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HVAC retrofit nets zero-carbon certificate for Kanata office building

Electric resistance heaters replace old natural gas system, cut carbon emissions 94 tonnes per year

The installation of electric heaters to replace gas-powered HVAC equipment at 450 March Rd. (Courtesy Colonnade BridgePort)

An office building managed by Colonnade BridgePort and owned by Fiera Real Estate has earned a zero-carbon operations certificate after replacing a gas-powered HVAC system with electric heaters.

The five-storey, 97,500-square-foot 450 March Rd. office building in Kanata was retrofitted as part of Fiera’s ongoing efforts to meet its 2040 net-zero goal. Colonnade BridgePort, an Ottawa-headquartered real estate owner, manager and investor that oversees 450 March Rd., has profiled the conversion process in a case study published today.

“There’s no gas in the building at all. The net-zero carbon pathway’s shown alignment for building efficiency, and it’s based on zero emissions,” Lynn Heaston, the director of property management at Colonnade BridgePort, said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada.

The upgrade will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 94 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The endeavour has earned the building a Zero Carbon Building - Performance Standard certification from the Canada Green Building Council.

It marks one of several investments Fiera has made to transition buildings in its portfolio away from carbon, and the first upgrade of its kind by Ottawa-based Colonnade BridgePort. 450 March Rd. has a BOMA BEST Silver certification and had already undergone LED lighting retrofits.

Why and how 450 March Rd. was decarbonized

Colonnade BridgePort and Fiera opted to electrify the HVAC system of 450 March Rd. because the HVAC system was nearing its end-of-life and running inefficiently. The building was constructed in 2001.

Both companies saw the project as an opportunity to cut the building's carbon footprint, Heaston said. Colonnade was tasked by Fiera to figure out the innovations and equipment required to accomplish the task.

The key criteria were: to use equipment that does not use gas as the primary energy source, and to find a system that recovers and reuses heat energy but occupies minimal rooftop space so future sustainability upgrades can be made, including renewable energy generation.

Other critical factors were whether the building had the electrical capacity to accommodate the upgrade (it did because of its design), if the rooftop could support the much heavier electric heaters (yes) and if tenants would be disrupted during the construction (there ended up being little to no impact).

With the requirements being met, two gas-powered rooftop units were swapped out for electric resistance heaters.

Planning for the project required 18 months, with installation of the roof-top units completed in July 2023 over two days. Most of the time was spent waiting for the equipment to arrive, Heaston said.

Other than eliminating natural gas from the building (but not all carbon emissions), the electric heaters also run more efficiently, she explained.

A figure on cost savings is not available yet as the electrical system has not operated for a year, and an emissions inventory of 450 March Rd. is being completed.

Heaston declined to disclose the cost of the project, but did cite "excessive costs" which ended up being higher than originally planned. The building also required a new automation system to accommodate the electric heaters. 

Colonnade’s and Fiera’s environmental efforts

As a third-party manager, Colonnade BridgePort is looking to align with its clients’ diverse climate targets, and will be unveiling its own climate policy by the end of the year, Heaston said.

Several of its properties are already certified by ENERGY STAR and BOMA BEST.

A priority for the company is to replace the gas-powered rooftop equipment in its portfolio. Heaston anticipates Colonnade BridgePort to purchase dual-fuel rooftop HVAC units, which she said run largely on electricity and use natural gas as a back-up. Canada’s cold winters require such technology and dual-fuel equipment is falling in cost, Heaston explained.

Making such an upgrade is not new to Fiera. The real estate investment arm of Fiera Capital is installing an in-house rooftop solar project at a 503,000-square-foot industrial property in the Calgary area, and set a record in 2023 for certifying the most industrial real estate in Canada under the Zero Carbon Building - Performance standard.

“Eliminating fossil fuels from heating systems is a foundational part of our decarbonization pathway and this project advances the Fiera Real Estate CORE Fund towards its goal of net zero emissions by 2040,” Jag Singh, Fiera Real Estate’s director of sustainable investing, said in a release.

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