Modernizing your building’s elevators means addressing fire alarm system upgrades, too
Modernizing elevators can be a complicated process. Building codes in B.C. now require all new and upgraded elevator systems to be interconnected with the building’s fire alarm systems. So, when a B.C. hospital recently needed nine high-traffic elevators upgraded, working within the constraints of a hospital setting compounded these challenges.
In the case of this busy urban hospital, doctors, nurses and other staff constantly use the elevators to move themselves and patients quickly from floor to floor. This meant elevator downtime had to be carefully planned to minimize the impact on patients and core hospital work. The elevator system upgrades also had to be designed to work within the facility’s existing electrical systems, which carry multiple sensitive loads that power, for example, operating rooms and life-critical equipment. In addition, the upgrades included replacing an automatic transfer switch, which switches the elevators’ power system to the hospital’s own backup power supply in the event of local BC Hydro power failures.
Primary project consultant GUNN Consultants brought Prism on to help.
“The unique thing about this project was that it required so much more electrical review and work than most elevator modernization projects because of the hospital’s complicated electrical systems,” says David Joo, Electrical Engineer and Associate at Prism Engineering and our in-house service area lead for fire alarms.
Prism designed the electrical distribution for the nine new elevators and its interconnection with the hospital’s fire alarm system. We also upgraded the automatic transfer switch so that the elevators could receive emergency alarm signals, and updated the elevator machine room with an electrical feed to the new elevators, new LED and emergency lighting, cooling units, and a fire alarm interconnection.
Unlike many other elevator upgrade projects we’ve worked on, the hospital didn’t require a fire alarm upgrade, as it had been upgraded only a few years prior.
With careful work scheduling to limit impacts on hospital personnel and patients, the nine elevators, their systems and the elevator room were successfully upgraded to code.
The elevator–fire alarm system connection
British Columbia’s aging building stock means an increasing number of elevators are due to be replaced, and building codes now require that new and upgraded elevators be connected with building’s fire alarm systems.
“We often get feedback from clients looking to modernize their elevators who say they hadn’t known they also had to upgrade their fire alarm systems,’” David says.
Interconnecting building elevator and fire alarm systems is a major life-safety requirement. A properly connected modern fire alarm system automatically signals the elevators in the event of a fire in the building. Upon receiving the signal, the elevators are programmed to bring everybody already inside the elevator down to the main level, open the doors, and remain open.
Newer addressable fire alarm systems identify which fire alarm device in the building was initiated and respond accordingly. Specifically, if a smoke detector in the ground-floor elevator lobby is triggered, the system instructs the elevator controller to stop on an alternate floor to avoid the fire.
Prism’s approach to elevator modernization
Every year, our electrical team completes up to 20 elevator modernization projects with fire alarm elements. With key partner GUNN Consultants, we have completed close to 100 projects to date in residential, commercial, industrial, healthcare and education buildings.
Our approach to elevator modernization involves reviewing the fire alarm systems and designing needed upgrades. We review and design electrical systems to suit new elevators, including replacing power feeders and cables, specifying the proper electrical protection for the elevators’ motors, and making sure the code requirements are met.
Working with elevator consultants and contractors, we also offer full fire alarm upgrades and elevator interconnection, Dedicated Detection Recall System implementation (Vancouver), and electrical work associated with complying with CSA B44 Elevator Modernization requirements.
In addition, we check and design updates to the machine rooms where the elevator equipment is housed so that it meets building code requirements. This often means improving the room’s lighting, upgrading the elevator’s electrical grounding system so that it is GFI rated, and replacing the disconnect switch to the elevator.
We can help
Is your building due for an elevator upgrade, but you’re not sure what may be involved? Email our in-house service area lead for fire alarms, David Joo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Understanding the City of Vancouver’s new carbon pollution limits
In response to the City of Vancouver’s Climate Emergency Action Plan, Vancouver City Council approved recommendations this past May to introduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission regulations for existing large commercial and retail buildings. The regulations include GHG intensity (GHGi) limits and heat energy limits, as well as annual energy and carbon reporting requirements.
