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Victoria office towers bring down tenants' utility bills

Image of Victoria's Upper Harbour Place I and II
Upper Harbour Place I and II along Victoria's scenic harbour were only built in 2003 and 2007, but lacked efficient heating.

Improvements to HVAC, lighting trim operating costs by $65,000 a year

Upper Harbour Place I and II are situated along the scenic harbour bordering Victoria's downtown core. The 4- and 5-storey office buildings, which are now more than 10 years old, have been shining examples of sustainability and energy efficiency since they opened.

But, like a lot of mixed-use office towers in the province, HVAC was supplied by a system with no ongoing commissioning plan in place – a red flag for Colliers International general manager Paul Cremin.

If one tenant had ventilation requirements after 5 p.m., everyone in the building paid to run the entire system that night

"Upper Harbour Place I and II were constructed in 2003 and 2007, and like a lot of office buildings they were poorly commissioned, resulting in higher than anticipated utility costs," Cremin explains. "Ideally in newly constructed or in newly retrofitted buildings, ventilation is zoned and automated. At Upper Harbour Place I and II, each floor had a ventilation damper but no damper controls. So it was all or nothing. If one tenant had ventilation requirements after 5 p.m., everyone in the building paid to run the entire system that night."

In addition to the HVAC shortfall, both buildings were fitted with fluorescent tubes and other lamps standard at the time of construction. But recent developments in LED technology and decreases in price meant that LEDs were now a viable alternative.

Varying day- and night-time needs of each tenant a high priority

"As property managers, we rely heavily, sometimes entirely, on cooperation and open communication with our tenants. What we see as opportunities to save energy need to also benefit tenants; we knew that a handful of improvements to HVAC and lighting would bring everyone's utility bills down," says Cremin.

With guidance from BC Hydro, Cremin and his Colliers colleague Nicky Arthur pitched a project plan to the buildings' landlord and tenants that would substantially lower each building's annual operating cost. Approval was quick and unanimous.

Colliers' team of local technicians replaced the lamps in the stairwells and hallways, front lobbies and each tenanted unit with LEDs. A comprehensive energy audit conducted by Prism Engineering also identified a number of key HVAC optimization opportunities. These included making changes to the direct digital control (DDC) scheduling, adding equipment to the DDC system and isolating zones within the buildings.

"Without properly commissioned systems, we wouldn't have been able to control each unit's temperature so carefully and meet the varying day- and night-time needs of each tenant," says Cremin. "Direct digital controls mean we can program the HVAC system to turn off when it's not needed in certain zones, and schedule operation times."

The retrofit resulted in significant cost savings: $10,800 a year at Upper Harbour Place I and close to $40,000 a year at Upper Harbour Place II, plus an additional $15,000 a year in operation and maintenance costs.

"Value was delivered and tenants were left with a positive impression, hallmarks of Colliers International's strategic energy management plan," says Cremin. "For Colliers International, investing in the buildings we manage and in the tenants we serve is absolutely the right move in the long run. My job is simply to figure out how to do that using as little energy as possible."