Ongoing hiccoughs at Ottawa’s Beaver Barracks

May 14, 2011

in Daily updates, Ottawa

As mentioned before, the most appealing thing about the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation ‘Beaver Barracks’ housing project is the use of geothermal heating and cooling – an energy-efficient way to deal with Ottawa’s extremes of temperature.

While the system is appealing, the buildings are in some sense prototypes and there have been some ongoing issues. There have been difficulties with having balanced heating or cooling throughout the buildings, and the thermostats installed are frustrating in that they can only be set to either ‘heat’ or ‘cool’ and not to do whichever as needed. The combined garbage and recycling rooms are rather smelly, in a way that sometimes permeates into the main floor of both 160 Argyle and 464 Metcalfe, and the recycling bins for cans, plastic, and glass are often crammed completely full. While there have been many promises, there is still no functioning laundry room in 160 Argyle, though residents can use the one in the nearby 464 Metcalfe building. People thinking about moving in should also be aware that there is quite a bit of ongoing construction noise, usually starting at 7:30am every weekday. The quantity of bicycle parking provided is inadequate, and the racks are of a type that damages bicycles easily. I worry about taking my bike out from the storage room, as there might not be anywhere to put it when I get back.

In my experience, the CCOC staff are also fairly unresponsive. There was a maintenance line that could be called, but it never led to me being called back. Dated posters about the various construction undertakings are up in elevators and lobby spaces.

All told, the ‘Barracks’ is definitely still a pleasant place to live. CCOC just needs to put a bit more effort into getting things set up on time, dealing with problems as they arise, and communicating with residents who raise issues.

[Update: 25 May 2011] My latest attempt to contact CCOC was very successful! I left a message on the maintenance line and got emailed back by Linda Camilleri (613-234-4065 x246, linda.camilleri@ccochousing.org). By the time I got home from work, the cooling system in my unit was working properly. The place is now the temperature specified on the thermostat.

[Update: 27 May 2011] Raymond Sullivan, the Executive Director of CCOC, was kind enough to email me some information about the state of the geothermal heating and cooling system. He agreed to let me share part of it here, for the benefit of residents and those interested in geothermal heating and cooling technology:

As you may know, there was a small construction fire in the geothermal control room last December. Although we were able to get the system up and running again within two days, the fire destroyed the automated controls for the system. These controls would keep the temperature in the circulating loop at an optimal temperature all year long. Instead, we have been operating on “manual” adjusting valves to balance the heating and cooling needs. The transition from heating to cooling was difficult this spring. The technology is actually fairly simple, but there are many variables to consider, and manual tuning is less than ideal. The heat issues were short-lived at 464 Metcalfe (which makes up the bulk of the system), and most severe on the upper floors of 160 Argyle, but we have now figured out how to better balance the two buildings separately and get optimal temperatures in both loops.

I understand that the automated controls have been replaced and are almost ready to be certified and brought online. Once that is the case, we shouldn’t experience these challenges anymore. For the time being, we will continue to cover 160 Argyle tenants’ geothermal charges, as we have done since the first tenant moved in.

A number of other issues were raised by your neighbours and we’re working on addressing these too. Of particular note is responsiveness and communication from our office and the contractor. It’s something that has caused some frustration for all parties and is a high priority to fix.

I’m happy to report that we have ordered the laundry equipment to be delivered on June 6 and the room will be operational the following week. To make up for the inconvenience, we will ensure that laundry is free of charge for the first week.

At the moment, at least, the recycling bins in the basement have plenty of spare capacity, and the construction noise recently has been quite manageable.

[Update: 2 July 2011] The laundry room has been up and running in 160 Argyle for a little while now. With the recent hot weather, the cooling system in my unit seems to be unable to cope. It is set at 23˚C now, but the temperature inside the unit is 28˚C – hotter in the rooms with south-facing windows.

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

KB May 18, 2011 at 7:01 pm

You are extremely polite, considerate and informative in your update about Beaver Barracks. It’s unfortunate that the CCOC, it’s employees and hired contractors, have not mirrored those qualities.

Milan May 18, 2011 at 8:07 pm

I would really like to get to know more of the residents of the Beaver Barracks.

