Volunteering with the Children of Armour Heights Presbyterian Church

Community outreach is both a crucial part of the Green Energy Challenge and one of our team’s core values. We were enthusiastic about contributing to the public service our client, Armour Heights Presbyterian Church, provides by volunteering and carrying out our energy awareness campaign. We joined the church’s Sunday School classes, Mission Possible Kids Night, and Rummage Sale preparation.

Sunday School Classes

Armour Heights welcomed us to volunteer in three of its Sunday School classes, where we taught children aged 5 to 13 years old about taking care of the environment that will sustain them in the future. We designed our classes to connect the concept of dominion in the Story of Creation to environmental stewardship.

In the first class, we discussed how the valuable resources from the Story of Creation are used to make electricity, which we tend to waste without even knowing it. We introduced the children to vampire loads, which is when appliances that are turned off but plugged in drain energy. Then, everyone played a game in which they were energy generators who had to avoid a secret energy vampire trying to drain their power.

armour 6
Figure 1: Vampire loads poster used for the first Sunday School class

In the second class, the children learned about how humans were given dominion over God’s creations. They played a game where they were shipwrecked on an island and had to use the natural resources to survive, which filled the island with “waste”. This showed the children that energy production is essential to our survival, but this depletes resources and creates pollution, thus highlighting the importance of energy conservation.

Figure 2: The children used natural resources to survive on an island to learn about the consequences of energy production

The third session focused on how energy conservation and efficiency can be applied to our everyday lives. We discussed how we can change our daily habits to use lighting, heating, and water more efficiently at home. We also played a waste sorting game to teach the children that practicing reducing, reusing, and recycling indirectly saves energy by shortening energy intensive manufacturing processes.

Figure 3: The children learned an indirect way to conserve energy which was the practice of reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Mission Possible Kids Night

We hosted Armour Height Presbyterian Church’s Mission Possible Kids Night. We introduced the children to the Waste Wizard, who loves to waste energy and resources. Their mission was to defeat the wizard and his minions, and save the planet!

The children had to complete various tasks to move along their mission. First, they saved seeds the Waste Wizard wanted to destroy without getting caught by his minions and planted them. Then, they played musical chairs, in which they figured out which waste bins different waste items belonged to. Those eliminated were turned into the Waste Wizard’s plastic zombies and taken to his lair. The remaining children had to save their captured plastic zombie friends to reduce the Waste Wizard’s plastic waste through a game of blob tag. Finally, the children secured energy stones that the Waste Wizard carelessly threw away and defeated him. At the end, they reflected on the lessons they learned about planting trees, reducing waste, and conserving energy.

Figure 4: The children played musical chairs with a waste sorting theme (left) and blob tag to save their friends who were turned into plastic zombies (right)

Reflecting on Our Volunteering Work

Overall, we reached about 25 different children who enthusiastically participated in our energy awareness campaign. They learned about how each of them has the power and the responsibility to help the environment. Those who attended multiple Sunday School classes were able to recall lessons and connect them to their science classes at school. We even had the pleasure of joining the community gatherings after Sunday service, where some of the parents were delighted to hear about the activities we organized for their children and were fascinated by our Green Energy Challenge project.

It was quite rewarding for us to connect with Armour Heights and contribute to the community service they provide. It allowed us to appreciate our technical work by making that personal connection with the people who would benefit from our retrofits. We are grateful for the incredible support from Rebecca Jess and Sarah Roberts in helping us to organize our volunteering work! This week, as we wrap up our final proposal, we will also be joining other volunteers on May 2nd to help the church prepare for its annual rummage sale.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook at to find out about our upcoming Student Passport Initiative and team events!



2019 CECA Audit at Armour Heights Presbyterian Church

As you’ve read in our previous blog, for this year’s Green Energy Challenge (GEC) Competition, we are designing net-zero energy retrofits for Armour Heights Presbyterian Church and volunteering in their programs to give back to the community.

What is an Energy Audit?

An energy audit involves analyzing the flow of energy through a building to find opportunities to reduce energy input without negatively impacting the ability to meet energy demands. It allows one to understand how the building can conserve energy and become energy efficient, which would result in significant savings in utility bills and reduced environmental damage.

Armour Heights kindly welcomed us for our walk-through energy audit. Our team split up into small groups and gathered information on lighting, solar, building envelope, plug loads, and HVAC systems from the three floors of this facility.


Our lighting team examined the lighting inside and outside of Armour Heights using an app that measures the intensity of lighting.

