Eileen Tallman Co-operative Homes is a stable housing community in Ottawa’s mid-western suburbs. Moderate and mid-range in many ways, this co-op was part of the dramatic expansion that took place in co-operative housing between 1979 and 1984. Like many co-ops of that period, it has 60 units of apartments and row-house units that form a village-like community attractive to small urban families. The many trees, gardens and well-used balconies give the co-op a mellow, settled, small-town charm. However, a closer look at the co-operative’s operations raises some concerns because its energy costs are far higher than those of similar co-ops.
Recognizing the problem, Eileen Tallman’s board and staff took action. Recalling their decision earlier in the decade to install a small solar project on the roof of the apartment building, they reached out to a sister firm of the contractor, the Ottawa-based service co-operative CoEnergy. Together they are now working closely on strategies that will increase the co-op’s energy efficiency and lower its greenhouse-gas emissions—all while saving money.
Following an energy audit, Eileen Tallman is now undertaking a retrofit of its lighting. The original outdoor standards will be replaced with energy-saving LED fixtures. The common spaces of the co-operative, including hallways, mechanical and meeting rooms and office space will all benefit from upgrades to long-life LEDs, which will not only save energy, but also staff time as no bulbs will ever need replacement. A further benefit is that the chosen LED fixtures satisfy the board’s desire for an aesthetically pleasing option superior to the existing fluorescent lighting.
Eileen Tallman is also replacing the ancient analog equipment in its common areas with programmable thermostats. In the past, the co-op had no meaningful control over the heating in its public spaces. With the new equipment, automated overnight setbacks will save money through more efficient use of energy, while members and staff enjoy steady, comfortable temperatures throughout the day.
Even more promising, although not yet approved, is the project now under discussion among CoEnergy, the board and the members of Eileen Tallman. They are considering whether or not to offset the costly electric baseboard heating in member units with air-source heat pumps. These heat pumps can effectively provide heating to the unit even when outdoor temperatures have fallen as low as -25 Celsius. By reversing the direction of air flow, they would also deliver extremely efficient cooling in Ottawa’s steamy summers. This would allow co-op households to enjoy an alternative to air-conditioning window units, even as the climate grows more extreme, improving members’ health and wellbeing, and the appearance of the building, at a modest cost.
When housing co-ops were under construction, electric baseboard heating units were cheap and easy to install. They are now common in apartment-style co-operatives and rental buildings. However, this method of heating became expensive over time as the cost of electricity increased. If this proposal is adopted and proves successful, CoEnergy may have found the solution to a wide-spread problem for electrically heated housing co-operatives looking to spare their budgets and lower their carbon footprints.
An important element in the project is education for end users, who would need to understand the heat pump well enough to make full use of all possibilities. If the project goes forward, training for members would be available from the sub-contractor in the new year.
Whether or not, in the end, Eileen Tallman’s board and membership decide to undertake the heat-pump project, we should all be grateful to them. Their discussions with CoEnergy have made more people aware of another way to save money on heating, even in co-ops that rely on electrical baseboard units.