Would anyone be interested in a meetup? We could go for drinks somewhere, or perhaps have a gathering on one of the rooftops.

Matt May 18, 2011 at 10:58 pm

I find it somewhat odd for new construction of “premium” living space to not have in-suite laundry. Is there a “green” explanation for that?

Milan May 18, 2011 at 11:03 pm

It isn’t really premium housing, though it is quite nice in many ways. Most of it is subsidized social housing.

KB May 20, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I’d be up for meeting up — as long as I stop melting long enough. My apartment is currently 32 degrees inside. Anyone else?
I’d love to hear what other people in this building have dealt with, are currently dealing with as well as what they’ve been told thus far by CCOC and/or their contractors. So far, everyone I’ve spoken with is getting a different story about every issue and my favorite part is that they people at CCOC on the Beaver Barracks project keep getting shuffled every few months. I can’t say I blame them really — who wants to stay on this project dealing with the growing problems and no solutions?

Milan May 20, 2011 at 5:02 pm

My place has been in the high twenties every day after work. I open the patio door and it cools down without using electricity to run the heat pump.

White curtains would help reflect away afternoon sunlight in summer.

NDN May 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I too share your frustration in CCOC’s lack of attention to maintenance and deficiencies matters. In addition to the issues mentioned above, did anyone else notice that the front door had not been locking for over 3 weeks? I reported this time and again via the maintenance line and e-mail, without hearing back.

CCOC has done a great job of hyping the benefits of an eco-friendly lifestyle at Beaver Barracks, but a terrible job of implementation and follow through. Although I applaud them for what they are trying to bring to the city of Ottawa, when I have to run my shower for 15 minutes in the morning to get hot water, or run the barely functional geothermal AC at its capacity, only to sweat in 27.5C temperatures, I’m no longer buying their environmentally friendly claims.

I’d also be pleased to meet up and go for drinks.
– Next door neighbor

Matt May 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I wonder how much advantage there is in geothermal cooling versus regular air conditioning. Both are pretty basic heat pumps and although presumably there is a larger temperature gradient between the hot and cold sides of the heat pump in the geothermal system (which means greater efficiency), I wonder if the difference is minimal.

Milan May 23, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Regarding cooling

My system was set to ‘cool’ for the last couple of days, with the temperature set to 25˚C. All the doors and windows have been closed for the whole time.

When I came in tonight at 9:30pm, it was 32˚C in the living room and hotter in my bedroom (with south facing windows), study (with no windows, at the back of the unit), and kitchen (same).

Perhaps I should set it closer to the 22˚C limit at which the posters say the heat pumps may start to freeze…

Regarding drinks

Maybe at the Manx or the Elgin Street Diner? People are more likely to be around on a weekday. I can put up some posters in 160 Argyle to attract people.

. May 23, 2011 at 9:47 pm

In countries where the temperature gets above 30 °C, air-conditioning is viewed as a necessity, and the energy cost of delivering that temperature control can be large. However, this part of the book is about British energy consumption, and Britain’s temperatures provide little need for air- conditioning.

An economical way to get air-conditioning is an air-source heat pump. A window-mounted electric air-conditioning unit for a single room uses 0.6 kW of electricity and (by heat-exchanger) delivers 2.6 kW of cooling. To estimate how much energy someone might use in the UK, I assumed they might switch such an air-conditioning unit on for about 12 hours per day on 30 days of the year. On the days when it’s on, the air-conditioner uses 7.2 kWh. The average consumption over the whole year is 0.6 kWh/d.

NDN May 24, 2011 at 7:48 am

I have a “Kill-A-Watt” electricity consumption monitor that anyone is free to borrow, if they’re curious as to just how much their appliances are costing. I can bring it to the Diner when everyone meets up.

Matt May 24, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Perhaps I should set it closer to the 22˚C limit at which the posters say the heat pumps may start to freeze…

Although I don’t know the ins and outs of your particular system, I doubt if setting the temperature lower will do anything. There is already a “request” to cool your apartment when the thermostat is set at 25. If your apartment were ever to reach 25, only then should the system shut off.