Our lighting team inspected natural and artificial lighting conditions in each room, hallway, staircase, as well as at the exterior of the church. Some of the main information collected were the different lighting types, wattage, number of switches, mounting types, and the lighting layouts. Also, lux readings were taken using a cell phone app to determine lighting luminance at varying distances from working light sources and with just natural lighting. This information would help the team figure out how intense lighting in each area is and where possible improvements could be made to save energy, improve efficiency, and enhance the user experience.

Solar Energy

With the help of Rick, the utility manager at the church, the solar team was able to get access to the structural blueprints of the roof. However, due to the steep slope of the roof and melting snow, we were unable to get on the roof. Nevertheless, the drawings we gathered were very helpful in developing a 3D model of the entire building, which in turn will assist us in assessing the solar potential of the church. You can check out this cool model here:

Building Energy

Our building energy team observed the different types of windows and doors in each room. Using an infrared thermometer, heat leakages were identified on doors and windows to determine potential measures to incorporate into our designs to minimize heat loss. Additionally, the model number and energy consumption of the air conditioners in each room were noted, which would help us to come up with innovative ways to cool the buildings. To gather plug loads data, the team recorded the energy consumption and how long any devices or equipment using electricity were plugged in. Lastly, during the tour of the mechanical systems, thermal efficiency, standby losses, recovery rates, floor ventilation systems, and the functioning of the radiators were noted down.

Our Building Energy Performance team used thermal imaging to analyze the heat distribution along doors and windows at Armour Heights.

Next Steps

Since the energy audit, our team has been busy analyzing the gathered data to design improvements to decrease the energy consumption in the building. These improvements can range from efficient lighting and appliances to better insulation that reduces heating demand. In addition, we will design a solar energy system that will generate enough energy to offset the consumption by the building through the years. In the meantime, our community engagement team is coordinating with Armour Heights to create an energy awareness campaign in the Sunday School program. Stay tuned for our next blog on our volunteering efforts with Armour Heights.

Follow us on Facebook at for more on our GEC journey this year!

Green Energy Challenge 2019

We are excited to be participating in the 2019 Green Energy Challenge (GEC), as part of the 11th Annual ELECTRI International/NECA Student Chapter Competition! This competition allows students to share and expand on their knowledge of sustainable buildings by interacting with their local community and NECA members. This year, our team is partnering with Armour Heights Presbyterian Church and will propose energy retrofits for this facility to achieve Net-Zero Energy consumption and volunteer in their community outreach programs.

Partnering with the Armour Heights Presbyterian Church

Figure 1: We are partnering with Armour Heights Presbyterian Church for GEC 2019.

Since 1951, Armour Heights Presbyterian Church has supported people of all ages and backgrounds with their spiritual journey. This church is committed to using resources to make meaningful impacts in local and global communities. Through worship, family gatherings, community events, and outreach initiatives, it allows people to grow spiritually and help those in need. You can find out more about Armour Heights at

As part of the GEC, our team will create a volunteer plan with Armour Heights in order to share our passion for sustainability and join in its mission to give back to diverse communities through existing programs.

Net-Zero Energy (NZE)

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 1.43.33 AMAn NZE building generates as much or more energy as it uses in order to minimize energy consumption. This type of building would still be connected to the electric grid; however, it would be designed to produce its own energy through renewable resources, such as solar. Its connection to the grid also allows the use of traditional energy sources, such as gas, in case renewable resources fail to meet power needs. If the amount of renewable energy exceeds the amount of energy needed by the building, this extra energy can be fed back to the utility grid.

The concept of NZE can not only be implemented for future buildings but also for existing ones. This is important because many old buildings currently exist that are energy intensive but are not yet ready to be replaced entirely.

An NZE building reduces greenhouse gases by using the energy it produces from renewable resources, so there is no need for the use of fossil fuels. Also, the property value of an NZE building increases due to savings in energy and maintenance costs over its entire life cycle. The concept of NZE has become popular and it is moving much of the building sector industry forward.

Next Steps

In order to design retrofits at Armour Heights, we must first figure out the existing energy needs and potential areas for improvement through an energy audit. Check out our upcoming blogs to find out how an energy audit works, cool instruments we get to use, and how we’ll use this data for the competition.

Make sure to also follow us on our journey through our social media pages:

Lighting up Communities, Xalostoc and the Electri Student Passport Initiative

Living without access to clean water, reliable electricity, or public streetlights seems almost impossible to most students at the University of Toronto. However, many developing nations and communities are still struggling with this basic infrastructure. Xalostoc in the Ecatepec municipality of the State of Mexico is such a community. After exponential growth in the 1990s, it has been lacking reliable electricity and safe housing. Xalostoc is in an area known for informal settlements, where inhabitants live in extreme poverty without access to basic city services.

