University College Cork 🇮🇪

UCC is the first university to obtain the FEE Eco-Campus Green Flag. 

ADOPTING THE NEB|LAB CONCEPT: The retrofit project is part of a large suite of environmental projects being undertaken at UCC as part of the University’s overall Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, which commits UCC to be carbon neutral across all three scopes of emissions by 2040.  Several “Living Laboratory” projects have been undertaken on the site to date including:

  • Outdoor classroom sessions with children from local primary schools. The schools have very little access to green space on their grounds and can benefit from the ample green space at this campus.
  • An urban farm utilising green tower technology has been established at the glasshouses on the grounds of the site.
  • An apiary, managed by a local beekeeper, provides honey for use at the university and has been in operation at the site since 2018.
  • The café at the site is part of UCC’s overall “Single-Use Plastic Free” initiative and does not sell any disposable coffee cups or plastic water bottles.

The expected impact of the project is a reduction in carbon emissions of 60% (based on 2030 projections) and improved indoor air quality and thermal comfort for building users.  It is hoped that through engagement with the project students and staff will engage with more environmental programmes and that they might gain a greater understanding of building retrofits and energy efficiency. 

Organisations involved

PROJECT TEAM UCC: Tim Cronin (Capital Projects Officer), Finbarr Wall (Deputy Capital Projects Officer), Pat Mehigan, (Energy & Utilities Manager).
DESIGN TEAM: Butler Cammoranesi (Architect), Cantwell Keogh & Associates (Fire Safety) Powertherm (Mech & Elect), AECOM, (Quantity Surveyor).

Sector: Tertiary

District buildings portfolio: The School of Applied Psychology and School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences includes teaching, laboratory and canteen areas.

Target groups: Staff, students, local community e.g. school visitors


Main characteristics & Motivation


University College Cork is a comprehensive, research-intensive University in the southwest of Ireland, with over 22,000 students and 3,000 staff.  UCC’s campus is made up of 131 buildings, the oldest of which was constructed in 1846.  This Use Case refers to one campus site, UCC’s Enterprise Center.  The building houses the School of Applied Psychology and the School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences. 

The Enterprise Building, constructed in 1980, was originally used by the Irish Development Association as an enterprise / industrial centre for small to medium-sized enterprises. Located at the Distillery Fields, North Mall, the building was purchased by UCC in 1998.  The building archetype would be classed as a mixed-use type. The 2-story building accommodates:

  • Small to medium-sized classrooms
  • Teaching and post-graduate lab
  • Single and multi-occupancy offices
  • The main cafeteria space for the buildings located in the North Mall.

Most of the internal spaces are naturally ventilated while the largest-sized classroom is fitted with a mechanical ventilation system. Several standalone AC units are fitted in rooms with high heat loads. Heating is supplied via gas-fed condensing boilers, controlled locally.  The gross internal floor area is 2837m2.

In 2017, the Enterprise lighting was upgraded to LED.  In 2021, the Enterprise building was selected for the Irish Higher Education Authority’s Pathfinder Programme to explore the deep retrofitting of a 1980s building with a geothermal source heat pump (GSHP).  

UCC already has extensive experience in the design and operation of GSHP units, with units fitted in the Lewis Glucksman Art Gallery (2004), the Environmental Research Institute (2004) and the Western Gateway Building (2009). While these buildings were designed and fitted out to accommodate a GSHP, this project represents UCC’s first foray into retrofitting an existing building to take a GSHP and provides an opportunity to bring the practical learnings from the existing GSHP installations to a retrofit project.



The project aims to deliver:

  • A BER B rated building
  • 50% emissions reduction
  • <55 W/m2 heat demand
  • At least 90% of annual space heating from RES-H

The project is also linked with another Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland research programme, assessing the impact of building retrofit projects on indoor air quality and occupant comfort.  The retrofit project is part of a large suite of environmental projects being undertaken at UCC as part of the University’s overall Sustainability and Climate Action Plan, which commits UCC to be carbon neutral across all three scopes of emissions by 2040.  

