A quest for energy efficiency: Perfecting building systems

We’ve all heard about the importance of saving energy, and doing our part to ensure the sustainability of our planet – our home.

In Canada, energy efficiency in buildings is recognized as a key strategy to mitigate climate change.

At Eastern Health, finding ways to save energy not only contributes to helping our environment stay clean, but it also helps to ensure the sustainability of our facilities. Indeed, making the best use of resources enables us to continue to provide access to quality health services and resident care.

That’s why Pleasant View Towers — a recently built 460-bed long-term care facility with dedicated space for occupational therapy, physiotherapy, recreation therapy, spiritual care, beauty salons and physician specialists’ clinics — was designed literally from the ground up to be the most energy-efficient building possible.

With the intent to dramatically reduce the energy required for normal operations, the systems in Pleasant View Towers are cutting edge!

Geo-Exchange Heating

Photo by Greg Locke Photography, courtesy of Marco Services Limited

Geo-exchange heating is used to heat this enormous facility. So through a system of deep wells, heat is pumped out of the ground in the winter months and distributed around the building through a complex delivery system. This method is more than twice as efficient as a normal-type system, which normally creates heat by burning oil or by using electric strip heaters.

“The heat pump technology in this building moves heat from one source to another. In this case, it takes existing heat in the ground and moves it to the building,” says Grant Vivian, senior area manager with the Infrastructure Support Department at Eastern Health.

This process allows for very high efficiencies. “Roughly, one kilowatt of energy into the system will result in two kilowatts of heat,” Grant explains.

Photo by Greg Locke Photography, courtesy of Marco Services Limited

Another feature of geo-exchange heating is that it can do both heating and cooling.

“For example, heat removed from a part of the building that needs to cool down, is reused in areas that may require additional heat. This is done through a sophisticated control system that monitors all inputs from the building and transfers energy to where it is most needed,” Grant says.

What’s more, during the summer months, heat is removed from the building in order to provide cooling, and it is stored back in the ground for when the heating season starts again!

In case of emergency, Pleasant View Towers has a diesel generation system to provide power to the building in the event of a power failure.

Ventilation System

The ventilation system is designed to reclaim heated air. In fact, the ventilation system captures wasted heat from the exhaust air as it leaves the building, and once captured, it is used to heat incoming air.

Additional heat is also recovered from the excess heat produced by computer closets and refrigeration systems, and it is distributed through a series of low-temperature fluid distribution systems throughout the building.

For greater comfort, the system provides ventilation and in-floor heating to all long-term resident rooms, as well as air conditioning to all the common spaces of the building.

Plus, excess energy not used to heat the building is used to pre-heat domestic hot water!

Other Cool Features

With 460 residents plus staff, over 750 people occupy the facility at peak times. With such high numbers it is critical that comfort conditions be maintained 24 hours, seven days a week, all year-round.

Therefore, a sophisticated monitoring system was installed to report any deviation from normal conditions – whether it is too cold, too hot, the air too stale or something else is not working, building operators can take immediate action to fix the problem.

Photo by Greg Locke Photography, courtesy of Marco Services Limited

Another key feature of the building is occupancy-sensing lightning.

“Leaving the lights on is a pet-peeve for many, but in reality, lighting is one of the largest electrical loads on buildings, so keeping tabs on this is a good way to save energy,” Grant explains.

Practising ‘energy-savings’: Now and in the future

Pleasant View Towers, Photo by Greg Locke Photography, courtesy of Marco Services Limited

With these systems in place, Pleasant View Towers is not only one of largest buildings in the province at 490,000 square feet, but one of the most energy-efficient as well.

The energy required to run the facility is well below any similar-sized building – at approximately 18.3 kilowatts per square foot per year – and half of what a conventional long-term care facility would normally consume.

Energy savings initiatives do not end here.

“We’re always looking for ways to save energy,” says Grant. “We look throughout Eastern Health buildings to see what can be done.

“To date, geo-exchange heating systems have been installed in other sites, such as the Paradise Youth Treatment Center, O’Mahoney Manor, Grand Bank Community Health and the Nuclear and Molecular Medicine Facility.

“And in many other buildings, we have changed or upgraded older, less-efficient heating systems.

“We’re also in the process of examining our sites to review the costs associated with a lighting retrofit which would include occupancy sensors along with light emitting diode (LED) type fixtures that drastically reduce lighting loads.”

Carbonear Long-Term Care Facility

The newly opened long-term care building in Carbonear is also designed with the same energy-saving principals that were used in Pleasant View Towers in St. John’s.

According to Grant, with energy costs on the rise, Eastern Health is well-positioned to keep costs at a minimum.

“Pleasant View Towers was the culmination of four years of planning and preparation,” Grant says. “At the onset, one of our goals was to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver level certification.”

LEED certification provides independent verification that a building was designed and built for achieving high performance in the areas of sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

“We’re happy to report that Pleasant View Towers achieved LEED Silver Certification from the Canadian Green Building Council,” Grant says.  “This is one step towards achieving a more sustainable and accessible long-term care facility at Eastern Health and across the province.”

This story was written by Melisa Valverde, digital communications manager with Eastern Health.

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