“Maison de Développement Durable” (MDD) Centre for Sustainable Development is a 6 storey office building a little to the east of Place des Arts on Ste. Catherine in Montreal. Equiterre, the not-for-profit foundation behind the development of this LEED Platinum certified building, wanted to show what could be built from an environmental perspective so they set out to build the most energy efficient and least energy intensive building in Canada. Complete data isn’t in yet, but Ricardo Leoto, technical adviser, for the building, says the data is showing that per square foot it is the most energy efficient office building in Canada.
This building took almost ten years to come to realization. The Equiterre Foundation, originally located in the east end of Montreal started looking for more centrally located office space and decided that they wanted to build the most efficient building possible using today’s technology. All in all, it was a project that started in 2001 and was completed in 2011.
Here are some of the features of the building:
- Hydro Quebec owns the land and gave it to the MDD to build the building. The land is leased for 50 years.
- The concrete contains 25% fly ash, which helps lower the embodied energy of the concrete.
- Rainwater is used for the toilets, collected from the roof, supplemented with city water when necessary.
- A daycare within the building with a small playground on the roof is used by building tenants and Hydro Quebec employees.
- A mini “test” wind monitor on the roof, installed by students at Concordia University, to see if a wind turbine can be installed on site.
- Wiring is fed under an accessible floor making repairs or movement much easier than if it is behind walls.
- CO2 sensors are installed in meeting rooms to make sure there is always fresh air in the rooms.
- A deposit bin in the lobby for old batteries, cellphones and CDs.
- Le Commensal a vegetarian (recently flexitarian) restaurant.
Heating and cooling: The building uses a complex system of geothermal heating and cooling. However, when the temperature drops below -30 a gas heating system will kick in order to ease electricity demand. There is also a Heat Recovery Ventilating (HRV) system, which captures the waste heat and uses it to prewarm cool outdoor air before it goes through the heating system.
The distribution system is designed so that vents are built into the floors with adjustable openings to control the amount of air entering a room. The air released into the building is at a constant temperature of 20C, winter or summer. I asked Ricardo if they’d had any adjustment issues when they first put the system into operation and he said that the system was so efficient that for the first little while, the indoor temperature was 25C (during the winter) because the HRV was so good at collecting and transferring the waste heat to the incoming cold air. They adjusted the controls and haven’t had any trouble since. In fact, the gas furnace hasn’t been activated yet because the temperature hasn’t been cold enough in the one winter the building’s HVAC system’s been in operation.
The entire system works in reverse in the summer time. In addition, although more expensive, the geothermal tubes are individually controllable within the main floor furnace room, that way, it there is a problem with one pipe, the entire system doesn’t need to be shut down.
Ricardo confessed to me that although they’ve had no issues with the HVAC equipment, the building itself could be more efficient because, as it is elsewhere, plug load is still an issue — yes, even in a building full of environmental organizations, lights, computers and other plugged in equipment are still left on when not in use. Just goes to show you — even environmentalists aren’t perfect (myself included).
On the other hand, it’s important to note that while Equiterre had the option to purchase spaces in the parking garage for its office space, they actually pay not to have access to them, so everyone uses alternative methods to get to work. The St Laurent metro stop and the de Maisonneuve bike path are both a block away, and because of its central location, it is well suited to be a carless office.
Green Roof: it absorbs water and provides insulation in the summer. Indigenous plants that don’t need watering are used. The rain water is collected through a tube at the other end of the building and provides water for the toilets in the building (supplemented by city water).
Living wall: a vegetative wall that maintains moisture levels for the lobby at an ideal state as well as purifying the air. A green wall can absorb up to ten times the pollutants that a mechanical system can. A simple circulation system consisting of a pump, directs the air towards the green wall and the plants purify the air which is circulated throughout the building.
Reused materials were an important part of this building. Tables in board rooms are made from bowling alley lane wood put together with a base by a local metalworker. Kitchen counters are made of concrete and recycled glass come from a local Quebec manufacturer. One piece of feedback they’ve had is that the counter can chip where pieces of glass are located leaving a divot, particularly on the edges. On the roof the window washing hooks (for the window washing equipment were salvaged from a neighbouring building that was being destroyed.
Public education: There are monitors and information screens throughout the building that visitors can look at to find out how the building is performing versus expectations. Further, there is a library of materials used in construction at the far end of the main floor, where visitors can learn about what kinds of green building materials were used and what are their benefits.
All tenants are paying the exact same rent that they were in their previous buildings while getting a more comfortable and lighter footprint building in which to work.