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Archive for July 20th, 2010

Surrey housing complex becomes model for energy efficiency

with 16 comments

Vancouver Sun

The province took over some townhouses from the feds (CHMC) which had been gravely neglected.

The foundations were leaking, basements were flooding, windows and walls were drafty, heating systems were aging, roofs needed replacing and the building envelopes needed to be sealed.

Instead of pulling it down and selling the site for private development, as they did with Little Mountain, they decided to renovate. At the same time they upgraded the buildings’ energy efficiency with heat pumps and solar panels.

Of course the first question ought to be what on earth is wrong with CHMC that they let the property get into this state in the first place? How long had it been like that and what impact did that have on the tenants?

features include better perimeter drainage, insulation and building envelope upgrades, as well as solar electricity panels on the roofs of 11 of 28 townhouse blocks.

The solar panels have a rated electricity generating capacity 139 kilowatt hours — and are expected to provide enough power to replace 10 per cent of what the complex would otherwise pull off the BC Hydro grid.

Why less than half the buidlings and why only 10%? At a guess I would say its probably something to do with the orientation of the roofs. But that does seem to me to be a remarkably modest target. There is also absolutely no information about how much all this cost and what the pay back of the energy efficiency measures is supposed to be.

It is important that this sort of thing is done. In general, energy efficiency is usually more cost effective than adding new generating capacity. New solar panels are a bit of a side issue for us, for we do not need to get any power from carbon based fuels – we just choose to, so that the generators can make money selling peak power at high profit margins to California. Frankly, using existing hydro is about as zero emission as one can get. Making new solar panels not being carbon free.

But for many homes in this province, and especially in this region, since they are not in the public sector and thus do not have the government’s deep pockets to delve into, things like up front costs and payback are very significant figures. Many town homes are either condominiums (strata title) or co-ops. There are a lot that are of a similar age: built when hydro was a cheap source of heat, and insulation was minimal. Many still have single pane windows, with no thermal breaks in the frame. Lots of other condos, of course, have had – or still have – other issues which are being expensively dealt with at the owners’ cost with little or no government help.

Could you persuade a strata council to set up a new levy on all the residents to pay for a program of energy efficiency retrofits which would pay back through lower energy bills? Even with the new carbon tax, I would regard that as being a very difficult sell. But I also do not see this government actually doing very much. A “role model for the province’s Green Building Code” is not actually going to do very much at all to help existing home owners or tenants – much less reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Nice little summer story – gives the minister a bit of positive media that the BC Liberals desperately need, but not actually very useful at all.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 20, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Posted in energy, housing

Tagged with ,