Whistler 2020 on the ground 

RMOW policy and program development

By Shannon Gordon

If you live in Beaver Flats you already know about the affordability aspects of the Whistler Housing Authority’s (WHA) resident housing development. This building opened its doors in December of 2001 and has been the recipient of multiple awards over the last few years for its building innovations. More importantly, the building’s energy efficiency features are resulting in ongoing financial savings and environmental benefits, making it a true stepping stone toward sustainability within Whistler’s built environment.

Touching briefly on the building’s main contribution to Whistler’s social sustainability aspirations, it offers very affordable rental housing to full-time Whistler employees. The 57-unit apartment building in Whistler Creekside enjoys fantastic views of Whistler Mountain and is rented at $1.50 per square foot, which includes utilities. The price and employee restrictions exist to help house Whistler employees exempt from the high market prices associated with an international destination resort.

Beaver Flats, along with the WHA’s 14 other resident restricted housing projects help to maintain a minimum of 75 per cent of the workforce living within Whistler’s boundaries — a goal articulated by the community in Whistler2020. (More on the affordability delivered by the WHA’s projects will be covered in a future column.)

With the Beaver Flats development, the WHA took affordability one step further by integrating green building principles that lower the operating costs of the building and help to ensure more affordable monthly accommodation.

The entire building is heated and cooled using a renewable, clean energy source — the earth’s ground temperature. A closed loop water system runs 200 feet into the ground in 80 wells around the building. With the ground temperature remaining relatively constant compared to the fluctuating temperature at the surface, the circulated water transfers energy from the ground, which is concentrated by central heat pumps and then pumped to the individual units. It is also used to preheat the domestic hot water, which receives final heating by super high efficiency second stage water heaters. Further, waste heat from the building exhaust system preheats incoming air to the common areas and underground parking.

Beaver Flats is made even more energy efficient by ensuring that the temperature achieved within the building by the geothermal system remains as unaffected as possible by the conditions outside. Seamless building shell layers and highly effective insulation in the roof increase the thermal integrity of the building. And since most of a building’s heat loss and gain occurs through its windows, the double glazed, clear, and low-e value 0.41 air filled windows in Beaver Flats are the critical finishing touch to the building’s highly efficient energy system. Finally, all 57 units are equipped with high efficiency Power Smart appliances.

So besides the significant energy savings and resulting greenhouse gas emissions reductions, what are the other benefits and the costs of these energy innovations in Beaver Flats?

Financially, the innovations result in overall savings of roughly $40,000 annually. This is based on the engineers’ estimation that it would have cost $70,000 per year to heat and cool the building by conventional methods and that the actual annual energy cost for Beaver Flats is $30,000, which includes hydro, gas and the geothermal system.

A 12-year timeframe is the estimated payback period for the $500,000 additional capital cost of the system compared to that of a conventional electric or gas fired forced air heating system with heat recovery ventilation. Assuming the building will last for 50 years, the cumulative savings after the 12-year period will be just over $1.5 million — and that’s based on 2001 energy prices. That’s a lot of savings to pass on to future resort employees!

Further, employees now and in the future will benefit from the superior indoor air quality delivered by the Beaver Flats system compared to what would have resulted from the cheaper baseboard electric system without heat recovery ventilators and associated fresh air intake systems.

Buildings like the WHA’s Beaver Flats also deliver less tangible benefits, such as providing communities with on-the-ground examples of how to address climate change and other important sustainability issues. Benefits to developers include an enhanced ability to rent or sell space, improved marketability, improved public profile and community relationships, publicity, reduced liability and higher building valuations.

Fortunately, Beaver Flats is one of many projects that are expanding Whistler’s inventory of high-performance buildings. Other noteworthy projects include the Spring Creek Firehall, Spruce Grove Field House and a number of private residences. A little friendly competition anyone?

Thanks to everyone who is helping to make Whistler an increasingly sustainable and successful community. Visit whistler2020@whistler.ca to get involved, learn more about other on-the-ground actions and how we’re performing, or to suggest a story idea or an action.

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