BCIT ventilation retrofit offers multiple benefits - plus $125,000 savings each year

John Murnane, BCIT’s Director of Project Services; Vanesa Alzate, BCIT's Energy Specialist; Alexandre Hebert, BCIT's Energy and Sustainability Manager; and Dave Helman, BCIT Chief Instructor in Welding
Left to right: John Murnane, BCIT's Director of Project Services; Vanesa Alzate, BCIT's Energy Specialist; Alexandre Hebert, BCIT's Energy and Sustainability Manager; and Dave Helman, BCIT Chief Instructor in Welding.

There's fresh air, but less wasted heat. Fume control from any angle when needed, but otherwise a quiet atmosphere for talk and instruction. And on top of it all, the new ventilation system at BCIT's welding shop is saving a heap of money each year.

"We were proud of finding a way to use a triple bottom line framework to actually prove that there are benefits other than just savings," says Alexandre Hebert, energy manager for the BC Institute of Technology. Hebert led the testing that identified the welding shop as the worst energy performer within an area of the campus known as "Factor Four." Buildings in Factor Four are aiming at a four-fold reduction (75%) in energy and materials consumption. (View map and live energy data.)

BCIT welding booths
Welding building at BCIT contains 100 booths where students practice their welding skills.

Small building, big energy bills

The welding building has about 100 booths where students practice various types of welding skills. "For ventilation, you don't need to measure the amount of time a student is preparing the material or thinking about how they will do the weld," explains Hebert. "What matters is the percentage of time when there is a spark, when the student is actually creating fumes."

According to that standard, Hebert found the booths were in use only about five percent of the time, yet the ventilation system ran full-time, about 16 hours a day, six days a week. Not surprisingly, costs were high: to heat a 25,000 sf building from October to March, the natural gas bill was $75,000 a year.

"We had to reheat everything," says Hebert. "We couldn't recirculate any air, so we had to heat the equivalent of every cubic meter of air that we were exhausting."

The building has been retrofitted with an on-demand system with occupancy sensors that recognize when welding equipment is in use. And rather than locate the air intake at a fixed location at the back of each booth, intakes are placed on telescopic arms that students position right above where they are working, allowing the air flow to be reduced. Hebert calls it "local air extraction," a similar concept to using task lighting instead of lighting an entire room.

The project is estimated to save 600,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, 5,000 gigajoules of natural gas, and 200 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. The incremental cost of adding energy efficiency measures to the total ventilation retrofit was $500,000 (the entire project cost $2.7 million). With a Power Smart incentive and maintenance savings factored in, the project yields estimated savings of $125,000 per year and a payback of about 2.5 years.

Ventilation inside a BCIT welding booths
Within each booth, there is an on-demand ventilation system with occupancy sensors and local air extraction intakes placed on telescopic arms.

Factor Four experiment seeks significant savings

The welding shop retrofit is just one of many efforts to make significant breakthroughs on energy and materials use at BCIT. The Factor Four project encompasses seven buildings at the north end of the campus, including four buildings that house trades (joinery, carpentry, piping and welding), buildings that house program offices and food services, and a demonstration house that uses solar, wind and other forms of energy.

"In the Factor Four area, what you have is, literally, a commercial building, a residential building, and a few industrial buildings," says Hebert. "Everyone is trying to find ways to maintain service levels while operating with just 25% of energy."

Another example of how the Factor Four initiative has helped shape decisions occurred at the piping building, where some welding also occurs. There, welding operations will be moved outdoors, since that replicates the experience students will have once they work in the field. Meanwhile, relocating the training space removed the need for mechanical ventilation, cutting energy use.

Factor Four is also focused on student and public education, with signage explaining efforts underway, and restoration, to celebrate the industrial heritage of buildings in the area. If you visit the BCIT campus, make sure you take the self-guided tour.