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Maskeen makes the case for geothermal

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The tag line for the Maskeen Group is "Your Greener Path". For this Surrey-based real estate development company, building green makes good business sense.

"Many developers choose ENERGY STARĀ® appliances in new homes," says Maskeen project manager, Grant Copland. Since the new [Canadian] building code went into effect, everyone is mandated to use 2x6 exterior wall construction and low-e argon gas windows, he says. Although Maskeen was including all of those energy conservation measures before the Code change, they now differentiate themselves by specializing in geothermal.

Geothermal systems use energy from the earth to heat and cool homes and businesses. The natural, renewable energy can be tapped year round using a heat pump and piping into the ground or a water source such as a lake. The heat pump looks very similar to a conventional furnace and can be used with standard air ducts or piping to distribute warm or cool air or water throughout the home. It can also be used to supplement domestic hot water tanks.

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Initial expense is worth the investment

One of the barriers to installing geothermal systems has been the initial expense. Copland admits there are additional capital costs, but not as much as builders often believe. "The installation costs are similar to installing a forced air, high efficiency gas-fired furnace," he says.

Maskeen cut its geothermal teeth in 2008 on Kennedy Trail, a 58-unit duplex and townhome development in Surrey. Now the company includes geothermal in most of its projects. For the latest project in Cloverdale, called Cadence, they have zoned the distribution system in each of the 23 single-family homes.

"Each house will have several thermostats, so you can keep the main floor warmer and the top floor cooler for sleeping," says Copland. As heat rises, the heat pump won't have to work as hard, so there will be increased energy savings.

Geothermal systems are extremely efficient at energy delivery. They put out four units of energy for every one unit of electrical energy used; that's a 400 per cent efficiency rating. Compare that to 97 per cent for the highest rated condensing natural gas furnace. Homeowners can save as much as 60 per cent on heating, cooling and hot water costs, depending on whether the system is compared to electric, oil or propane powered heating systems.

Environmentally conscious customers also like the fact that they're reducing their carbon footprint. The systems emit no greenhouse gases. And they're quieter too.

Copland cautions that it's important to have a qualified installer as well as an experienced ground source driller. Maskeen has aligned itself with partners who are members of the Canadian Geothermal Coalition, the industry certification body.

Lower impact without compromising quality

Maskeen has a commitment to what they call "seamless sustainability", which they define as homes that are "designed to minimize the impact on the environment without compromising quality". Copland wasn't convinced that the benefits would outweigh the costs when he first joined the company.

"We pride ourselves in doing elegant floor plans and quality finishings. Geothermal is just more fuel for the marketing campaign," says Copland. Maskeen's homes consistently receive EnerGuide ratings of 80 or higher; two of their Cadence homes were just rated EG 85. That sustainability-rich marketing plan appears to be working well. Maskeen's developments sell out quickly, including the recent Lumina, 35 craftsman style eco-friendly townhomes.

"We have an on-going relationship with Power Smart," Copland says. "The program helps us authenticate that we are doing everything possible to make our homes more energy efficient."