is a most impressive building. Natural Resources Canada through the Commercial Buildings Incentive Program was one of the sponsors for energy innovation in the building.

A new multi-family complex, Station Pointe, is to be built in Northwest Edmonton by Communitas. The complex will build on the strengths of Grandin Green.

Art Gallery of Alberta
The Art Gallery of Alberta opened in January 2010. 
A picture of the building from the northwest is presented in the following figure.

Art Gallery of Alberta in Downtown Edmonton

The appearance of the building reminds me of a comment, “It’s the kind of thing you like if you like that kind of thing.”

According to an Edmonton Journal article on March 16, 2010, the building cost $88 million dollars and has an exhibition space of 30,000 square feet. Assuming that the building has an equal amount of area for administration, programs, common areas, gift shop, restaurant, etc., the price per square foot is about $1500 per square foot. For comparison, new institutional buildings of a conventional nature cost roughly about one fifth that amount these days in Canada. 

The gallery was closed at the time we wanted to visit, but I did take a quick look inside.
Here is picture of the entrance doors:

Entrance Doors for the Art Gallery

A couple of things struck me about the “building science” aspect of the building. As you can see from the doors, they consist of single pieces of thick glass. There is no weather-stripping at the vertical joint of the two doors, and you can see daylight under the right hand door. 

The chief architect for the building is Randall Stout of Los Angeles.  I wonder if he has visited Edmonton in winter.

While looking at the building, I saw some workers tearing up part of the steps for the new building. The step treads and risers are not concrete but a type of cut stone. If you look carefully in the picture you can see that they have broken one of the treads while opening up the assembly.

Workers repairing the steps for the building

I asked why they were doing the work. The answer was as follows: There are pipes carrying warm glycol that pass underneath the steps. The purpose of the pipes is to melt snow. The glycol system is not working and they are trying to find the problem.

As a former researcher, I tend to look a lot at evidence and draw conclusions.

Here are a few:
1. The building envelope is incredibly complicated. We have difficulty in constructing regular buildings that don’t leak water and have condensation problems. An art gallery typically has to maintain a high interior relative humidity to meet accreditation standards, which adds to condensation problems. 
2. Certain aspects of the building such as the single glazed front doors with no weather-stripping are very poorly detailed and highly inappropriate for a cold climate like Edmonton, where the annual average temperature is about +2 degrees C.
3. Using a glycol loop to melt snow is a very energy intensive operation. Most buildings in that climate seem to do fine with manual shoveling of snow. □