The past several years have seen George Brown College faculty and students working towards building a sustainable future—from product research to entire retrofits of Toronto’s solid masonry constructed homes. Steffanie Adams, professor at the School of Architectural Studies at the school's Casa Loma campus has been integral in guiding students to success, providing hands-on learning experiences, and connections to industry experts. Research conducted by Adams, her colleagues, and the students at George Brown over the past decade has made the college a strong contender in sustainable construction and green renovation innovation.

111 Russett House retrofit by ARGILE Project for George Brown College, TorontoExterior of 111 Russett Avenue, part of ARGILE Project, image via https://argileresearchgbc.wordpress.com/

Adams is a LEED certified architect with years of experience in the industry with a focus on 'building green'. Since helping to found the George Brown College’s Green Team in 2005, the school has found success in implementing environmental strategies at the college, including waste reduction, recycling and water conservation. In addition to her role at George Brown, Adams—with numerous awards and publications in her repertoire—has taught sustainable design courses to many of Canada’s largest general contractors, creating lasting and beneficial relationships between the industry and the college.

Up until 2015, Adams and colleague Dr. Christopher Timusk collaborated on the Applied Research Green Innovation Lab Experience (ARGILE) Project, focused on the development of new and innovative 'green' re-cladding systems for old solid masonry brick buildings. Supported by the Office of Research and Innovation at George Brown College, which Adams says "has been immeasurably generous to Timusk and myself", she and Timusk along with 18 students conducted extensive research and tests over 5 years, exploring energy efficient solutions and the benefits of retrofitting 'vintage' structures. With $3-million in funding received from George Brown, the Ontario government, and private partnerships, an 8-sided 'test hut' was acquired, each wall fitted with different materials and over 150 sensors. Monitoring continued for 16 months, with analysis from data presented to over 2,300 students at George Brown through 7 of the college's courses. Findings from the project have gone on to be published as an Energy Retrofit Guide, and which has now been presented at 18 conferences internationally.

111 Russett Avenue retrofit by ARGILE Project for George Brown College, Toronto111 Russett Avenue before he retrofit, image retrieved from Google Street View

Research findings from the ARGILE project were then put into practice when 111 Russett Avenue was retrofitted in partnership with MyHaven Greenvision Homes. Like many residences throughout Toronto, 111 Russett Avenue is an early 20th century solid masonry constructed home with insufficient and outdated insulation. Certain days reported temperature fluctuations of up to 50 degrees, with the sun heating the house mid-day then dropping to a cold Canadian winter by night. The implementation of research results from the test hut lead to the home's exterior retrofit, improving the home's efficiency. “George Brown is very strong in the renovation industry” Adams notes, praising students for their work on the project. Through analysis of the data from sensors built into the retrofit (taken every 30 minutes over the course of a year), interior air quality and temperature conditions improved exponentially.

111 Russett Avenue after the retrofit, image via Google Maps111 Russett Avenue after the retrofit, image courtesy of George Brown College

The research conducted by George Brown has evolved into new industry connections, with the college partnering with Empire Communities, Dow, and Roxul on the Three Energy Efficient Test Houses (TEETH) project. TEETH monitors homes in the Cambridge and Waterloo areas, one currently EnergySTAR certified, one EnergySTAR Plus, and one Near-Zero Hybrid. Through partnership with Adams' team of colleagues and students, Empire is moving forward in improving sustainable building practices. The Casa Loma campus also houses a climate simulator, located on the roof of the college. With funding support from the federal government, students at George Brown have the ability to test products for industry partners in all conditions, from mild indoor settings to extreme outdoor climates.

111 Russett Avenue retrofit by ARGILE Project for George Brown College, TorontoCross-section diagram of exterior wall at 111 Russett Avenue, image via https://argileresearchgbc.wordpress.com/

“I’m pleased that our work has grown”, says Adams, noting that students have found success through strong connections with industry partners. Alumni have found employment with help from their research participation at companies including Roxul, CertainTeed, and Enerquality, all competing for their talent. Adams notes students have also found success in continuing their education in a post-graduate capacity at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo, which is uncommon after completing a college program.

Stay tuned for updates as the college continues to develop as an industry research partner. Want to get involved in the discussion? Leave a comment in the space provided below.