Student Project

Whole-Building Energy Modelling

HPB Capstone project provides hands-on experience

For their capstone project, students in the High Performance Buildings program developed energy models for a research lab in Prince George, BC, to explore the potential of three certification standards.

UBC MEL HPB Capstone Project Daniel Eden

For their capstone project, students in the High Performance Buildings program developed energy models for a research lab in Prince George, BC, to explore the potential of three certification standards.

Whole-building energy modelling estimates the energy use of a building over time, and it’s a crucial step when designing high-performance buildings. The process allows you to see how modifying specific variables can optimize a building’s performance so that it meets the requirements of the energy code and certification standards.

For their capstone project, students in the Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) in High Performance Buildings program were given the construction documents for the Wood Innovation Research Lab (WIRL) at the University of Northern BC in Prince George. They were tasked with developing energy models for the WIRL to meet Passive House specifications as well as two other certification or rating systems chosen by the student.

“This project simulated the process you’d use if you were working with a client to propose and compare various green building options,” explains MEL student Daniel Eden.

“There are many rating systems out there and it can be confusing for owners to navigate the pros and cons of each one. Developing three energy models was a way of narrowing down what could work for this particular building and seeing what that would mean in terms of building components, the building envelope, mechanical systems and more.”

Eden notes that some of the challenges with this project were the lab’s location in Prince George, where sub-zero temperatures are the norm for many months of the year, and the building’s function as an energy-intensive lab with high ceilings and a large interior workshop.

He developed his energy models based on the Passive House standard as well as the Zero Carbon Building Standard (developed by the Canada Green Building Council) and step three of the BC Energy Step Code, which he describes as a “progressive policy that municipalities can voluntarily adopt to encourage developers to design and construct buildings that exceed the performance requirements of the BC Building Code.”

With the building’s construction documents in hand, students used IES Virtual Environment energy modelling software to explore the implications of modifying components like walls, roofs, windows, insulation, slabs and mechanical systems.

“Developing the energy models also required understanding the loads in the building, such as the number of people using it, as that has implications on the energy demands for computers, plug loads and ventilation requirements,” Eden says.

The capstone project mirrored the process that engineers would typically use during the design development stage when consulting with a client on a project. Students had to present the initial options under consideration to the group, and then complete two more presentations to explain the details and implications of each option. “The class and instructors acted as a mock client, asking the tough questions that need to be asked,” he says

The capstone course was led by Dr. Andrea Frisque, a founding director of the Canadian Passive House Institute, who in her role as senior building performance engineer at Stantec worked on the WIRL project, which was completed in 2018 and was North America’s first building for a post-secondary institution certified to Passive House standards.

“As future managers of high-performance building projects, we now have a much better understanding of the potential and limitation of energy modelling,” says Eden.

“It’s helpful to have this baseline understanding of inputs and outputs so that we know how to interpret results and, more importantly, know what questions to ask. Even if you aren’t doing energy modelling in your career, you will definitely have energy modellers on your team.

“This project provided valuable hands-on experience. It’s one thing to learn about green building rating systems, as we did in one of the initial courses in the program. It’s quite another to have the tangible experience of tweaking hundreds of inputs in the energy model to achieve those results.”

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