Embracing energy-saving innovation

Hollyburn Properties discusses leveraging technology in the multi-res space
Friday, February 10, 2017
by Erin Ruddy

Vancouver-based Hollyburn Properties is a company on the leading edge of energy-saving innovation. Throughout its forty-year history, the national property manager has been committed to embracing technology and new ideas while also pursuing sustainable, eco-friendly building operations.

From the early adoption of intelligent digital building controls to a continued commitment to using energy-efficient materials and equipment, Hollyburn Properties has one critical eye on the future, and another on delivering a quality tenant experience.

In early November, we spoke to Hollyburn Director, Paul Sander, and Operations Manager, George Warren, about the energy efficiency strategies and long-term solutions their company has embraced. With its first new construction purpose-built rental building recently completed in North Vancouver, the timing for the discussion couldn’t have been better.

“My father started this business over 40 years ago, and I’ve been working alongside him all my life,” said Sander. “Our business model was, and largely still is, to buy older rental buildings in triple A locations and repair and restore them. We just completed our first purpose-built rental apartment, called Bridgewater, so our foray into purpose built rental construction is something new. We put our 40 years of experience into its construction and anticipate doing more of that in the near future.”

Rising 14-storeys and comprised of 130 units, Bridgewater is North Vancouver’s first new rental high-rise in over 35 years. Neighbouring the Civic Plaza on the corner of 14th and Chesterfield, the modern-looking tower includes a fitness facility, a resident lounge and a contemporary rooftop terrace offering spectacular views of the area’s surrounding natural beauty. Rental suites range from one and two bedrooms, to town-homes and penthouses.

“Our vision is to build new, modern, and vibrant purpose-built rental projects that will provide housing options to the local public, alleviate the shortage of rental supply, and revitalize and improve the rental housing stock in Canada,” said Sander.

Finding efficiencies: it all boils down to the DDC system

Throughout its 40 year history, Hollyburn has acquired more than a hundred apartment buildings of all shapes and sizes, and of all levels of disrepair. George Warren has been with the company for 28 years and is intimately familiar with the inherited issues that come with acquiring older stock buildings. To get a handle on those major and minor deficiencies, Warren says the first step his company takes after an acquisition is to install a DDC system.

DDC—which stands for Direct Digital Controls—is a system that monitors, records and controls all the mechanical and electrical components of the building, while also optimizing its performance. It has the potential to be connected to a network and automated, so controls and settings can be adjusted remotely.

“Basically the DDC system controls all the mechanical and electrical, and even the pneumatic systems of each building,” Warren explained. “First we program it, then we monitor the equipment for any inefficiencies. Over time, as the original building systems are altered and/or repaired—for example if a pump was replaced, or piping was altered —problems and inefficiencies can result. Through the DDC system, we are able to identify those problems and use the data to resolve these issues as well as improve overall building efficiencies.”

Warren notes that one of the great benefits of a DDC system, beyond the ability to control and monitor, is that it sends an email alert whenever there is a system fault. “The instant notification comes to us first, meaning we are able to respond to problems faster, which leads to quicker repairs, and minimal disruption to the residents,” he says.

Today, all Hollyburn properties are equipped with DDC systems at the onset of acquisition, a process that began in 1992 and has been the standard ever since. “Typically when a property is acquired, there are several immediate objectives—marketing objectives, internal and external finishes, suite turnovers, mechanical system objectives and energy objectives,” said Sander. “The energy control objectives start with the DDC system because it’s a proven, valuable tool. Before it, there was no way to troubleshoot and monitor systems remotely. If there was a problem with say, the heat or hot water, the reporting always came through the residents or the Resident Manager. With digital control technology, we are always the first to know and can respond accordingly.”

Collecting data, setting thresholds

Once the DDC system is installed, the building’s equipment is monitored and the ensuing data is collected over the course a year. “Often these buildings are old, with systems at the end of their service life,” said Sander. “Sometimes mechanical issues are identified that aren’t easily fixed using the controls. But for problems requiring a major repair, we will use the data to help us plan custom retrofits.”

That said, often the issues are minor enough that they can be corrected using the controls. Efficiencies, for instance, can be identified and corrected through programming changes, ongoing monitoring and alarms. System thresholds can be set with minimum temperatures, accessed and adjusted remotely.

Sander gives the example of the morning rush hour, and hot water deliverance for showers. “The resident base in every building is different. So, imagine a building full of young professionals—there will be a big morning rush hour at 7 a.m. with everyone taking a shower at once. This creates a huge hot water demand, probably the single biggest peak of the day. Meanwhile, in a building full of seniors, everybody gets up at staggered times and uses hot water more sporadically. We learn a lot from the data of each building just as we learn from the demographics, and that information helps us to customize controls and even determine future retrofits.”