A major issue in this community is violence. Residents of Xalostoc have identified public street lighting as the most effective way to improve security and trust. However, the community does not have access to formal electrical service nor the means to pay the usage fees demanded by the local electric utility. An alternative to traditional street lighting is an off-grid solar powered system.

The University of Toronto CECA/NECA Student Chapter is excited to announce that Xalostoc was able get such a street lighting system and that we were able to help. An array of 11 off-grid LED street lights with integrated solar panels and batteries were installed on December 15th as shown in Figure 1. This project has been supported by the Mexico City Chapter of TECHO, funding from Electri International and the University of Toronto Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering, and the experience of Toronto based electrical contractors. The U of T CECA Student Chapter got involved in this project as part of the Student Passport Initiative hosted by Electri International.

bp1Figure 1: Installation Site Plan

Student Passport Initiative

The Student Passport Initiative, recently rebranded as The Student Community Service Initiative, is a student design competition that provides funding for students to help an underprivileged community upgrade an existing electrical system or install a new one. The U of T CECA Student Chapter first got involved with the Student Passport Initiative in 2015, when we partnered with Penn State University to submit a proposal for the 2015 competition. After winning the competition, the joint team traveled to Roatán, Honduras to install a 4 kW solar array to power a water pump in a community that struggles with expensive, unreliable and polluting electricity generated from imported diesel.

Xalostoc Project History

This project started as an idea between a few members of U of T’s CECA Student Chapter and through discussion with the Mexico City Chapter of TECHO. TECHO representatives provided a list of multiple communities and documentation of identified needs for each that had been developed by the community with TECHO’s help. A common concern for many of the communities was safety. It was identified that safety could be greatly improved through street lighting, though most of the communities lacked access to reliable electricity and other government services typically required for such a project. This seemed like a great need that could not be addressed through typical channels but could be addressed by solar power street lighting.

This project formally began in April 2017, when the U of T CECA Student Chapter submitted a proposal for public street lighting for the community of Toltenco to Electri International as part of the Student Passport Initiative. The team’s original proposal was for the project to occur in the community of Toltenco, as opposed to Xalostoc (the community where the project ended up taking place), due to issues that will be discussed later in this post. After submitting our proposal, U of T was short-listed, along with Penn State University, to present to the Electri Council in Boston. Ernesto Díaz Lozano Patiño and Professor Brenda McCabe represented our team in Boston in July 2017. Their presentation won the Student Passport Initiative and Electri International provided $20,000 to support its implementation.

bp2Figure 2: Student Passport Presentation

Earthquakes and Other Delays

Two major earthquakes affected southern and central Mexico in September 2017. Due to this, all construction projects in the Xochimilco borough were brought to a halt. Further, changes in the local borough authorities complicated the process of obtaining the permits necessary to complete the project, resulting in delays that forced the team to investigate an alternative community for the project. Such difficulties highlight some of the many challenges faced by such underprivileged communities. Fortunately, TECHO was able to assist the team in identifying similar needs in the community of Xalostoc, where our team was able to install the street lights.  

Recent Progress

Due to a variety of factors, including favouring community engagement, cost, and that most of the original project team had graduated, it was determined that it made the most sense for the community and local contractors to install the street lighting. The U of T team would assist by having one team member inspect the site before installation and only a portion of the U of T team visit to obtain feedback from the community and commission the project. In November, the community, contractors, and TECHO completed the necessary excavation for the footing and installed the concrete base of the street lighting with the help of a crane. Some pictures from the installation are shown in Figure 3.

bp3Figure 3: Installation of the Foundation

On December 15th, the community, contractors, and TECHO completed the installation of the street lighting by assembling and mounting the street lights. Pictures of this installation are shown in Figure 4 and the street lights in action in Figure 5. Additional information on the construction can be found in this  Blog Post provided by TECHO.

bp4Figure 4: Assembling and Mounting the Streetlights

bp5Figure 5: The Streetlights in Action

Next Steps

Now, a small team of U of T Students (mainly alumni) will go to Xalostoc for project commissioning from January 11th through to January 14th. While there, this meeting will also include:

  • Discussions with community members
  • Discussions about potential future projects with TECHO

Keep an eye out for our next blog post after this trip, where we will share what we have learned on the project and provide any useful advice we may have for future students.

