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Putting sustainable ideas under one roof

Two local geothermal companies are hoping to make Maryhill into a hub for energy conservation ideas with the construction of a sustainable living centre.

Earth FX Energy of Maryhill has teamed up with Bostech Mechanical of Listowel to renovate the former Sundial lighting building on St. Charles Street. When complete, the sustainable living centre will showcase geothermal heating and cooling systems, high efficiency lighting, solar options, air quality systems and energy conservation plans.

businessJohn Bosman (left) and Jim Bolger are overseeing renovations to the former Sundial lighting building in Maryhill which will be the new home of a sustainable living centre.“I’ve had the vision in my head for four or five years, of a one-stop shop for sustainable living options,” said Jim Bolger of Earth FX Energy.

The 7,000-square-foot building – which was originally home to the Bloomingdale-Maryhill Marina – had been sitting empty for five or six years when they bought it last November. Some fairly extensive renovations were required; three sides of the building were plain cinderblocks, and in some places you could see right through to the outside. They added three layers of insulation and steel cladding to the outside of the building, replaced the rollup doors and the old awning across the front of the building, and are in the middle of renovating the interior.

When the renovations are complete, the building will have a sales office, showroom, conference room, office space, kitchen and washrooms. The centerpiece of the facility will be the geothermal heating and cooling system, supplied by NextEnergy of Elmira.

“The earth absorbs almost half the heat of the sun, so you’ve got a huge solar collector in your backyard,” explained John Bosman, owner of Bostech.

Six feet below the surface, the temperature of the earth stays steady at 10 degrees Celsius year round. A series of pipes are buried in the ground and an ethanol solution circulates through them. In winter, the ethanol absorbs heat from the ground and carries it to the geothermal unit, which maximizes the heat and sends it throughout the building. In the summer, the fluid absorbs heat from the air in the house and circulates it back outside, where it is transferred to the cooler soil.

The geothermal system installed at the sustainable living centre will supply in-floor heating, forced air heating and water heating. Unlike a home installation, which it would be hidden away in the basement, the geothermal unit will be on display so people can see it working. There will also be wattmeters installed, so potential customers can see exactly what it costs to run the units.

The sustainable living centre will take up about two-thirds of the building and they hope to rent out the remainder to one or two tenants. Ideally, the tenants would be compatible with the centre; they’d like to see something like a takeout business or bakery offering local food.

“We’re hoping the whole building can be about sustainable living,” Bolger said.

They also plan to make the conference room available to the community for events. The unfinished building has already played host to a group of chief building officials from across Ontario who wanted to see the geothermal system being installed.

Earth FX and Bostech Mechanical were friendly competitors before they decided to combine workforces in order to take on larger commercial jobs and promote the technology to a wider area. There’s been growing awareness of geothermal in the past few years, Bolger noted; their customers often come to them having already done some research into the technology.

However, there’s still plenty of room to grow: less than one per cent of heating systems in Canada are geothermal. Bolger and Bosman are hoping that the sustainable living centre will spread the word about geothermal – and other energy-saving technologies – even more widely.

“It’s a big investment for us, but we’re very positive about it,” Bosman said.

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