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Originally built in 1973, Vancouver retail building gets energy upgrade

Image from outside of the Nordstrom building

Update of Cadillac Fairview building is more than skin deep

Over the past three years, 725 Granville Street in downtown Vancouver has undergone a comprehensive overhaul. The former home of Sears and Eaton's, the windowless, white-panelled building had been long maligned as unappealing. As a result, much of the recent media coverage about the renovation focused on the structure's engaging new design.

But with this project, the beauty is more than skin-deep. The newly renovated building, owned by Cadillac Fairview and part of CF Pacific Centre, is targeting LEED-CS Gold certification and includes state-of-the-art energy-efficient equipment. Even before the equipment went in, the renovation targeted one of the simplest paths to sustainable building: reusing much of the original 1973 building, rather than replacing it entirely.

Reusing 75% of the existing structure cut waste and saved energy

"The building was old; the cladding was quite worn and it required some major improvements to bring it up to the current day," says Maeri Machado, the LEED consultant who worked on the building renovation. She says many companies would have chosen to demolish the old structure. Instead, Cadillac Fairview reused more than 75%.

Machado points to several different benefits from reusing the building, such as saving energy from demolition and construction. Fewer raw materials are required, and less transportation for new materials. "From a sustainability point of view, reuse is one of the biggest things that they did," she says.

The renovation included asbestos remediation, seismic upgrading and a change in usage for some of the floors. Previously all retail, the building now consists of four retail floors (including the underground shopping centre) as well as four floors of office space.

Department store Nordstrom occupies three retail floors, while tenants such as Microsoft and Sony Pictures Imageworks have settled into the office space. All the tenants will enjoy new, highly efficient building systems – another result of the renovation.

Improvements to envelope and building systems resulted in 8-10% better efficiency compared to a similar brand-new building

Cadillac Fairview worked with BC Hydro's New Construction Program to model various options for energy efficiency and develop the renovated building's design. Three different "baselines" were used, comparing the potential renovation to a building of similar size and usage built from scratch.

The building's envelope was improved with additional insulation. Lighting was another area that provided significant energy savings. Machado says in many areas the lighting power density was reduced by roughly one-quarter to one-third from a typical base building, and lease agreements require these reductions be maintained.

Measured in watts/square metre, lighting power density is a measure of how much light is produced for how much energy used. This allows tenants to choose their own lighting styles, as long as the fixtures are efficient enough to meet the lowered energy usage.

A high efficiency HVAC system, including a heat recovery chiller and an air-to-air heat recovery system, add to the building's efficiency. The heat recovery systems capture heat energy from air vented out from the building to pre-heat fresh incoming air, reducing the amount of energy required for heating. The payback period for the incremental cost of upgrading the HVAC system was three and a half years.

Also, as a part of LEED certification the design team targeted a 35% reduction in annual water savings, and added secure bicycle storage, changing facilities for bicycle commuters, electrical vehicle charging stations, and preferred parking for carpools. They also plan to follow up, through measurement and verification, to ensure the building is performing as efficiently as expected.

"They looked at ways they could plan now to reduce the impact of the building operations over time," says Machado. "I think that's important. Often when we talk about the design of new buildings, we forget that the design is such a short time period of the building's life. But once it goes into operations mode, it lasts for years and years and years. Anything we can do now that helps reduce that impact through the operation phase is important."

Modern look and modern energy savings for a 1973 landmark

The new building, which opened to the public in September, has achieved its design goal of giving an outdated building new uses and a modern look. With the attention to performance and energy efficiency, the renovation team also succeeded in taking a 1973 structure and achieving a projected energy savings of 8-10% over what a brand-new baseline building would have consumed – without the waste and energy required for demolition.

Machado credits BC Hydro's support for the project. "They were great at understanding it was a fast track project, and working to make sure they didn't impact our construction schedule. BC Hydro's report requirements do make you step back and look at the life cycle costing; that is helpful for owners in terms of choosing what energy efficiency options to include."

Machado says the shift to sustainable building can be slow. Some developers are less interested in efficiency because they won't incur the downstream costs of operating an inefficient building. Working with Cadillac Fairview, however, was different.

"Cadillac Fairview has the long-term picture in mind because they're involved in both the development and the operation of their buildings," she says. "They really think about buildings holistically."