BY GARY MAY
John Cushing hasn’t paid a cent for heating or air conditioning since he moved in to his home in Huron-Kinloss Township’s Inverlyn Lake Estates a few years ago. And neither have about half of his 40 neighbours.
That’s because their homes are fitted with geothermal heating and cooling systems, which use the constant temperature of the ground beneath their homes to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature, summer and winter. Geothermal eliminates the need for a traditional fossil fuel-operated furnace or electricity-based system.
But Inverlyn Lake’s eco-friendly character doesn’t end there. The whole community, situated just outside Kincardine near Lake Huron, is built around the remains of a former gravel pit. So in effect, the builders have created an environmentally friendly community on top of a former industrial site.
Inverlyn Lake Estates is a community that, when completed, will consist of 150 bungalows sitting at the edge of a spring-fed, 23-acre lake that was once a quarry. Bridges invite residents to stroll to two picturesque islands fitted with gazebos, while nearby, a 90-acre woodland offers kilometres of hiking trails.
The project exemplifies how Ontario’s waterfront communities are learning how to live smarter and more in tune with their environment. Not only did developer Sam MacGregor create an attractive alternative use for what was once an ugly scar on the landscape, he provided the means by which residents can consume fewer fossil fuels and save money in the long run.
Back about 1860, the property was farmland. Then, its value as the source of stone was recognized and it was turned into a quarry. Today, it stands as an environmentally friendly lifestyle community not far from the shores of Lake Huron.
'Dad was always a firm believer in protecting the environment'
MacGregor’s daughter, Debbie Brindley, says: “Dad was always a firm believer in protecting the environment. After extracting the gravel, he knew he’d end up with a lake. The plan to put it back to this just evolved.”
“Sure, it costs more upfront to move into a home that’s served by geothermal,” resident John Cushing tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “But the savings keep on coming.”
He says he doesn’t even know how much he might be saving in energy costs, because he simply doesn’t have any heating and cooling bills. The geothermal fan, which blows heat from the system into his home, is run by electricity, and the cost of running it is rolled in to the rest of his electrical bill.
It is estimated that 60 per cent of an Ontario home’s energy costs go toward heating and cooling. Inverlyn resident Ron McKee has tried to tally up his savings, but says it’s hard to know for sure because electricity rates have gone up so much in the two years since he’s lived at Inverlyn Lake. He knows that he pays just $1,700 to $1,800 a year for all of his 1,800-square-foot home’s electricity needs — and nothing over and above that for heating and cooling.
Both men were attracted to Inverlyn Lake by the promise of lower energy bills and the opportunity to live in a place that has converted an old quarry into a pleasant, energy-efficient community. Even the homes not fitted with geothermal systems are equipped with heat pumps and other energy-saving devices.
It was all part of landowner MacGregor’s dream. But it’s a dream that has not always unfolded quite the way he had planned.
Geothermal costs more upfront, but pays off in the long run
Brindley says the original concept was to create what was once termed Ontario’s first geothermal energy-efficient designated community. Geothermal systems were to be the standard in all of the homes. But the additional cost associated with the “Cadillac” of systems frightened many away and, when home sales lagged, it was decided to provide less expensive energy-wise systems as alternatives.
That’s why only about half the homes are equipped with full geothermal systems. But less elaborate heat pumps also go some distance toward reducing consumption of traditional fossil fuels — and heating and cooling expenses.
So instead of paying out $25,000 or more for a geothermal system, buyers can choose from a variety of systems that range from $5,000 to $15,000. Savings, of course, are considerably less, but buyers seem more comfortable with the lower initial outlay, says Brindley.
That type of compromise is a story that’s repeated across Ontario, wherever attempts have been made to introduce high-end energy-saving heating and cooling systems. While surveys show buyers say they’re willing to pay more to reduce energy consumption, many cool to the concept once they discover what their upfront cost will be.
“It’s really a cost issue for mainstream builders,” admits Julia Ramkerrysingh of EnerQuality Corp, which promotes sustainable choices and green building methods. “Builders are finding they can’t always sell the most expensive models.”
That has forced some rethinking. One Toronto builder with plans for a 210-suite highrise condo building in Burlington believed so strongly in the benefits of geothermal that it circumvented buyer resistance by partnering with the installer to cover upfront costs in exchange for a 30-year contract.
How — and why — does a geothermal system work?
The systems are based on the fact that beneath the frost line, the Earth’s temperature remains fairly constant — warmer in winter than the air and cooler in summer. The idea is to make that stored solar energy work for you.
The system moves heat either out of, or into the ground to heat or cool a building. It does not use combustion to create heat, so there’s no need for electricity, oil or gas to run a heat-generator. Geothermal simply transfers solar heat from the ground.
A ground loop is buried in the soil and enters the building. In cold weather, heat is taken from the ground through the loop system and moved to a “furnace.” Once inside the furnace, a fan blows the heat through the distribution system.
Heat that is transferred out of the ground can also be used to assist in the heating of water, for drinking or service applications, or in swimming pools.
To maintain a comfortable living temperature inside his or her home, the homeowner simply sets the temperature with an electronic thermostat. The system will heat or cool to maintain that temperature. Systems feature a network of high-density polyethylene pipes that are filled with a solution of water and anti-freeze. In urban areas such as Inverlyn Lake, where space is a factor, vertical loops are installed, while horizontal loops can be used when there is more land available.
Geothermal exchange has been used in Europe for years and is increasingly popular in British Columbia, but Ontario has been slow to catch the wave.
In the Kincardine area, the community is proud to have the geothermal energy-efficient subdivision in its midst, says Paul Rigby, one of the organizers of the annual Doors Open program that gives people an opportunity to get a look at buildings they might not otherwise be able to visit.
Doors Open featured homes at Inverlyn Lake on its tour earlier this year. While the program is aimed primarily at sharing the community’s cultural heritage, Rigby tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com “that doesn’t mean they have to all be old buildings.”
He says the community’s energy-efficient character “reflects well on Kincardine. We’ve been a bedroom community for Bruce Power, so energy conservation hasn’t always been seen as important. But people are thinking this might be the way to go.”
However, adds Rigby, “people aren’t willing to pay a heck of a lot more for it.”
That’s why it’s so important to prove geothermal is a cost-effective system, and where better than in a community that is so closely associated with electricity generation.
Many people in the Kincardine and neighbouring Port Elgin area are employed at the Bruce Power nuclear generating station. And while nuclear power boasts its emission-free nature, the fact that a community in that area is taking the lead in using solar energy in this manner is a feather in the cap of the region, says Matt Farrell, chief building official for Huron-Kinloss.
“And remember, too, they’ve taken an old quarry and turned it into a nice, inland spring-fed lake,” says Farrell. “We couldn’t hope for anything better than that.”
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — November 2010