It’s disappointing that the system doesn’t work correctly. Having a green system that doesn’t work just hinders the movement.

Milan May 24, 2011 at 9:28 pm

We got a (not very useful) informational notice about the system today. They claim everything will be fixed by summer.

There is a tenant meeting on Thursday, but I will be unable to attend because I am photographing an event.

I agree that the system’s troubles are discouraging from an environmental perspective. That said, this building is new and a kind of prototype. Things will probably get better here as they figure out how to operate the overall systems, and lessons learned here will hopefully be applied to other construction projects.

Milan May 25, 2011 at 6:03 pm
NDN May 25, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Last night after the notice, my unit was still an oven, but as of today it’s working again! Horrah!

Milan May 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Today, I got an informative email from the Executive Director of CCOC.

oleh May 30, 2011 at 5:13 am

An advantage of the lack of in-suite laundry may be that the laundry provides a gathering place for people to connect. The lack of such gathering points is common in today’s residential construction. We are living in a world in which people live in their own seperate box.

I would favour residential construction in which private space was decreased in order to have larger and better common areas. Examples could include a library/ reading room, a theater, a sun room , a games room and paino room.

For example if in a 40 unit building with an average square footage of 800 was reduced by 50 square feet that would allow for an additional 2000 square feet of common area. This would the allow for 5 large common rooms each averaging 400 square feet. The five potential uses could include a library/ reading room, a theater, a sun room , a games room and paino room.

Equally importantly it would allow for increased common gathering rooms.

oleh May 30, 2011 at 5:16 am

Regarding heating / cooling situation, hiccups for the first year of operation of a relatively new and green source of residential heating can be expected. I am pleased to hear of the use of geothermal sources for heating and cooling. I hope that hiccups do not create a negative impression that could dissuade future use.

Milan June 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

There is still no laundry, and the person across the hall from me says she is still having trouble with the cooling system, but things in general are working well for me now.

I look forward to when the planters are up on the roof.

4SIX4 June 14, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Hello Milan – I am a tenant at 464 Metcalfe and I am enjoying reading your blog. Many tenants at 464 have ongoing problems with the geothermal system here as well (among many other issues). It is unfortunate that CCOC is so unresponsive and difficult to deal with. I have a concern about the filters in these geothermal units – from what I have read online, these should be replaced at a minimum every 3 months. With the daily ongoing construction outside, I have noticed that dust builds up very quickly in my apartment and the filter in my geothermal unit is starting to look quite dirty (it’s been the same one since December when I moved in). I also wonder if this is why my Stratacon bill for May was over 100$ – perhaps the build-up on the filter is making the unit not work as efficiently? I have written to CCOC recently, but have not received a reply. When I mentioned it to them in a previous email in April, they assured me that they were the ones responsible for changing the filters and that it would be done in a few weeks – but that never happened. It is mid-June and still no response from them. I would be interested to know if you or others have looked into this. Is it unhealthy to have this type of geothermal unit running with such a dirty filter? Could it be hampering the performance of the unit? Perhaps this might even be why certain people’s cooling is not working? Well, just some thoughts. Take care.

Milan June 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Lately, I have found CCOC very responsive. It seems to be a matter of getting to the right people, and that isn’t necessarily easy if you start with the phone numbers on their websites or posters.

Linda Camilleri (613-234-4065 x246, linda.camilleri@ccochousing.org) was able to help when my apartment was much hotter than the temperature outside. I don’t know anything about geothermal filters, but she may be able to help you out.

I have never had a Stratacon bill of more than $35 or so.

Milan June 14, 2011 at 10:02 pm

My last Stratacon bill was $26.77. Before that, $28.32. Before that, $29.24.

The bill I got at the beginning of March was for $54.19.

4SIX4 June 14, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Are you counting in the Geothermal fee and the administration fee? My monthly geothermal fee is 53.05 per month (price for a one bedroom) and the administrative fee is 10.00 per month – so none of my bills can ever be lower that 65 dollars per month … I am very surprised that yours are so low. I am paying more for this geothermal energy than I was paying for conventional hydro at other apartments …

Milan June 14, 2011 at 10:32 pm

I don’t think they have been charging the geothermal fee in 160 Argyle yet, because there are still kinks in the system. I am not sure when they are planning to start.

