Ocean water provides heat for Parks Canada facility


Operations centre in Sidney earned Canada's first LEED Platinum rating

When Parks Canada needed heating for a planned B.C. operations centre, the federal agency sought the help of the building site's next-door neighbour: the Pacific Ocean.

From the moment it opened in 2005 on the waterfront of Tsehum Harbour in Sidney, all space and hot-water heating needs for the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve Operations Centre are extracted from ocean water.

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Although some people who've dipped their toes in the tides of Tofino will tell you otherwise, science says even the cold waters of B.C.'s coast contain a great deal of heat compared to seasonal air temperatures. In the winter, the centre's ocean-based geothermal system moves heat from the ocean into the building; while in the summer, it pulls the heat from the building and discharges it back into the ocean.

A system of plastic pipes embedded in the concrete floors is used to distribute heat around the building.

For a typical building, most energy is spent on water heating, space heating and space cooling. Thanks in part to the centre's unique radiant heating/cooling system, energy consumption for the building is 75 percent less than the "Model National Energy Code reference building," (MNEC) the federal government's minimum standard for the design and construction of energy-efficient buildings.

That percentage is impressive when you consider the average improvement over MNEC's baseline is 25%.

The centre is Canada's first building to be awarded Platinum certification, the highest rating granted by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design).

Other advanced features include:

  • Rainwater storage for use in the building's low-flow toilets;
  • Roof-mounted solar panels, supplying 20% of the building's energy needs;
  • Use of natural light and ventilation;
  • Landscape plantings that do not require irrigation;
  • Energy efficient lighting fixtures;
  • Exterior sunshades to keep the building from overheating.

Aside from being a marvel of Mother Nature, the centre is also an architectural masterpiece. The centre, whose exterior is made of a mix of raw metal and B.C. wood, was the inaugural 2007 winner of the Award of Excellence in Green Building, presented by The Royal Architectural Institute — with one judge gushing that the centre proves "environmental stewardship can convey both modesty and beauty, simultaneously."

Parks Canada's Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, includes 15 islands and inter-tidal areas flanked by the large urban centres of Victoria and Vancouver. The operations centre provides an administrative and operations hub for the National Park Reserve, and includes facilities for marina operations, administrative staff, and an interpretive centre.

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