The GHG emissions and heating energy limits for these building types will require owners and energy utilities to plan for deep carbon retrofits and investments in alternative energy sources. Key highlights:
- The energy and carbon reporting requirements come into effect in 2024.
- The GHGi limits come into effect in 2026, with a proposed $350/tonne CO2e fee for emissions that exceed the limit.
- The heating energy limits come into effect in 2040, with a proposed $100/gigajoule fee for heating energy that exceeds the limit.
Other regions and cities, including Metro Vancouver, are now also considering following suit and introducing GHGi and heating energy limits for their regions.
Although the limits are a positive step towards decarbonizing the building sector, much work remains to be done to make these buildings comply with the regulations. Currently, many buildings do not meet the limits stipulated in the bylaw. According to PUMA’s 2021 office building benchmarking report only 10 per cent of buildings within the dataset currently fall within 2040 heat energy limits, 80 per cent fall within the 2026 GHGi limits, and 2 per cent fall within the 2040 GHGi net-zero limits. Although 2026 and 2040 may seem like the distant future, retrofitting buildings to achieve the deep reductions targeted takes several years, effort and cost. Getting an early start on this work is critically important.
The good news is that help is available. Several programs can be leveraged to support the transition to lower GHGi and heating energy in existing buildings.
- Deep carbon retrofit studies to assess potential technical solutions are often a great place to begin and allow for planning of upgrades over time.
- Low-carbon electrification and heating plant upgrades can be effective ways to reduce building GHGi and heating energy consumption.
- The PUMA online monitoring platform also offers an effective way to track carbon and energy to meet the reporting requirements the City of Vancouver will begin enforcing in 2024.
- Various funding streams also exist to help you move forward with these initiatives — check out this article we wrote recently on rebates and incentives.
Interested in finding out more about these new regulations and what they mean for your buildings?
Feel free to reach out to us — we’d be happy to chat. Contact Iram Green, Energy Team Lead, at email@example.com.
Dogs, aerial silks, and energy studies at Prism’s Nelson office
Whether you are a curious client or an interested career explorer, do you ever wonder what Prism’s Energy Engineers do in a typical day?
We are excited to be featuring a day in the life of Lizz Hodgson, P.Eng., one of the Energy Engineers working out of our Nelson office.
“I typically get into the office around 9 a.m. with my dog, Otago,” Lizz tells us. “We settle in by grabbing some water or a coffee and touching base with my team members before logging onto my computer. Having Otago here brings some levity to the office – he has quite a presence! I love that the casual setting we have allows me to include him in my office days.”
Lizz’s mornings usually involve some administrative preparation, such as coordinating site visits, gathering utility data, and scheduling planning sessions with colleagues or clients.
For example, the weekly Monday morning planning meetings gather all of Prism’s Energy team members together online from our Nelson, Kelowna, and Burnaby offices to review project priorities for the week and to highlight areas on which team members can collaborate and support each other.
Lizz’s afternoons are often filled with client meetings, presentations, facilitating workshops, or project work such as energy modelling and analysis.
On a few days each week, Lizz uses her lunch break to fit in some exercise. She visits the gym at the local recreation centre, two blocks away. She also attends a circus training school, Discover Circus, that’s located in the same building as our Nelson office. The school’s aerial silks classes allow her to engage with her artistic self and take a social break. It’s great exercise, too, she says.
“It has become important to my mental health to create work–life balance,” she says. “Living in Nelson and working for Prism allows me to keep work and play close together. I can step away from the computer to do something completely different by challenging myself physically. I come back to the office feeling accomplished and ready to tackle the rest of the day!”
On a recent fall day, we caught up with her as she was preparing to lead a 90-minute workshop for a local municipality. Lizz is the technical service area lead for Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) Planning, and she has been working with the municipality on an emissions reduction pathway feasibility study. She told us that, before the study is finalized, she will incorporate feedback from stakeholders and facilitate the discussion around the identified pathways as part of the process to foster organizational buy-in.
