View Court Housing Co-op

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View Court Considers Solar Water Heating (Scoop)

User: peter
Date: 9/4/2007 6:27 pm
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"It'll pay for itself in 8 years." That's how solar water heating was introduced for discussion at View Court. We're a 32 unit co‑op in a small 3-storey walk-up and 2-storey house built nearly a century ago. Our members have a stated interest in being green, our mortgage was paid off, and we needed to replace our roof soon. Here was an opportunity to put our ideas into practice!

Members recently added "ecological sustainability" as a core value and we have green policies to strive to "eliminate our community's dependence on non-renewable resources and reduce wastefulness", and to "reduce our exposure to substances that have negative impacts on humans or our environment."

However, we needed to know whether a solar project was feasible before investing our limited resources, and the re-roofing project was moving forward. If we were going to use solar panels, we needed to make sure the new roof would be compatible. We had missed a free BC Government building assessment, then the one we had done at a minimal cost missed a boiler hidden in the basement and didn't compensate for us having gas stoves, so it was not reliable for making decisions.

We decided to invest in a professional assessment that would become part of the implementation plan should we decide to go ahead. Taylor Munro charged for their assessment of our buildings, but will discount the actual installation by the same amount if we use their services for the building phase. Their engineering reports clearly lay out the costs and benefits of two options with differing solar panel arrays. They document the predicted energy offsets, greenhouse gas reduction, costs and return on investment.

The results were not as good as we'd hoped. We would recover our costs in 16 years with an expected equipment lifespan of 35 years. This sounds less positive when the ten-year warranty is taken into account. We decided that we were still sufficiently optimistic and committed to build in studs for solar panels as part of our new roof. We're now looking to Vancity for possible creative methods of financing the project to make it more feasible. But, as one member commented on the whole process, "Green housing shouldn't be this complicated!"

While the common impression is that solar is desirable, this process brought up lots of other questions about sustainability. It has raised our awareness about building factors such as heat retention, insulation and ventilation, and these discussions are continuing.

We don't yet know whether or when we'll install solar hot water heating. But, at least we are now dealing in real figures for costs, energy savings and return on investment. Using a triple bottom line doesn't have to mean squandering valuable co‑op assets.

A View Court Board  collaboration

To see View Court's eco-sustainability policy, visit‑sustainability.

Photo: Members of View Court's Green Committee pose as solar panels on the co-op roof.

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