For Warren, the advantages of Hollyburn’s DDC systems are numerous, helping to achieve multiple priorities at once. “The systems have enabled us to reduce utility consumption by an average of 20 percent. Also, we minimize outside service staff by resolving problems remotely so that specific repairs can be carried out during regular business hours and outside of resident peak usage times. From a troubleshooting standpoint, we are able to identify the exact component whenever there’s a problem or a malfunction. Often, it’s a simple matter that can be handled by someone at the building.  We avoid inconveniencing the residents by not having outside contractors doing an exhaustive search for a solution in the middle of the night impacting their morning hot water. Of course, for the residents, there are considerable benefits too. “We are able provide a constant heat…we are able to adjust the demand based on usage, and more often than not, we’re able to deal with problems before anyone even knows about them,” Warren said. “This ensures increased comfort and uninterrupted service.”

Aside from that sought-after comfort and service, residents today are environmentally conscious and want to live in buildings that address their concerns; that offer the tools to help them minimize their own carbon footprints. In 2016, Hollyburn proudly reported that 48,000,000 pounds of CO2 were deferred from the atmosphere thanks to the efforts taken and supported by owners, employees and residents alike.

Setting the bar high

As an owner and operator of such a large portfolio of multi-residential properties, Hollyburn takes its responsibility toward the environment—and the future—seriously. “We have a unique level of exposure to people, and to mechanical systems,” Sander said. “For every building we buy, there are many others we look at. We have seen lots of boiler rooms and have learned from all of them.  This gives us a great perspective. Unfortunately there is rarely a holistic approach taken when it comes to repairs and maintenance. We understand the limitations that are out there and we are aware of the challenges.”

According to Warren, Hollyburn’s success in this area is largely driven by a dedicated, focused staff made up of exceptional people. “When it comes to achieving our high standard, it has become second nature. We just do what works and whatever it takes to get the job done right. Everybody is highly focused. Everybody is looking for opportunities to make improvements.”

Taking advantage of the numerous rebate programs offered by utility companies as well as the federal and provincial governments is something Hollyburn advises. In fact, in 2013 Hollyburn became the first property management company to achieve the CMHC rebates in multifamily apartment buildings.

“For our generation, the environment has always been a big focus. So between my interest in these things, and George’s knowledge of mechanics and technology, finding solutions…finding ways to minimize our footprint while achieving savings is just something we have always been committed to,” said Sander.

Building Intelligence: the way of the future

SMART technology, mobile networks, motion sensors in suites, intelligent systems that can respond, learn and understand the tenant base—these are all things Sander and Warren see as the future of the apartment space.

“With smartphones, we can already set and control things remotely, like our heat and our lights. But soon it may be possible to have your home recognize patterns, to anticipate your arrival and have everything adjusted and ready for you when you get home from work,” said Warren. “When I started in this business, we had no internet and no cell phones. I grew up watching two channels on television. When I think of that, when I recall all the changes, then I realize the potential is endless.”

“In some ways, the apartment industry has been miles ahead of the curve compared to what’s going on in homes,” added Sander. “The fact that we installed our first DDC system in 1992 is telling of that. Only now are people getting apps on their phones that notify them of trouble at home, or to set their thermostats. We’ve been doing that for twenty five years.”

Sander imagines that the big change will come when things are customized by the suite, rather than the building. In other words, when it’s the individual as opposed to the overall resident base that distinguishes controls and settings. “Some of the things we are now seeing in new construction include digital sub-metering—hot water and heat that get invoiced per customer. Things are going to get smarter and be customized to the occupant, which of course, improves efficiency. Because the more you customize, the less you waste.”

Simply put, things have come a long way, and being energy efficient doesn’t have the negative connotations it used to. Hot water and bright lights when you need them and energy savings from turning them off when you don’t” he said.

By the Numbers: Shining a light on Hollyburn’s LED and motion sensor retrofit

In September 2016, Hollyburn Properties conducted a lighting retrofit across the interior common areas of its Vancouver portfolio. As the numbers below reveal, substantial energy savings are being realized.

According to Monroe Dunbar – Assistant Building Systems Manager at Hollyburn – the biggest savings, in fact, is not coming from installation of the LED lights themselves, but from the new motion sensor technology incorporated into the fixture.

“A simple example of controls is the motion sensor,” said Dunbar. “This is when a sensor is used to turn something on when it’s needed and off when it’s not. Previously the lights in our parkades were on 24-7, now they are mostly always dimmed, or completely turned off. It’s amazing the savings you can achieve with the addition of such a simple control. We use motion sensors across the country now in locker rooms, laundry rooms, stairwells and parkades.”

Highlights from the retrofit:

Annual Energy Savings:

  • $93,997.90

Project Cost:

  • $255,016.48


  • 2.1 years

Energy Reduction:

  • 61%




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