Energy modeling helps Abbotsford Senior Secondary School achieve 33% reduction in energy use

Image of Abbotsford Secondary School

Asking 'what if' questions helped designers maximize savings

The new Abbotsford Senior Secondary School has achieved such a high standard of sustainability that it's using a whopping 33% less energy than a standard building of its type.

Located near the centre of downtown Abbotsford, the original "Abby Senior" was built in 1952. Despite renovations over the years, the main body of the school was "deteriorating rapidly," says Bob Mainman, assistant director of facilities for School District No. 34 (Abbotsford).

"It turned out that it was more economical to retain a few of the newer sections and build the rest new – and better," he says.

The new building houses a public library, a community arts centre and offices for a variety of community services, including a health clinic and the United Way. "We wanted the new Abby Senior to be a gathering place for the whole community – a place where everyone would feel they belonged," says Mainman.

School District 34 also wanted the new Abby Secondary to be a model of how to build sustainably and energy efficiently – even on a limited budget. To make that happen, they turned to BC Hydro's New Construction Program.

New Construction Program funds energy modeling studies to compare options and improve efficiency

The New Construction Program (NCP) provides funding for an energy-modeling study, a simulation of how a building might function throughout a year if it's designed and built with a variety of energy-conservation measures. The program also offers financial incentives for implementing those measures.

"Doing an energy-modeling study with BC Hydro made us think in a different way," says Rick Walker, in charge of energy management for the school district.

The design team was able to compare lighting, heating and cooling systems as well as windows, roofing, wall and other products. They could even look at how the building is situated on the site, to determine the most energy efficient design. "We were able to ask all of the 'what if' questions," says Walker.

Building design makes the most of natural light, heat and resources underground

The result is a building that's very different from its original concept. Instead of a two-storey building designed in a more standard "V" shape and situated to directly face the front of the property, the final design turned the building slightly to situate it east-west to capture the most light and heat, and added a stunning, three-storey, cast-in-place concrete, steel, glass and wood rotunda.

Other energy conservation measures include:

  • Natural "stack effect" ventilation techniques within the rotunda
  • Increased roof and wall insulation
  • A heat recovery ventilator
  • Low-flow fixtures
  • Occupancy and daylight sensors, as well as shading
  • A computer lab powered by wind and solar energy (or by students on stationary bicycles)
  • Hot water pre-heated by solar energy
  • A green roof on the building.

Perhaps the most innovative energy conservation measure of all is an open loop ground source heat pump system that uses water from an aquifer under the school for all heating and cooling. (Should the geo-exchange system ever break down, a back-up boiler and cooling tower provide 100% standby capability.)

By combining this range of energy-conservation measures, it's estimated that Abby Senior will save, year after year, more than 258,300 kilowatt hours of electricity, which means it will use about 25% less energy than a similar building constructed without those measures. Together with natural gas savings of about 58%, the overall combined building energy savings should reach 33%.

The new Abby Senior is so impressive, the school district developed a "Green Tour" to show off its state-of-the-art systems. "I got a lot of joy out of this project," says Mainman. "It was great seeing it all come together. It's a beautiful building."

About the New Construction Program

The New Construction Program provides financial incentives for new commercial, institutional and multi-unit residential buildings and major retrofits including funding of an energy-modeling study that can be used towards LEED certification and to apply for FortisBC capital incentives (some restrictions apply).

To find out more, visit or call 1 866 522 4713.