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The Future of Sustainable Commercial Construction: A Deep Dive into Thermtest’s Innovative 15,000 sqft Building

The Future of Sustainable Commercial Construction: A Deep Dive into Thermtest’s Innovative 15,000 sqft Building

September 29, 2023

The future of sustainable commercial construction is here, and the Thermtest Headquarters proves it. Since its establishment in 2005, Thermtest has been at the forefront of enhancing thermal conductivity, thermal diffusivity, and specific heat measurement. In 2021, after a significant expansion, Thermtest moved its headquarters into a new 15,000 sq. ft. facility in Hanwell, NB. Given the focus on thermal conductivity, this facility is impeccably designed.

The new headquarters is appropriately designed with floor-to-ceiling Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) construction for energy-saving characteristics. The continuous foam panels in ICFs provide an R-value of R-25 (3-inch XPS + 6-inch concrete + 3-inch XPS) and the thermal mass of the concrete core in the walls to keep a space warm in the winter and cool in the summer months.

The building is an example of sustainable and efficient construction due to its characteristics. A sustainable and efficient construction results in curbing energy consumption, reducing emissions, safeguarding natural ecosystems, and combating the perils of climate change. Furthermore, it carries tangible economic benefits, encompassing prolonged cost savings and heightened property values. In addition to these advantages, it bolsters the well-being of building occupants by ensuring superior indoor air quality and comfort.

This article will examine Thermtest’s distinctive building in-depth, drawing a comprehensive comparison between its energy performance and cost benefits when compared with conventional Canadian construction practices.


The Unique Construction of Thermtest’s Building

Thermtest, a company renowned for its dedication to advancing the science of thermal conductivity, has taken a step further by adopting an energy and cost-efficient design. One of the most striking aspects of the building is its wall structure. Unlike conventional Canadian buildings, which often rely on wood or steel framing, Thermtest’s walls are constructed using ICFs.

Figure 1. A picture in the doorway shows the thickness of the insulated concrete forms used to build Thermtest Inc. Headquarters.


These ICFs consist of three layers:

  • A 3-inch XPS outer layer
  • A concrete core
  • Another XPS inner layer with a 14ft wall-to-ceiling height

The building draws its heating from the heat pumps and takes advantage of natural light for illumination by strategically placed skylights.


Comparing Thermtest’s Building to Typical Canadian Construction

In Canada, construction techniques and materials are designed to suit the diverse climate, geography, and building regulations. In principle, foundations typically use poured concrete or concrete blocks to endure extreme weather conditions and prevent frost damage in colder areas. Wood frame construction typically uses 2×4 or 2×6 lumber and engineered wood products like laminated veneer lumber (LVL) to add strength. Further, insulations like fibreglass batts, cellulose, or spray foam can combat harsh winters and enhance energy efficiency. Asphalt shingles are the most common roofing material due to their affordability and durability.

Thermtest’s building stands apart from the typical Canadian construction methods that commonly involve wood or steel framing. Instead, Thermtest’s walls are made using ICFs. The building represents an innovative approach to energy and cost efficiency.

Some critical elements of energy and cost-efficient design are listed below:

 Energy Efficiency

  • Heat Pumps: Instead of relying on traditional heating systems, Thermtest’s building uses heat pumps. Heat pumps are highly efficient devices that transfer heat from the outside to the inside during the heating season and vice versa during the cooling season. This technology can lead to significant energy savings compared to conventional heating methods.
  • Skylights: The building utilizes borrowed lighting from skylights. Natural light enhances the indoor environment and reduces the need for artificial lighting during daylight hours, saving energy and money.
  • Thermal Comfort: The combination of the ICF wall structure, heat pumps, and natural lighting contributes to superior thermal comfort for the building’s occupants. Maintaining a consistent, comfortable temperature without excessive heating or cooling is energy-efficient and enhances the overall experience for occupants.

Figure 2. Close up picture of one of the many skylights found within the Thermtest main office.

 Cost Efficiency

  • Energy Savings: The reduced energy consumption resulting from the ICF walls, heat pumps, and natural lighting leads to lower utility bills, resulting in significant savings for the company in the long run.
  • Maintenance Savings: ICF walls require less maintenance than traditional materials like wood or steel, leading to lower maintenance costs and longer-term savings.
  • Environmental Impact: Reduced energy consumption also means a smaller carbon footprint, aligning with Thermtest’s sustainability and environmental responsibility commitment.