CECA U of T Volunteering at CRWC’s Children’s Programs

Community outreach is both a crucial part of the Green Energy Challenge and one of our team’s core values. We are enthusiastic about sharing our passion for sustainable buildings with CRWC so that they can understand how our work ties into their mission of serving the public.

During the past two weeks, CRWC welcomed us to volunteer in their children’s programs, where our Community Engagement team hosted several workshops on different sustainability concepts and joined in some active games! We were excited to be working with young minds, from ages 6 to 12, and get them engaged in becoming stewards of our environment.

Children’s Literacy Program

In this program, we hosted two workshops. The first involved colouring activities that challenged the children to identify electrical appliances and renewable energy sources. From this workshop, the children became more aware of the little actions they can take (such as turning off and unplugging household electrical appliances) to save energy. Also, they became fascinated by where all of this energy even came from and why we should take care of these resources that our environment provides.

Our volunteering team eagerly prepared for the workshops before the children arrived.


The masterpieces the children created taught them about energy conservation initiatives around the house and the positive impacts of renewable energy sources.

Our second workshop was a disposal bin sorting activity. We had pictures of a garbage bin, a recycling bin, and an organic waste bin along with little cutouts of different disposal items. The challenge for the children was to drop each item into the correct bin. They worked together in teams to learn about how proper disposal can reduce landfill waste, which in turn benefits the health of our environment.

We set up this fun activity that taught the children about putting garbage where it belongs to reduce landfill waste.

We ended the day by giving each child a cool certificate, rewarding them for learning about sustainability, and had them write down one thing they learned from our workshops. It was a great time for the children to reflect on how they can apply these new insights to their daily lives to continuously help the environment. In the meantime, our volunteers also learned a lot, as shown in the pictures below.

We reflected on the challenges and rewards of working with children on our awards!

Overall, we were very satisfied with how smoothly the workshops ran and how much we got to connect with the children. We hope that our hard work has empowered these new Canadians to become more mindful of their actions and to do their part to take care of the environment.

Children’s Fitness Programs

After our first successful volunteering event, CRWC graciously hosted us the following week for their Children’s Fitness Program. Two of our volunteers joined the CRWC’s facilitators to play a friendly game of quidditch with the children. It was awesome to see some familiar faces from our previous time there! The children were quite energized and cheered on each round of this fun game!

Our volunteers and CRWC facilitators rested at the end of an energetic game of quidditch!

Finally, our team had an amazing time joining CRWC’s volunteer programs and getting to bond with the children. It definitely was a unique experience spreading awareness of sustainability to a younger generation! We would like to thank CRWC for helping us organize our outreach events and our team members for dedicating their time for a great cause!

Further Readings

We had a great time teaching children about taking the initiative from an early age to take care of our planet, especially with Earth Day fast approaching (Sunday, April 22). With that in mind, we’d like to also share some links for those curious about how they can join in (if they haven’t already):

All about Earth Day:

Earth Day celebration events around Toronto:

Simple tips on how to help the environment everyday:

Also, for those who aren’t familiar with quidditch from Harry Potter, here’s what this game is all about:



Working on the 2018 Green Energy Challenge Proposal

With the Green Energy Challenge underway, our team has been hard at work, analyzing and modelling our auditing data to design retrofits for the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre (CRWC). We are all determined to achieve our overall goal of providing the CRWC with cost-effective retrofits for net zero energy consumption, while ensuring that our client understands the importance of sustainable initiatives.


Our lighting team is working on designs that improve lighting quality for occupants while reducing energy consumption. Some of their proposed ideas include replacing the current lighting fixtures with LED ones and installing light shelves to make use of natural lighting in rooms.

Building Energy Performance

This team analyzed the three main aspects of building performance: HVAC, building envelope, and occupant comfort. Using the Department of Energy modelling tools, the team simulated our client’s facility and obtained building scores in different categories, such as lighting, water heating, and HVAC, to see where they can improve to save energy. 

They are looking to replace certain components of the mechanical systems so that the buildings can be heated and cooled more efficiently. Furthermore, they assessed the building envelope using thermal imaging (some shown below) to identify areas with high thermal losses.

Finally, they interviewed building occupants and learned that the indoor air quality needs improvement, especially in the winter when residents leave windows opened up for ventilation. Several recommendations were made to address this problem, which included cleaning HVAC components to reduce air pollutants inside the building.  


Our solar team is focused on providing a photovoltaic system that will use solar energy to meet some of CRWC’s annual energy demands. They have considered client needs, innovative solar technologies, and best practices to create their designs.