The project will also form a key part of UCC’s engagement with Cork City Council in its ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030 as one of the 100 EU Mission Cities.  The Living Laboratory Concept is further enhanced by UCC’s engagement with the national Pathfinder programme, which will assess different approaches to decarbonisation on campuses across the country.

Renovation as Education 

The added value will be the experiential learning opportunity for building users during the renovation project and the potential for them to engage further with the Living Lab concept that has been developed in UCC over the last number of years.  The aim of this project is to determine how scalable or replicable this type of renovation would be in other contexts.  The programme will form part of UCC’s wider engagement in sustainability which includes regular lunch and learn activities, public seminars and optional “digital badge” courses for staff and students, including a recently launched course on “carbon literacy”.  There is also an opportunity to link this project directly with learning at this site as the School of Applied Psychology in UCC has significant expertise in pro-environmental behavioral research.

As a pathfinder project the retrofit has huge potential to influence other entities including schools, universities and public sector entities to undertake deep retrofit renovations.  The project will entail significant engagement activities both with the community using the site, and the wider university and city communities. The procurement of all services and goods for this site will fall under UCC’s overall procurement strategy, which includes sustainability specifications.  Interoperability will be ensured through the new Building management system and the link between this project and the wider UCC 1SO140001 programme of energy management.

Pilot concept description

External Walls

The design proposal is to install an insulated render system over the existing brickwork. The existing 50mm cavity will also be pumped with insulating beads to improve thermal performance and reduce air leakages through the walls.  The specification for the insulation includes non-flammable, dense mineral wool panels. The render will be acrylic, and silicon-based to ensure good resistance to water damage, staining, moss growth and shrinkage.  The perimeter walls to be insulated are highlighted in green on the plans included.

Windows / External Doors & Overheating

All existing single-glazed windows will be replaced by aluminium powder-coated, thermally broken windows and curtain walling. All units will be double-glazed, with a solar protection layer integrated where required. Windows will be connected to room sensors to coordinate with radiator valves and ventilation fans. A detailed overheating analysis in accordance with Part L of the Building Regulations will be carried out during stage 2B to determine the amount of ventilation required, the exact specification of the glass and the requirement for internal blinds (currently existing).

Water Source Heat Pump

The upgraded fabric measures mean the heat load intensity will be low enough to make a heat pump viable/efficient to operate. 

As the peak heat load is approximately 100kW, to offset 90% of the annual heat demand a heat pump sized at 60kW would suffice. However, as the marginal cost of going from a 60kW water

source heat pump to 100kW is small, and it allows the potential to completely decarbonize the heating system, UCC has decided to adopt this strategy. This means the project will surpass the requirement of 90% of the annual heat being supplied from the heat pump. A water source heat pump also operates efficiently no matter what the outside temperature is unlike an air source heat pump which has reduced output and a poor COP on the design day.

Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation

As the building becomes more airtight there is an increased requirement for MHRV. The need for fresh air in our buildings has come into sharp focus during Covid and UCC’s experience is that natural ventilation through trickle vents in winter cannot be relied upon to deliver enough fresh air to occupants. UCC has advised the design team that their requirement is to have MHRV in all normally occupied areas of the building linked to occupancy and CO2 control.

BMS Controls

There is currently no BMS system on the site. It is intended to install a new BMS system off the UCC IT network with cloud-based access. The new system will be BACnet enabled and this shall be utilized wherever possible to ensure we get as much data back as possible and to reduce the number of ‘hard’ BMS points required. A new MCC panel will be in the heat pump plantroom and a total of 4 other MCCs will be in the building, one per floor for the East and West sides.

It is proposed to incorporate indoor air quality sensors in each of the occupied rooms which will have a BACnet protocol and can communicate the space temperature, CO2 levels, % relative humidity and potentially other parameters depending on the final selection. They can also take inputs from;

  • The lighting PIR so occupancy can be detected and linked to the space heating implementing a setback temperature when nobody is present and allowing the MHRV to switch off if the CO2 levels are low.
  • Window sensors to allow the BMS to turn off the radiators if the window is open.

Upcoming Events

Scroll to Top