Case Study: Membertou School

Membertou First Nation’s new elementary school has energy saving features that are expected to trim annual electricity costs by $70,000. With help from Efficiency Nova Scotia, energy efficient technologies were incorporated into the building plans for the new school that exceeded the energy code baseline by 60 per cent.

Membertou’s plans called for a new school, three times larger than the one the band had outgrown. A bigger building would likely mean
higher operating costs, which federal funding would not cover. That meant energy efficiencies had to be found to keep the new school’s
operating costs as low as possible.

By incorporating an open-loop ground source heat pump, improved insulation, low flow faucets, more efficient light fixtures and occupancy sensors into the design, energy efficiency was optimized and operating costs minimized.


The new school is estimated to use nearly 700,000 kWh less energy than if the same school was built to standard building code; a cost saving of over $70,000 a year. Membertou will recoup the additional cost of the incorporated energy saving technologies in under 5 years.

The school certainly wouldn’t be as efficient without Efficiency Nova Scotia’s participation. It was very, very welcome. Chief Terry Paul, Membertou First Nation

The wow factor in Membertou First Nation’s new community designed $8.6 million elementary school extends well past its fittings to its scant $40,000 projected annual electricity bill. With help from Efficiency Nova Scotia, the band chose David C. Stewart & Associates to energy model the school plans, developed with input from all age groups at Membertou. The consultant helped tweak the design to cut electricity costs by including an open-loop ground source heat pump, improved window, wall and roof insulation, low flow faucets, interior light fixtures and occupancy sensors.

“The school certainly wouldn’t be as efficient without Efficiency Nova Scotia’s participation. It was very, very welcome,” said Chief Terry Paul. “We don’t like to think things are impossible for us, but things would have been much harder and more difficult to achieve without Efficiency Nova Scotia.”

Controlling operating costs was a necessity, notes Mike McIntyre, Membertou’s CFO. At 30,000 square feet, “our school is actually three times bigger than the one it replaces, but we aren’t getting any more federal operating dollars.” The band expects to take advantage of the elementary school’s built-in expansion capacity too, adding grades seven and eight within five years.

Energy modelling results showed the school’s bundled electrical savings would exceed the requirements by 60 per cent. That meant the annual electricity bill would be $40,000. That is $70,000 less than the $110,000 yearly charge if the same school was built exactly to code.

Accounting for more than half these savings is the new ground source heat pump. The system uses four innovative water-to-water heat pumps manufactured in Dartmouth by Kube Solutions to tap into an aquifer via two bore holes.

The system supplies the school’s hot water radiant in-floor heating as well as domestic hot water, and also heats coils in three of the four energy recovery ventilators in the gymnasium air handling system.

The idea of turning an aquifer that sometimes causes local flooding into an asset was not new. Membertou had a hydrogeologist assess the option. Still, McIntyre says, “Efficiency Nova Scotia’s incentive to install a ground source heat pump provided extra confidence for the band to do it.”

“It took some of the fear out,” he says. “It made the decision a lot easier to go greener, I’d say.”

The system is such an electricity saver that the band is now looking at extending it to five other major buildings in the community, including its convention and entertainment centers. As a bonus, the consultant steered the band to the ecoEnergy for Aboriginal and Northern Communities Program that provided $100,000 to attach 93 photovoltaic modules to the school. During the academic year they will supply about eight per cent of the school’s electricity, and in the summer the electricity will be sold to the Nova Scotia Power grid.

Darrell Wilcox of Wico Design and Construction Management, the construction manager for the school, says that the feature is expected to bring in yearly revenue of $12,500 to $15,000.

“Before we started, we decided we wanted to be as green as possible.” Paul says. Even though the up-front capital costs were higher with features like the geothermal system, he says he is confident it was a smart investment.

By Wilcox’s estimate, “the payback period will be less than five years.” That has everybody smiling and the band eager for Efficiency Nova Scotia to assist with future projects.

Paul says Efficiency Nova Scotia is most definitely on his recommended list.