Milan July 3, 2011 at 10:45 am

Is anyone else having cooling problems at the moment? My thermostat is set at 23˚C now, but the temperature inside the unit is 28˚C – hotter in the rooms with south-facing windows.

I checked the circuit breakers, and they seem to be fine.

4SIX4 July 3, 2011 at 12:00 pm

That happened here yesterday – I shut off the system for about an hour to give it a break while I went to the grocery store. When I got back and turned it on again it seemed fine. That being said – one of my neighbours has not had a/c at all for weeks (I don’t think her system has ever worked and they have yet to fix it despite her many inquiries – I feel really bad for her). Hope you have some luck.

Milan July 3, 2011 at 12:02 pm

It is still significantly cooler inside my apartment than it is outside, so I am hesitant to turn the system off.

KB July 3, 2011 at 3:27 pm

I had the same problems yesterday. After about four or five hours with the fan on, it finally seemed to respond to the numerous restarts and started kicking out cold air again. 4SIX4, as for your neighbour… if you have the chance, let her know I still have one of the Argyle fans and she is more than welcome to it if that may help. She clearly deserves it more than I.

Milan, I know you’re in Argyle… any problem with smelling marijuana on your floor?

Milan July 3, 2011 at 6:02 pm

My cooling is working again. There is a heating and cooling company van in front of 160 Argyle, which may have something to do with it.

4SIX4 July 3, 2011 at 6:42 pm

KB thanks for the offer of a fan – I believe she bought some fans a while ago when it was clear that CCOC was not doing anything about her problem. As for smelling marijuana etc. I have seen people smoking up on the roof of 464 Metcalfe and a tenant I know on the top floor has been seeing cigarette butts on the balcony (coming from the rooftop and landing on the balcony) so clearly people are not respecting CCOC’s non-smoking policy. I live on one of the lower floors and if I open my window, I can usually smell cigarette smoke from the people who are smoking right outside the building (either the workmen, tenants or guests). As far as I can see, the non-smoking policy probably will not last … there is nobody to monitor it so why would anyone bother to respect the policy? It’s unfortunate, as it was a nice idea but if CCOC is not going to enforce it, it’s just not going to work. Kinda like the compost bin on the roof at 464 Metcalfe: it is already full and overflowing and there is nobody to take care of it, so I just stopped bringing compost up there since the smell is terrible not to mention all the bugs. Anyway – I am taking up way too much space here! so I will end my rant – hope you folks at argyle are having a bit bettter luck. I heard you finally got your laundry room – did you get your bike room yet?

Milan July 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

We have both a laundry room and a bike room now in 160 Argyle.

On an unrelated note, would anybody in the Beaver Barracks be interested in playing a game of chess sometime?

Anushka July 3, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Hi Milan, I came across your blog when I was reading up about geo thermal units (all thanks to the cooling problems) and then got distracted trying to find news re. beaver barracks. Hope the cooling problems were sorted. My husband and I are tenants at 160 Argyle by the way. We had an issue with our cooling unit yesterday (Saturday) and noticed that the hallways too were warm, so ended up calling the after hours number and was told that they will inform the relevant people right away. When I stepped into the hallway after a few hours the problem seemed to have been fixed, but our unit wasn’t working, so we ended up switching off the circuits and switching it on and so far so good. We too were hesitant to change the circuits since it was still cool inside when compared to the temperature outside, but took a chance.

Also, just thought I’d mention this 4six4, if your neighbour needs more fans, when our apartment turned into an oven last month and we complained so many times and they ended up giving us a fan – so I’m sure if she needs additional cooling she can always request CCOC for a fan or two. And Linda Camilleri is probably the only person who has been extremely responsive to all our inquiries and complaints.

Just a question about the laundry room at 160 Argyle, has anyone noticed that the dryers aren’t working properly? the clothes don’t dry? or is it just us?

Milan, although we aren’t pro chess players, a game of chess definitely sounds interesting. It’ll be nice to get to know everyone!

