University of Alberta Retrofit Saves Money by Adding Value to Old Greenhouse

University of Alberta Retrofit Saves Money by Adding Value to Old Greenhouse

The construction industry is currently experiencing a colossal shift. Buildings that were once considered opulent are now considered excessive, and buildings that were once reveled for their size, extravagance, and complexity are now discouraged due to their wastefulness. This is evident in many retrofits that have occurred throughout North America, which have illustrated a demand to downsize energy consumption, in an effort to introduce more minimalist design guidelines. This is evident in the University of Alberta’s retrofit to the Agriculture and Forestry Building’s atrium renovation.

Figure 1: A photograph of the study space taken from the second floor entrance.

This building was once equipped with an indoor botanical garden that was home to dozens of unique plant-based species foreign to Alberta, as well as tropical insects and birds that are native to the ecosystem designed within the atrium. Although this atrium provided an enjoyable walkthrough and the odd educational opportunity, the campus faculty was forced close the doors of the atrium in 2012 upon discovery of water leakage, structural deterioration, and poor snow-load-bearing capability. The staff then evaluated the future use of this space, deciding to curtail the excessive energy spending this building application required and instead engaged in a full retrofit and redesign, providing students with a modern, energy efficient study space.


Figure 2: A model of the Atrium’s potential glazing surface orientation in order to avoid moisture leakage.

This space has a modern interior design, with Douglas-Fir wooden frames providing a natural feel to the otherwise modernly designed space. The modern feel comes from the abstract angling of the window panes, which as well provide a unique opportunity for solar photovoltaic, while simultaneously solving the water leakage issue. These window panes are installed with unique photovoltaic cells that generate power from the sun while providing just the right amount of shade to the students within the glass-surrounded atrium. The room was engineered to provide a very dynamic lighting situation, with the original vision being the lighting of standing under an oak tree and seeing trickles of light through the leaves. This combined use of passive lighting to light the room and PV to power and shade the space displays the University’s commitment to creative energy-efficient applications that improve the livability of a space.

Figure 3: A view of the photovoltaic cells in use. The sun is shining to generate power, while they provide the right amount of shading for productive work.

3D Energy provided a unique role in the design of this retrofit. Due to our vast expertise in energy-related engineering, our staff initially provided the University with an Energy Audit of the room, followed by a solar PV feasibility study and a glazing and lighting upgrade design. With complex problems facing the facility staff, complex design decisions were required. The final result of the project displays an energy-efficient study-space for students, that maximizes the solar potential of the space through both passive solar heating, as well as active solar PV power generation that generates over 13 MWh annually. The buck doesn’t stop there, as the retrofit also saves the University 162 MWh per year!

This project illustrates the many benefits to energy-driven retrofits, including: cost savings, improved livability of space, aesthetic upgrades, and greenhouse gas emission reductions. Regardless of the building, or the problems the facility is enduring, the 3D staff is able to design solutions tailored directly to your needs!

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