For example, one of the components of their design is installing solar PV panels on the roofs of the three buildings at CRWC (one of them shown below).  

CECA blog pic 4.JPG

They used an Autodesk Revit model of CRWC to analyze which parts of the roofs get sunlight throughout the year to determine which solar panels would be useful and how much electricity each can produce. CECA blog pic 5

Using solar energy for buildings is a crucial part of making use of renewable energy sources with less harmful impacts on the environment. Now, our team is focused on doing an economic analysis of their solar designs and ensuring that it can be relied on to meet the changing energy demands of CRWC.


A significant challenge to our engineering designs is making them economically feasible. After all, if our designs that have potential to save energy cannot be realistically implemented by CRWC, then we really would not be helping anyone out with them. With this in mind, our finance team has been looking into government and non-government incentives for sustainable buildings, solar systems, and carbon pricing. These incentives would help to cover the costs of several energy retrofits.

Community Engagement

Our Community Engagement team is excited to be volunteering at CRWC’s children’s programs (including literacy and fitness). We are dedicated to teaching younger generations about the importance of sustainability through interactive activities and get them to become stewards of the environment.

Continue to follow our blogs as well as our CECA U of T Facebook and Instagram pages to learn more about our project and sustainable buildings design.

Further Readings

For those of you curious about the softwares we are using for our project or about how sustainable designs are being used in industry, check out the links below:

Autodesk Revit:

Department of Energy Building Energy Modelling:

Innovative Uses of Solar Technology:

Creative solar lighting



2018 CECA Energy Audit at the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre

As you’ve read in our first blog, we’re excited to kickstart the 2018 Green Energy Challenge Competition! This year, we are partnering with the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre (CRWC) to design a net-zero energy retrofit for their facilities.

Welcome to the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre (CRWC)

CRWC is an emergency shelter that warmly welcomes about 300 refugees from around the world each year who have had to flee their war-torn countries. They work with the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship to sponsor refugees and provides initial settlement services to allow individuals and families to build their new lives in Canada.   

CRWC is driven by their mission to pursue justice, to act with compassion and integrity, and to offer hope and dignity so that the people can thrive. They are determined to continue creating an engaging community that gives each person a sense of belonging, respects cultural diversity, and celebrates people’s journeys. They partner with various organizations to improve their services to meet the evolving individual needs of different refugee populations.

For this competition, it is essential for our CECA team to connect with CRWC’s mission. Our proposal will be on different upgrades and energy saving initiatives for CRWC to achieve net-zero energy consumption. In addition, our team will volunteer in various programs CRWC runs, especially to help children with their education and health. Our work will put a significant emphasis on serving our client and having a positive impact for the public by improving the living experience of new Canadians and spreading awareness of sustainable initiatives.

Energized for the Big Day

CRWC kindly welcomed us for our energy audit, where our team inspected and analyzed the flow of energy throughout the centre’s three interconnected buildings. We split up into smaller groups and took a tour of the different parts of the buildings to gather information on lighting, solar energy, building envelope, plug loads, and HVAC systems.


Lighting: Can I get a watt watt!

The lighting team visited 20 rooms and gathered key data to be used for design. Some of the main information collected were the different lighting types, wattage, switches, mounting types, and the lighting layouts. Also, lux readings were taken using a cell phone app to determine lighting luminance at varying distances from working light sources and with just natural lighting. This indicated how intense lighting in a room was and where possible improvements could be made.  

Solar: Warming up to the idea!

One of our teammates went on top of the roof and studied the quality and types of roofing materials in use. Potential access for hoisting equipments (such as racking systems), different shadings on the roof, and using fixed versus movable solar panels were the key focus of the solar team’s observations.  


Building Energy: I’m a big fan!

Our Building Energy team observed the different types of windows and doors in each room. Using Infrared Thermometer, heat escape or leakages were identified on doors and windows to determine potential measures to incorporate into our designs to minimize this. Additionally, the model number and energy consumption of the air conditioners in each room were noted, which would help us to come up with innovative ways to cool the buildings. To gather plug loads data, the team recorded how long any devices or equipment using electricity were plugged in. Lastly, during the tour of the mechanical systems, thermal efficiency, standby losses, recovery rates, floor ventilation systems, and the functioning of the radiators were noted down.

Next Steps

After a day of hard work at the energy audit, our team organized the gathered data. Now, we have commenced our design process and are coordinating with CRWC to volunteer in their children’s programs. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram and check out our upcoming blogs for our CECA journey this year!