Milan July 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I am definitely not a pro either, but I enjoy playing. The roof of 160 Argyle is a nice place to do so, particularly during cooler summer evenings.

KB July 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm

160 Argyle seems to be having problems again today. I’m extremely thankful it is not occuring during the weekends at the moment, but this is still not helping.

Question to all: does anyone happen to remember the name of the man at the tenant meeting we had probably a month ago who was the CEO or Director or something of the sort? I called CCOC but they were unsure who I was referring to (or didn’t want to give his name – which I can understand) and just started forwarding my phone call to whom they seem to know was out of the office.
I just wanted to email him to follow-up on a suggestion made at the tenant meeting regarding a message/complaint acknowledgement/receipt system (designed so that when you contact CCOC with a message, complaint, issue, etc., someone at least acknowledges that your message was received. I have had at least three emails in the past month go unanswered and unacknowledged and at the tenant meeting he eluded this was something already discussed at the office and was being put into place.

Anushka July 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Sounds good Milan, as you had suggested I think putting up a poster for a casual tenant meet up would be a great way to get to know everyone too.

And in other news, our lovely cooling system is down again today, and it appears to be the whole building since the hallways and the laundry room (the coldest place in the whole building I’m guessing) are all warm. I called up maintenance and left a message – hopefully it’ll get fixed.

KB – as for the name of the Director, the name I see around in most of the notices they put up is Ray Sullivan, could it be him?

Milan July 19, 2011 at 8:34 am

My apartment is the right temperature this morning, but I have no hot water. Brrr.

Anushka July 19, 2011 at 9:59 am

The cooling problem got fixed yesterday – thank goodness for that. As for hot water, we’ve been having the same problem since last night yet another call to CCOC!

Milan July 19, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Yesterday, I got a letter from CCOC saying they are no longer going to cover the geothermal heating and cooling charges. As a result, my Stratacon bill will go up by $71 per month – from about $35 to about $105.

oleh July 24, 2011 at 7:18 am

As a follower of this blog but resident of the cool West Coast, I was wondering If Ottawa is experiencing the sweltering weather conditions reported elsewhere out East and how the geothermal heating and cooling system at Beaver Barracks is coping with it.

Lise November 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hi ! I have been living at 464 Metcalfe street now for 11 months, I am in a 2 bedroom and loveeeeeeeeeeeeee the building,. The staff at CCOC have been very attentive and polite always and are very quick to respond to anything that we addressed to them. The building is beautiful, not to mention the apartments are gorgeous. It’s non smoking, we are blessed with a geosystem . We are right downtown central, close to the canal & queensway…it is quiet as we have double pane windows with a small tint to them, which helps withthe noise…it’s a quiet building, friendly buidlding, and we hope to live here for a very , very long time…Yes there have been a few problems…however , you will get that anywjere the first year any place is brand new….CCOC we Love you, and thank you for giving us the oprtunity of living a reall good life and healthy life…your the best !!!, Lise

Mike March 13, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Has anyone considered taking legal action against CCOC? Our heating and cooling system has never worked and yet we have been paying >$100 geothermal bills throughout the winter months. Only now, after repeated complaints, is CCOC offering compensation. The amount they are offering is not explained in detail, and there is still no ETA for a perminant fix to our heating/cooling system. Furthermore, on multiple occasions, I have found that CCOC staff are very rude in their correspondence, which suggests to me that they do not care about our ongoing problems with the building (160 Argyle).

Thanks for the soapbox!

160Argyle March 20, 2012 at 2:58 am

Mike: would there be a way I could contact you? After reading your message, I would like to hear what they said to you and compare that to what they have said to myself as well as a few neighbours that I have heard from.
Please let me know and I’d be more than happy to contact you that way.

Mike April 3, 2012 at 12:23 pm

160Argyle: CCOCsux@hotmail.ca

Mike July 24, 2012 at 11:38 am

So, I was finally fed up with the non-functional heating and cooling system in my unit and all the discomforts associated with living in such an environment. I had my attorney send CCOC a letter yesterday, we’ll see what happens… Perhaps a “timely” repair might occur.

Follow-up July 29, 2012 at 11:01 am

Mike: check your email.

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