Hawthorne Housing Co-operative: A More Sustainable Future

16 September 2019

What is Hawthorne Housing Co-operative thinking? Many co-ops would view its healthy condition with envy and look for no further improvement. Yet, with the end of its extended operating agreement in view, Hawthorne (Surrey, BC) is preparing itself for a sustainable future.

On the whole, the 59-unit co-op seems fine. Its vacancy loss is low, Hawthorne has reported a surplus in four of the past five years and the building condition is good. With its mortgage paid off in 2018, the co‑op has been making almost three times its former contribution to the capital reserve.

Instead of coasting comfortably, Hawthorne made a successful application to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)’s Preservation Fund to pay for an energy audit, aging-in-place conversion assessment and building condition assessment. The co-op has now reviewed the energy-audit recommendations, which have payback periods ranging from less than a year to, in one case, about 28 years. They will enable the co-op to cut back on the energy and water used by members.

The plan to upgrade common-area lighting builds on work already undertaken to install LED lighting fixtures in the lobby, corridors and stairwells. Hawthorne will complete this project by placing LED lighting outside the building and replacing all tube and compact fluorescents in member units, storage areas, mechanical rooms and the office, garage and meeting room. (Payback period: 6.5 years. Estimate of annual savings: close to $2,500.)

Water will be conserved in the co-op’s three small laundry rooms through arranging with the supplier to replace the rented top-load washers with front-load models. Under the terms of the contract, the co-op may not be able to make this change immediately, but the only cost should be the administrative time needed to negotiate and oversee replacements. A larger benefit will be secured through the installation of high-efficiency toilets that will cut water use in half. The co-op will save even more with new faucet aerators and showerheads that reduce the flow, but not the pressure, by mixing more air with the water. Finally, the engineers recommend that the co-op move from an annual fixed rate for water to a metered rate billed every four months. All told, the co-op can expect to save well over $25,000 annually, enjoying a payback of 1.7 years.

Reduced energy consumption for heating purposes is the last area where savings are possible in the middle term. Many exterior doors have missing or damaged weather stripping, and common-area windows are showing damaged seals. Correction of these problems should result in modest annual savings. In addition, the roof is now allowing moisture to infiltrate the insulation and is due for replacement in five years. That would provide a good opportunity to upgrade the R-value of the insulation by about 20 %. While the pay-back period for this upgrade is lengthy (27.8 years), the co-op would be wise not to lose this opportunity of preparing for the extremes of weather that are predicted for the future. In addition, it is worth noting that the condition of the existing insulation is likely to degenerate further over the next five years. By the time the roof is replaced, its reduced R-value may mean that payback occurs earlier than is predicted now.

In planning for all this work and borrowing to pay for it, what is Hawthorne Housing Co-operative thinking? Put briefly, Hawthorne is thinking ahead.

Plans in Action

The average co-op with an approved capital replacement plan tucks away more than $3,600 per unit in reserves each year--triple the 2007 amount. Does their future hold better windows? New kitchens? Savings mean more choices.