As with any of our Energy Engineers, Lizz’s level of involvement varies from project to project and depends on each client’s needs. For example, organizations that have their own sustainability and energy teams may already have a decision framework in place to help guide their discussions. The objectives of these discussions are to identify barriers to implementation, ensure the recommended measures are within the decision framework, gain engagement from stakeholders, and guide the setting of priorities to meet the client’s goals and targets. Clients that don’t have that kind of in-house expertise may require more of Lizz’s involvement to help them determine targets and solutions, engage stakeholders, and set client-appropriate priorities.
The work is diverse and stimulating.
“I enjoy the varied nature of my role at Prism and look forward to new challenges my projects bring me each day,” Lizz says. “I’m not always writing technical reports — I’m often on site, I’m leading workshops, I’m researching new technology. Even when I’m at my desk, I collaborate with various engineering teams within Prism to create thoughtful and integrated solutions for our clients. Along with enjoying the people I work with, I get lots of learning opportunities too.”
Prism Expands our Leadership Team
We are excited to share that we have three new Associates and a new Principal who have joined the Prism leadership team this summer.
Our new Associates:
Prism Associates are individuals with the experience, expertise, and passion to help grow our company to have an even bigger impact. Each Associate takes on company-level responsibilities, leading different aspects of our business, from quality assurance to business development to employee wellbeing. Our Associates also support the growth and development of our junior team members and are key to fostering our company culture of care and collaboration.
Faisal Emami is a great example of how an individual can grow at Prism. Since Faisal’s start as a co-op student in 2015, he has grown to be a trusted advisor for clients and now leads our electrical systems assessments and design services for distribution, generators and sub-metering systems.
David Joo is another highly valued member of the Electrical team who leads electrical design services for new construction, renovations and fire alarm upgrades at Prism. David’s enthusiasm and positive attitude fosters collaborative relationships with Prism’s partners and clients, leading to exceptional project outcomes.
Christine Obee leads Prism’s presence in Victoria and is an integral part of the Sustainability team. Her work with sustainability engagement, training and green building certification has shaped Prism’s esteemed reputation in these key services.
Our new Principal:
Prism Principals provide strategic vision and leadership for the company and demonstrate expertise and experience in their field of work. They exemplify drive, passion and personal ambition which inspires their colleagues and embodies Prism’s core values. We are very excited to welcome Hamid Samani in his new capacity as a principal.
Since Hamid joined Prism in 2019, he has provided outstanding leadership in key service areas including new construction, mechanical services for district energy, HVAC and low carbon electrification implementation. With more than 30 years of project, technical and industry experience, Hamid serves as a valued mentor to team members and is recognized by Fellow of Engineers Canada (FEC) for his outstanding contribution to the advancement of the engineering profession in our country.
“I am excited by the addition of Faisal, David and Christine to our leadership team and by the expanded role that Hamid will have. Their drive and commitment are exemplary and will enable us to build on our past successes to help our clients meet their climate and energy goals. On behalf of the entire Prism team, we are grateful to have such passionate leaders to work alongside with.” – Robert Greenwald, President.
Read more about our leadership team here.
*Top banner photo taken at the August Prism/PUMA company meeting and lunch with about 50% of our team in attendance.
Reinforcing Strategic Energy Management through ISO 50001
Like many organizations, Thompson Rivers University (TRU) has been making great strides in managing energy performance through various plans and initiatives over recent years. Always looking for ways to continually improve, TRU became interested in exploring ISO 50001 (Energy Management Systems). ISO 50001 is an internationally recognized standard that provides a framework for implementing a robust and comprehensive strategic energy management (SEM) system or program.
TRU approached Prism to help explore ISO 50001 and determine what level of effort would be required to become self-compliant in the standard. With funding support from Natural Resources Canada and program support from BC Hydro, TRU engaged Prism to help from start to finish. To begin, Prism conducted an interactive gap analysis to determine what SEM program components were currently in place, and what gaps would need to be filled in order to comply with the standard. The gap analysis gave insights into the work to be completed, and a list of priority areas to focus on first. Prism is now in the early stages of supporting TRU to close these gaps and work towards full implementation of ISO 50001 by 2024.
By pursuing the ISO 50001 standard, TRU intends to make energy management an integral part of what the organization lives and breathes, including with staff, students, and faculty, all while supporting TRUs climate action goals.
