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Earth to keep employees warm

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Newest employee housing building uses innovative heating technology

Looks can be deceiving.

Anyone passing the Beaver Flats affordable housing project in Creekside would think that it was months behind schedule.

But according to Tim Wake of the Whistler Housing Authority the first two floors will be ready for tenants Dec. 1, right on schedule.

The upper floors will be ready Dec. 15.

"It is deceiving, I know," he said.

In fact two tenants pulled out of the project because they were convinced it would never be ready in time and they didn’t want to risk loosing their current accommodation said Wake.

Innovative technology lies behind the unfinished look of the building, located directly across Highway 99 from the Petro-Canada gas station.

The building will be heated geothermally and so requires a special membrane to be sprayed on the outside, rather than the traditional pink insulation followed by building paper.

There was a delay in getting the spray, said Wake, but things are back on track now.

The use of this technology is in keeping with Whistler’s move to sustainability said Wake, and in the long run will cut heating costs.

"We are being good, responsible, corporate citizens by using this technology," said Wake.

And he hopes there will be up $30,000 a year in savings in heating costs.

Engineer Jeff Quibell, of Groundsolar Geotechnics, said the system usually pays for itself in four to 10 years depending on the cost of installing it.

Quibell led the team that placed 80 pipe systems 200 feet beneath the Beaver Flats building.

Water and a non-toxic antifreeze flow down the U-shaped pipes then back up into a heat pump inside the building.

The ground temperature that far down doesn’t change much said Quibell. For Whistler that means it stays around 6.1 degrees Celsius.

"That may sound like it is not very warm," said Quibell, but its enough to do the trick.

"(The fluid) picks up heat out of the ground, and although it sounds like it is fairly cool, the fluid goes into the building and into a heat pump which raises the temperature (intensity) of the heat.

"In the process of doing that it cools the fluid, heats the building, and then the cooled fluid goes back down into the earth, at a cooler temperature than it came out at, and picks up heat in a constant circulation."

The project was groundbreaking in more than one way, said Quibell.

"Because the site was relatively small we also angled some of the holes underneath the building," he said.

"That was a rather innovative aspect of this particular project."

The technology is currently being installed at the community-recreational building in Spruce Grove as well.

And dozens of homes in the Whistler area have also made use of it.

It is commonly found in many parts of the world, including Switzerland and the American Midwest.

Quibell believes we will be hearing more and more about the environmentally-friendly technique which reduces energy consumption by up to two-thirds.

"It is a technology that British Columbians will find is fairly common place in a short period of time," he said.

"There has been tremendous interest, particularly with the increase in natural gas prices."

Beaver Flats contains 38 units. There are studios, one-bedroom, and one-bedroom with lofts.

The rents range from $635 a month to $1,100 a month.

While that does seem high for subsidized housing Wake points out that it does include heat, thanks to the geothermal technology.

In a controversial move the WHA has also decided to charge tenants $60 a month for parking.

"We are rewarding people who don’t have cars and take other forms of transport," said Wake.

If the parking had been included, said Wake, it would have meant that people without vehicles were subsidizing people who drove.

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