An integrated approach to heating

Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat
An early design team meeting. Project Manager David Stretch (Peak Projects), Living Building Challenge consultant Tricia Love (Tricia Love Consultants), Controls & Monitoring lead Shay Brazier (Revolve Energy).

Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat was designed and built with two guiding aspirations: pursuing Zero Energy, and creating a place where guests would feel comfortable and healthy throughout the year. Commitment to both comfort and energy efficiency required an integrated design process where people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives worked together to come up with holistic solutions to the project’s design challenges.

In conversations held at the beginning of the design stage between the project’s founders, Hamish Muir (architect), Tricia Love (Living Building Challenge Consultant) and Steve Jarvis (mechanical consultant), it was clear the indoor comfort solution had to include both efficient buildings and an efficient heating system. Camp Glenorchy building automation and guest interfaces were also important in order to find a balance between guests’ expectations and minimal energy use. Shay Brazier, the designer of the automation system and Matt Fordham, consultant for sustainability education, were brought into the discussion to fill in those gaps.

The design process

Looking far and wide for the right system

The indoor comfort solution for Camp Glenorchy was approached simultaneously on two fronts. Starting soon after a concept design was defined, architects along with thermal modelling experts worked on creating the most efficient building envelope for Camp Glenorchy’s cabins. This was essential to reducing the size and energy demand of systems without sacrificing the comfort of future guests.

In the meantime, Steve Jarvis and Tricia Love researched heating systems that would satisfy the project’s initial goals and requirements. The solution they were after also needed to blend seamlessly with the rustic aesthetic owners were going for while making the most of the natural resources available onsite. “Utilizing solar was a given as it is relatively free energy” says Steve Jarvis. But finding the right solar system for Camp Glenorchy was only one part of the task. It was important to look for a complementary solution that would work well in case of emergencies and on days when the energy from the sun wasn’t enough.

With the understanding that cabins essentially would work as standalone dwellings, the design team looked at the way housing projects in other latitudes approached the problem of efficient heating. They found that apartment buildings in the UK, for example, used small ground-source heat pumps in each dwelling connected to a common bore field. They also considered district heating, but soon realised that running costs for Camp Glenorchy would be too high whenever occupancy was low.

A solution that responded to Camp Glenorchy’s requirements

The parallel evolution of the buildings and their systems meant that when the preliminary architectural design was finalised, an approach to heating had also been chosen: solar thermal collectors would work together with ground-source heat pumps in a water-based solution. Each building would have its own independent system that provided heat for both hot water and underfloor heating.

Mechanical designer and installer Steve Jarvis (Peak Plumbing, HDS)

“The decision to go ahead with ground-source heat pumps was made for three main reasons,” says Steve. “It met the Living Building Challenge requirement of avoiding the use of fossil fuels, had the lowest running cost of all the systems we researched, and is very low maintenance”. Additionally, this system integrated well with solar, could work with an automation solution and was invisible to guests’ eyes.

Impacts of early decision-making

The heating system and the architecture

Having chosen a preferred approach early in the process meant that spatial requirements for the heating system could be easily incorporated into the architecture. Cabins and common buildings at Camp Glenorchy were tweaked to make sure there was enough room for the components of the system, including space for solar thermal collectors on the north-facing roof of every building. Service cupboards were added to all cabins and their internal distribution included in the architectural design with dimensions and location of all the equipment to make sure that everything fit.


The heating system and automation

As the design of buildings and systems continued to evolve, Steve Jarvis worked with Shay Brazier in the integration of the heating solution with the automation. Having smarter systems meant that these would only run when they were required, and could be controlled and monitored remotely. Automation was able to provide control to guests, but through integration with presence sensors for example, could lower the energy use of the heating system when they were out of their rooms for the day. Steve and Shay continued their collaboration to find the right products for each element of the system including pumps, manifolds and even valves as they had to make sure that, in addition to being energy efficient, these components were compatible with the automation system.

The heating system and interior design

Integration between the heating system design and other areas of the project would even impact the selection of interior finishes. For underfloor heating to work, for example, materials with poor conductivity such as carpets or laminate floors were quickly ruled out. The polished concrete that was chosen not only matched the rustic look of the cabins but also had great conductive properties, meaning that heat could be transferred to the rooms more efficiently.

The heating system and guest control

The way guests would interact with the heating system was an essential part of the conversation from the beginning. Details, however, were only worked out once the technical aspects had been well defined. The team knew that, while an off-the-shelf solution provided control over room temperatures, it wouldn’t allow guests to understand the impact of their actions.

Together, Shay Brazier and Matt Fordham came up an app-based solution that encouraged a more mindful use of the heating system, and of energy in general. This app, installed on tablets in each room, would integrate with the automation system. When some wanted to change pre-set temperatures, it would let them know what the impact in achieving Zero Energy would be if every person staying at Camp Glenorchy decided to act in the same way. The balance between energy generation and consumption would generally be negative if everyone set their thermostat to higher temperatures and would become positive if more moderate temperatures were used.

From the very early stages of the project, it became clear that developing a strategy for indoor comfort would be one of the most challenging aspects of the design process. Even though the comfort of guests was indeed a priority, it was also clear that their actions were key to achieve Zero Energy. A successful approach had to provide guests with both control of their rooms and educational opportunities to understand they too had a role to play. It also had to be smart as well as highly efficient, preventing precious energy from being misused and responding to the seasonal nature of this type of project.

It also sought to provide guests with control, allowing them to adjust rooms to their preferred temperatures.

Learning from Camp Glenorchy

An integrated design approach is a valuable tool for projects of all sizes that can help to reduce construction and operational costs by approaching the design of systems early and as an integral part of the building rather than as an afterthought.

For Camp Glenorchy, using this approach was a way of optimising the performance of systems, of finding ways to blend these seamlessly with the architecture and, more importantly, of allowing the project to find the balance between comfort and energy efficiency.

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