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Lighting a zero-carbon building

April 7, 2023 | By Anthony Capkun

Daylighting and artificial lighting combine to drive Joyce Centre’s exceptional energy efficiency

Source: Mohawk College

April 7, 2023 – The Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ont., was conceived in early 2016 and, from the outset, the intention was to create a net-zero building; to push the boundaries of what building technologies could achieve, and differentiate the college from its peers.

Around that time, Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) was developing a pilot program for its new Zero-Carbon Building Program, explains Tony Cupido, Ph.D., P.Eng., who serves at the college as research chair, Sustainable Building Technologies. So Mohawk accepted the challenge, becoming one of 16 facilities across Canada to pilot the ZCB program.

CaGBC’s ZCB-Performance standard certifies that buildings achieve zero-carbon operations year after year.

“What’s important to me—and what was important to Mohawk at the time—was to have third-party validation,” Cupido insists. “It’s easy to say ‘We’ve done this, or we’re doing that’… okay… prove it!”


Which they did. Opening in May 2018, the Joyce Centre became the second project in Canada and the first institutional building to earn a Zero-Carbon Building-Design certification through CaGBC’s ZCB Program.

“It’s a very ultra-efficient building, and we’re exceeding any performance metrics that we set going in. We’re very proud of that,” says Cupido.

The Joyce Centre features an array of technologies that help it achieve such amazing results, including: a high-performance envelope; solar panels that generate about 730,000 kWh annually (the centre uses no natural gas onsite); low-flow taps, toilets and urinals; and a geothermal system for heating and cooling.

“The mechanical room is roughly a third of what you would typically have for a 100,000-sf building,” says Cupido proudly, “And and we have no boilers, no gas-fired heating equipment for heating or domestic hot water heating—everything is done through solar.”

Designing around an energy budget

Like every construction project, the Joyce Centre set a financial budget, but Mohawk took things further by establishing an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) budget of just over 70 equivalent kWh per square metre, per year.

“And we worked toward that target on every design component of the building, including the lighting,” Cupido notes. “We had a component of energy use intensity for lighting—which was just under 10 ekWh per m²—and we did that for the heating and cooling, for the plug loads, elevators, and other components of the building.”

“As we went through the design, and then the first year of operation, we were able to show that we could easily live within the target that was set,” Cupido says.

Daylighting and artificial lighting

Of course, a conspicuous energy efficiency tactic is the combination of large, insulated windows that allow sunlight to illuminate classrooms, labs and hallways, alongside sensor-controlled LED lighting.

And, of the artificial lighting, Cupido notes that one of the cornerstones is the use of PIR (passive infrared) and occupancy sensors. On bright days, there is very little need for the lights to be turned on. If not off altogether, the lighting is certainly dimmed low.

“I’m old school,” Cupido chuckles. “I went through entire programs where we were converting T12s to T8 or T5, but the functionality of sensors back then was still limited. They worked in some cases, and didn’t work in others. But with LED lighting, you can get the functionality you need.”

When someone approaches a corridor, the lights come on; if a space is vacant, the lights are off. “For us, it means tweaking and tuning the timing and functionality through our software, but it has worked very, very well—[the lighting] is performing better than we had anticipated, because we’re tweaking and tuning at all times”.

The occupancy sensors were factory-set at 30 min.; meaning, the lights would stay on for a full 30 minutes after a space was vacated. In certain locations, Cupido thinks they’ve got that time delay down to around 5 minutes. That said, safety and security concerns are just as important as energy efficiency, and figure prominently while “tweaking and tuning”.

“We don’t want students to feel that they’re entering an area that is dark, and we don’t want the lights to go off immediately as they leave an area. We want to make sure people feel comfortable and safe,” he says.

The fixtures—which consist of potlights, strips, and pendants—operate wirelessly and are controlled via the Encelium lighting control system.

“In building automation systems, I know there can be some challenges with software gateways, interoperability but, to my understanding, my team did not have that experience with the lighting packages. They worked fairly well together,” Cupido says.

“And there’s a reasonable simplicity to the concept, right? If you’re not in an area, the lights go off; if you’re in an area, the lights come on. If it’s bright in certain areas, the lighting will be dimmed or actually go off. The natural daylighting often provides sufficient light for people to learn and work in the building.”

“We’ve had very few issues with the functionality and performance of these [sensors] other than, you know, replace the batteries on an annual basis,” Cupido notes.

“Our Facility Services team has continued to excel in the ongoing maintenance, calibration and monitoring of this impressive facility,” said Ron McKerlie, president & CEO of the college, when the Joyce Centre received confirmation that it had surpassed the required building performance standards for a third consecutive year.

Built for learning, and learning about

Mohawk College is understandably proud of the Joyce Centre. As one of the largest net-zero institutional buildings in Canada, it offers a “living lab” for students, where they have hands-on access to the monitoring and operations of a ZCB-certified building.

Students are able to explore building information modelling, a process of gathering and grouping data from the building’s performance to understand and optimize the design and maintenance during the life of the building.

Both visitors and students can take what they’ve learned about building systems and use that knowledge in other projects—even their own homes.

And this may be what excites Cupido the most; besides reducing greenhouse gases and energy consumption, the Joyce Centre is helping occupants and visitors better understand how a building works.

“A lot of occupants don’t really understand something like the mechanical side, but they’ll understand the lighting side because it’s straightforward and in your face.”

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