evolv1 – Waterloo, Ontario

Waterloo, Ontario

April 28, 2020

Rating System/Standard
Zero Carbon Building
Certification Level
Building Type

The first certified Zero Carbon Building – Design project has now achieved dual ZCB certification

The uniquely modern evolv1 urban office building in Waterloo, Ontario, the first-ever project to receive a Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) – Design certification under CAGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standard, has now achieved dual certification with the addition of ZCB-Performance.

The ZCB-Design certification means evolv1 has demonstrated design excellence and provided documentation indicating that the project has:

  • Modelled a zero carbon balance for future operations
  • Incorporated a highly efficient energy and ventilation system to meet a defined threshold for thermal energy intensity
  • Designed onsite renewable energy systems capable of providing a minimum of five per cent of building energy consumption

evolv1’s ZCB-Performance certification, meanwhile, verifies the building’s achievement of a zero carbon balance over a 12-month period of operations.

Completed in 2018, the three-storey, 104,000 sq.ft. commercial multi-tenant office building is the realization of a collaboration between the Cora Group, Sustainable Waterloo Region, the David Johnston Research + Technology Park and anchor tenant EY. It is one of 16 participants in CAGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Pilot Program.

evolv1 received its ZCB-Design certification in April 2018 and its first annual ZCB-Performance certification in April 2020. CAGBC spoke with Adrian Conrad, Chief Operating Officer of the Cora Group, about the vision for the project and how, as part of the Zero Carbon Building program, it is making a real difference in shaping Canada’s sustainable future.

A new benchmark for sustainable design

“Our original vision was to design and build a building that was net positive energy at similar costs to conventional construction – and we were determined to prove it was possible,” said Conrad. With this goal in mind, evolv1’s project team – including Stantec, which designed the building, and construction firm Melloul-Blamey – employed a highly integrated design process that incorporated both active and passive systems to optimize value against construction cost. The building’s design includes elements aimed not only at maximizing its energy efficiency, but at producing more energy than it consumes:

  • High-performance building envelope
  • Open-loop geothermal system using a 160-metre-deep aquifer for heating and cooling
  • Triple pane glazing
  • Solar wall for preheated ventilation
  • Combination of carport and roof-mounted photovoltaics (PVs) – featuring Canadian-made solar panels – producing 700kW of electricity for the grid
  • Three-storey green wall, promoting improved indoor air quality

Upon completion, the building’s performance was measured over its first 12 months of operation in order to demonstrate achievement of a zero emissions balance, with the goal of earning a ZCB-Performance certification, which must be verified on an annual basis.

In April 2020, evolv1 also achieved Platinum certification under the LEED Canada for Core and Shell Development 2009 rating system, further positioning the building at the leading edge. “We are excited to be setting this new benchmark within the design and construction industry,” Conrad added.

Realizing a shared vision

Given the fact that the evolv1 project team was essentially breaking new ground with the Zero Carbon Building Program, a critical piece of the puzzle was the utilization of the integrated design process to ensure alignment among everyone involved, from the building owner, to the architectural and engineering teams and sustainability consultants, to the contractor and sub-trades.

“Probably the biggest piece of advice we can offer is to get everyone on the same page from the very beginning,” he said, adding that the project has been a true team effort. “In the early days of the project, there was a lot of consensus-building among the parties involved to ensure our vision was properly communicated and shared.”

This shared vision has also been helpful in navigating the uncertainty of working with governments, utilities and the associated red tape to figure out the details of a new initiative. Adhering to zero-carbon principles requires an additional level of attention to detail at every step of the design and construction process, making it even more important to have all hands on deck, Conrad noted.

Validating the financial feasibility of zero carbon building

evolv1’s ZCB-Design and ZCB-Performance certifications through CAGBC are third-party validations of the Cora Group’s belief that it is financially possible to build using low-carbon strategies for the same cost as conventional construction and with minimal impact on the environment, Conrad said.

With the energy and cost savings resulting from evolv1’s zero-carbon design, The Cora Group is able to offer tenants Class-A office space in a sustainable, high-performance building, at competitive market rates. evolv1’s LEED Platinum certification recognizes the building’s many sustainable features that benefit occupant health and comfort, including monitored control of clean, fresh air and daylighting, managed sunlight glare, monitored humidity levels and zoned temperature control.

“We all knew it was possible, but we’ve now proven it is absolutely, financially possible to build a Zero Carbon commercial building, and to do it solely through private capital funding,” he said.

ZCB-Performance affirms design choices

For the Cora Group, it was always the goal to apply for ZCB-Performance certification once the company was able to gather a year of reliable energy data, and the project team took steps to achieve this. To further validate evolv1’s performance, it was important to also ensure that the building was fully occupied before starting the certification period.

Given evolv1 was initially designed to meet the ZCB Standard, no physical changes to the building were required, affirming the project team’s vision. The team did need to work to meet evolv1’s energy model target levels, by continuously monitoring and adjusting the building automation system’s operating settings to manage energy use and lower consumption. With the help of data from third-party electricity meters provided by CircuitMeter, the project team was able to minimize peak demand.

The evolv1 team initially encountered challenges around ensuring occupant comfort while commissioning the building’s systems. At first, evolv1 used 30 percent more electricity than expected. The evolv1 team was, however, ultimately able to maintain a comfortable temperature for tenants, and additional sensors were installed to monitor and fine-tune the systems.

Once fully commissioned, the building was able to perform as anticipated; in fact, the performance of some elements of the project have impressed many observers, including the solar wall, the actual PV energy production and the overall efficiency of the building.

Notably, the project team was able to demonstrate that, on a sunny winter day, evolv1’s solar wall is capable of heating the building’s fresh air supply enough that it can leave its fresh-air heating system on bypass for significant parts of the day, with a February measurement showing the solar wall was able to heat -13 C outdoor air to 16 C.

An eye on the future of green building

For the Cora Group, the pursuit of ZCB Standard certifications for evolv1 represents both an investment in a greener future and an opportunity to underscore the company’s history as a sustainable builder for more than a decade.

“First and foremost, we want to make a difference,” Conrad said. “When we heard about the CAGBC Zero Carbon Building certification, we saw a tremendous opportunity to measure our efforts against a progressive new building standard and to pilot our project within a program that is capturing attention from across the country and indeed, around the world.”

He noted that the Cora Group’s participation in the Zero Carbon Building Pilot Program has enabled the project team to learn from others who share their vision and philosophy, as well as to contribute to broader industry knowledge about low-carbon construction.

And with its location within Waterloo’s Idea Quarter, on the doorstep of the ION Light Rail Transit system, evolv1 is gearing up to be a hub for next-generation innovation and the millennial workforce.

The hope, Conrad said, is that the building’s dual ZCB-Design and ZCB-Performance certifications will be an important seal of approval, signalling to premier tenants that the Cora Group is a leading provider of high-quality, sustainable green spaces. It’s the Cora Group’s hope that this focus on sustainability will ultimately change the way procurement is done.

“We envision a day where zero carbon building design will be on the top of a tenant’s wish list when searching for office space,” he said.

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