Natalie Yao, TRU’s long-standing Energy Specialist has this to say about the whole process. “Prism’s experience with ISO 50001 and strategic energy management in general have made this process both engaging and a great learning experience for our team. The support offered by the Prism team provides us the confidence that we can reach our sustainability goals.”
For more information on ISO 50001 and to learn how pursuing the standard might benefit your organization, check out our webpage here or contact our ISO 50001 Service Lead, Sam Thomas, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Improve the reliability of electricity supply in your buildings
In the summer of 2021, places in B.C. broke temperature records and BC Hydro experienced 19 of its top 25 all-time summer daily peak demand records.
The weather caused concern for British Columbians around the availability of increased electrical supply during extreme weather events. In a survey conducted by BC Hydro, 76% of respondents said they are concerned about the reliability of their electricity supply because of climate change. 
While our electrical utilities are working diligently to continually increase the reliability and supply of electricity, the onus is also on us as building owners, managers, and consultants to act within the facilities we work with to be better prepared. That said, balancing electrical demand requirements with energy conservation and decarbonization goals, asset renewal, occupant comfort, safety, and climate resilience in our facilities can be a daunting task.
To help break this down into bite-size pieces, Faisal Emami, one of our Electrical Engineers, offers an approach that we apply to many of the facilities we work with at Prism.
- Review your utility data
- Look at your historical data for demand peaks to better understand your situation. Platforms such as PUMA make this particularly easy and insightful
- Assess your current situation
- Conduct a facility condition assessment to review the condition, capacity, and remaining asset life of your building systems. Pay particular attention to your current electrical service and identify where your bottleneck in capacity is.
- Determine your future electrical capacity needs
- Consider future requirements for EV charging, electrification of HVAC systems, and increased cooling needs during extreme weather events.
- Free up spare electrical capacity using demand side management (DSM)
- Assess opportunities for energy supply resiliency
- Alternative power sources such as solar photovoltaics and power banks may be good options for reducing your reliance on a single point of supply.
- Develop an implementation plan
- The plan should balance the outcomes of the previous steps with asset renewal and emissions targets.
- Develop a phased approach to upgrade your electrical service to allow for security of supply as we move into the future.
- Seek incentive funding support where available to help with studies, plans, and upgrades.
If this approach sounds like something your facilities could benefit from, reach out to us and our Electrical team will be happy to work with you to identify your needs and provide customized recommendations. Reach out to Faisal to learn more.
Building our team to support change
How do we change for the better? At Prism, we think about this every day.
For us, change means many things. We are known for our work supporting clients with building system improvements and energy efficiency projects. We also support change by helping our clients develop plans and programs that provide a roadmap for improving sustainability performance or reducing energy or emissions over the long term.
We also think about change in terms of our own company’s growth. With over three decades of experience, we know the value of building a strong team of individuals that work together to deliver high-value services. One such team is our Sustainability Team, which supports companies and organizations create a greener and more energy-efficient world.
Collectively, the Sustainability Team members leverage each other’s background in strategic planning, facilitation, coaching, change management, communications, training, and stakeholder engagement, to support clients as they work towards their sustainability and strategic energy management goals.
To continue to support our growth in these areas, we have welcomed some very talented and passionate team members over the last few months to the team: Taniell Hamilton, Shannon Hardman, and Nicole Huard.
Change isn’t always easy. It is a process and takes time and effort, therefore, it is essential to remember that small increments collectively create significant impact. It’s more critical now than ever for us to work towards impact– for the benefit of our organizations, communities, and the planet.
Building owners will reduce energy, save money with 5% tax credit
The Clean Building Tax Credit supports the CleanBC commitment to reduce provincewide emissions by 40% from 2007 levels and aligns with B.C.’s target to reduce emissions in buildings and communities by more than half by 2030.
Prism was invited to speak to local media at the Kitsilano Community Center on July 13th about how we support building owners to retrofit their buildings. The province was making an announcement of a new tax credit that will make energy retrofits for multi-unit residential and commercial buildings more affordable, saving owners 5% on retrofits to help reduce their energy use.