The Science Behind the Efficiency

One of the standout characteristics of Thermtest’s building resides in its wall construction, specifically the utilization of ICFs. The innovative design results in enhanced insulation, thermal mass, and durability. Details for each component are listed below.

  1. Enhanced Insulation: The tri-layered ICF walls deliver outstanding insulation properties, significantly reducing heat transfer through the walls. This attribute proves especially invaluable during the harsh Canadian winters, where maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature can be costly.
  2. Thermal Mass: The concrete core serves as a thermal mass, effectively stabilizing indoor temperatures. Consequently, the building remains cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, reducing the need for excessive heating and cooling, thereby contributing to energy efficiency.
  3. Durability: ICF walls are renowned for their durability, protecting against severe weather conditions and potential damage. This inherent resilience augments the building’s long-term sustainability, ensuring it can withstand various challenges over time.


Furthermore, the building uses heat pumps for heating and skylights, resulting in a lower need for artificial lighting. Details for each of them are listed below:

Figure 3. Heat Pumps are strategically placed around the building to provide and maintain the optimal temperature year-round.


  1. Heat Pumps: Thermtest’s building relies on heat pumps, departing from conventional heating methods. These highly efficient devices adeptly transfer heat from the outdoors to the interior during the heating season and perform the reverse operation during the cooling season. This technology yields substantial energy savings compared to traditional heating systems.

Figure 4. The left shows what the inside looks like with the lights turned on, while the images on the right have the lights turned off and all light is from the skylights.


  1. Skylights for Natural Illumination: The building harnesses the benefits of natural light through strategically placed skylights. Natural light enhances the indoor environment and curtails the need for artificial lighting during daylight hours, resulting in energy and cost savings.


Real-world Benefits and Savings

The energy-efficient attributes of Thermtest’s building translate into noteworthy financial advantages over time. ICF homes offer substantial cost savings regarding operational expenses due to their thermal mass, airtight construction, and high R-value. On average, a conventional wood-frame house incurs a monthly utility expense of $0.10 per square foot. At the same time, an ICF home typically only amounts to $0.03 per square foot in monthly utility costs. Further, ICF walls demand less maintenance than traditional construction materials such as wood or steel, translating into reduced maintenance expenses and extended cost-efficiency over the building’s lifecycle.


The Future of Sustainable Commercial Construction

The innovative ICF design of Thermtest’s building ensures exceptional insulation, durability, and occupant comfort and serves as a compelling model for future commercial constructions. With an impressive 14-foot height from floor to ceiling, the building offers a spacious, comfortable interior with good air circulation. Using heat pumps for heating and strategically positioned skylights for natural light highlights energy conservation and environmentally friendly practices.

This comprehensive approach to construction promises substantial long-term savings through reduced energy consumption and maintenance costs, reaffirming the feasibility of ICF-based buildings as sustainable commercial structures. The project highlights the potential for future commercial constructions to prioritize energy efficiency, sustainability, and occupant well-being, thereby reshaping industry standards and promoting a more eco-conscious and economically efficient built environment.



Thermtest’s architectural concept, incorporating ICF walls, heat pumps, and natural illumination, establishes a groundbreaking benchmark for energy efficiency and sustainability within commercial construction. This unique approach demonstrates the advantages of progressive design regarding energy savings and cost reduction.

Figure 5. Thermtest’s main office uses sustainable building practices to provide a commercial building that is more environmentally friendly than standard commercial buildings.


The project is an inspiring exemplar for the building industry in a world increasingly prioritizing sustainable and efficient construction practices. It challenges conventional norms and illuminates the benefits of investments in energy-efficient architectural designs. The building serves as a testament to innovation and imparts invaluable lessons to future construction endeavours aiming to create more eco-friendly and efficient environments.


Written by: Dr. Chetan Aggarwal

Dr. Chetan Aggarwal is deeply passionate about the science behind designing and constructing buildings. Chetan has dedicated years of research and practice to advancing building science. Driven by a profound curiosity about how buildings impact our lives and the environment, Chetan is committed to sharing knowledge and insights in the realm of sustainable building solutions. Connect on LinkedIn for more discussions and updates on the latest developments in building engineering and sustainable design.

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