The Journey from Car Repair Shop to Energy-Efficient Training Facility

In 1947, a brick building at 590 Piedmont Avenue housed a car repair garage. Today, nearly 70 years later, the 4,700-square-foot structure is a shining example of adaptive reuse, earning both EarthCraft Light Commercial and the LEED Commercial Interiors certifications. Named the SWEET (Southeast Weatherization and Energy Efficiency Training) Center, it has become a working example for weatherization and home performance contractors, homebuilders, homeowners, light commercial contractors and those interested in the future of energy efficiency around the Southeast.

Weatherization techniques demonstrated by Southface's own John Kane on site.

Weatherization techniques demonstrated by Southface’s own John Kane on site.

When the facility opened in 2010 following nine months of interior renovations, the SWEET Center immediately attracted regional and national attention. Its grand opening drew building and environmental leaders, government officials and policy makers.

Brad Turner is the center’s Director of Education and Technical Assistance. He has been with the center from early on and is responsible for managing the center’s daily operations as well as its educational offerings.

During the past five years, the SWEET Center has hosted about 300 trainings (223 of which were certification-based) for over 3,000 students. The center currently offers 18 different trainings, from combustion safety classes to EarthCraft trainings. The center is also one of only a few training centers in the nation to be an Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) Accredited Training Provider for Energy Auditor, Quality Control Inspector, Retrofit Installer Technician and Crew Leader Training Programs. These certification-based classes build expert capacity in the market place.

In addition to offering certification-based trainings wherein students can challenge nationally-recognized certification exams at course’s end, the center also offers introductory trainings, such as the one-day Fundamentals of Building Science class. The center is equipped with everything students need for hands-on learning: insulation props, diagnostic cabins with functional appliances and combustion labs demonstrate proper combustion safety techniques. “The intent was to develop a place where we could train weatherization and home performance contractors,” says Turner. “The facility is designed to give them the experiential knowledge and a safe, comfortable place to practice the skills they need to go out and correctly perform the work they’re doing in the field.”

These trainings, and the center’s unique status as one of the Southeast’s only weatherization training facilities, was made possible in large part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Weatherization Assistance Program. Southface partnered with many organizations, including the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA), Home Depot Foundation, Surber Barber Choate & Hertlein Architects and contractor Kasteel Enterprises to complete the renovation.

Mike Barcik leads a training at SWEET, using the equipment at the center to demonstrate hands on techniques for air sealing and insulation.

Mike Barcik leads a training at SWEET, using the equipment at the center to demonstrate hands on techniques for air sealing and insulation.

Work began with an interior demolition that included mechanical, electrical, plumbing, ceiling tile and insulation, lighting and some sheetrock walls.

“The building was completely gutted and the newest energy-efficient options were incorporated throughout, including high-performance windows and lighting, daylight sensors, ductless mini-split HVAC systems and the use of Energy Star-rated products from computers to appliances,” says Laura Case, LEED AP BD+C, Southface Commercial Sustainability Services Program Manager, who helped finalize the LEED certification. “The renovation team was able to reclaim, reuse and repurpose furnishings such as cabinets, metal door frames, desks and cubicles.”

One of the biggest challenges for the project was addressing outside air ventilation, she says. The air intakes and duct work were undersized, so Southface engineering staff recalculated the sizes and replaced the originally specified equipment with two direct air intakes on the roof and resolved the issue. Building ventilation systems now meet LEED standards.

The team created a multi-use facility with a common reception lobby, conference room, six work stations, a classroom, kitchen, bathrooms and a warehouse with two “diagnostic cabins” for training. “We replicated, on a smaller scale, a typical home environment so that students can complete blower door, combustion safety and duct leakage tests and learn the often-complex method of performing home energy assessments and ratings,” Case says. “It has proved to be an invaluable tool for demonstrations and training.”

“Our goal was to create an energy-efficient state-of-the-art training facility that incorporated all the possibilities for today’s build marketplace, a place that also demonstrates how the industry can retrofit older structures and bring them into compliance with proper planning and partnerships,” says Case. “Our partners were vital in accomplishing our goal in only nine months of interior renovations. Our recent LEED Commercial Interior Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council recognizes the SWEET Center for its best-in-class strategies and practices.”

“Receiving LEED Certification is our crowning achievement for this project, but it is by no means the end of our work,” Case says. “Southface continues to be on the leading edge of incorporating the latest technology and systems to help educate and inform our partners, our trainees and the public about how to live sustainably for the future.”

The classroom offers smartboard technology, a demonstration of pressure and combustion gases in residential contexts, and space for more than 30 people.

The classroom offers smartboard technology, a demonstration of pressure and combustion gases in residential contexts, and space for more than 30 people.

If you are interested in the courses offered at SWEET Center, please find more information at www.southface.org/learning-center/trainings. If you are interested in renting space at SWEET or anywhere on the Southface Campus, please send an e-mail to events@southface.org.

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