Our president, Robert Greenwald, spoke about the work Prism had completed with the City of Vancouver to retrofit the community centre. The building underwent heat-recovery improvements that nearly eliminated the need for natural gas to heat the facility. It also reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80%.
Damian Stathonikos, president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of B.C. also expressed how the tax credit will help reduce the retrofit cost for building owners and lower energy expenses for tenants.
Selina Robinson, Minister of Finance, acknowledged that the upfront costs of these retrofits can be a challenge for people and the tax credit will help owners invest in cleaner energy retrofits.
George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, shared that “improved energy efficiency means fewer emissions, which is good for our environment and brings our existing building infrastructure closer to net-zero and our climate targets.”
As always, our team is happy to work with you to evaluate your retrofit needs and help you identify any rebates and incentives you can leverage.
Learn more about the tax credit and eligibility criteria here.
View the full news release here.
Read more about our work with Kitsilano Community Centre here.
Same vision, new perspectives
We are excited to announce the launch of our new website this month!
Following Prism’s 30th anniversary in 2020 and the start of the global pandemic, it seemed to be a good time to reflect and re-examine how we provide value to our community.
We needed our digital presence to reflect these changes and help us articulate our ability to make an impact and help our clients create a greener, more energy-efficient world
Our service offerings have also expanded from a focus on energy management to integrating more closely with our other specialties including electrical and mechanical engineering, utility monitoring, and sustainability consulting.
You will find an extensive array of projects that we have supported across various sectors and service areas. We continue to take pride in providing quality, innovative and insightful solutions for complex engineering and sustainability situations.
At Prism, we have built and will continue to build a robust resource library to share our knowledge on timely topics related to our fields. You will also find energy calculators to identify levels of efficiency across various systems such as condensing boilers, pumps, motors, etc.
Go ahead and look around. Let us know if there is anything else you’d like to see.
We’d love to hear about your projects and how we might help with your energy-reducing needs.
Together We Can – Empowering Change Through Collaboration
One of the great things about working as a consultant is the opportunity to be involved in various projects across a diverse range of sectors and settings. In striving to make our planet more sustainable, we take it upon ourselves to share and exchange knowledge and best practices with our peers.
“As an organization, we believe that everyone has a role to play in addressing climate change. The more we can do to empower others through collaboration, the better off we’ll be collectively,” shares Sam Thomas, Director of Marketing, Nelson Branch Manager, and Principal.
Whether it is volunteering on an association board, participating in a steering committee, or mentoring youth on exciting “green careers,” our work outside of client projects enrich knowledge and strengthen the communities we serve.
Ari Spiegel, one of our Energy Engineers and Associates (pictured above on the far left), share that he really enjoys being an active board member of the Association of Energy Engineers (Vancouver Chapter). “We identify relevant issues affecting the energy management industry and work to educate ourselves on the latest trends and technology. It’s rewarding to witness how our events increase our members’ motivation and engagement to make powerful collective change.”
Robert Greenwald, our President, knows that climate change action needs a stronger response from the private sector and not just the public sector. He joined the Catalyst Business Alliance to advocate for actions Prism supports, specifically around CleanBC. “Our work together as a steering committee included consultations with the provincial government on priority setting and encouraging action on ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) by sharing our stories with members. We knew we made an impact when Minster Heyman expressed that he appreciated our advocacy and that the province is committed to making climate change a priority for the BC government,” Robert expressed.
Education is also a key element in fueling our future talent. Lizz Hodgson, one of our Energy Management Engineers, recently volunteered her time to be a mentor and speak about her career and experiences at the 2022 Green Bricks Futures Career Conference. “I could see how excited the high school students were about the career options and how they can make an impact on the environment. Their engagement was great! It was an inspiring and rewarding experience for me personally and I know I would have loved something like this when I was making education and career choices.” To reach older audiences at the post-secondary level, Robert has been a member of the Program Advisory Committee for the Sustainable Energy Management Advanced Certificate (SEMAC) program at BCIT since the program’s inception in 2009.
We are always excited to share ideas and challenge each other to go beyond the status quo for action on climate change.
How are you contributing to growing the knowledge base in the industries that you work in?