General

1.1 What is SSL?

SSL – Sustainable Services Ltd. is a utility service provider established to deliver energy and water services to the Westhills community on behalf of the City of Langford.

1.2 What is the energy service provided by SSL?

SSL operates a Community Energy System which is designed to provide space heating, cooling and hot-water service to residents of Westhills. The system currently uses a geo-exchange borefield as its primary energy source. You can read more about this system on the Energy Service page.

1.3 What is the water service provided by SSL?

SSL manages distribution and billing of water within the Westhills community. The CRD is still involved as an upstream water supplier, ensuring quality and safety. This arrangement is very similar to other municipalities, like Oak Bay or Saanich, where the local government buys water from the CRD in bulk and distributes it to residents at a retail rate.

1.4 How are the energy and water rates established and regulated?

Rates and charges for energy and water services are set and regulated by the City of Langford in accordance with their multi-utility bylaw.

1.5 My BC Hydro bill seems high. Can you explain why?

Your bill from BC Hydro includes all electricity used on the property and typically covers a period of two months. SSL does not provide electricity within Westhills, but there are several reasons why your electricity bill could be higher than you expect. Electrical consumption is a function of several things, including the central systems and appliances in your house, the way in which the home was constructed and the lifestyle of occupants. Even two identical homes can have significantly different levels of energy consumption. If your BC Hydro bill is higher than you expect, it may be due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • Estimated Bill: occasionally BC Hydro will estimate your electricity usage instead of actually reading the meter. This is typically noted at the top of the bill and usage will be estimated on historical data from BC Hydro. When they eventually come back to read your meter for the next bill, any discrepancies between the estimated amount and your actual usage will be corrected.
  • Rate Changes: electricity rates in B.C. typically increase every year. As a result, the cost of energy goes up even if your actual electricity usage remains the same. Since the 2-Tier rate structure was introduced in 2008, the Tier 1 rate has increased by 33.3% and the Tier 2 rate has increased by 65.7%. BC Hydro’s “Basic Charge” has also risen by 36.4% in the same period, along with the introduction of a 5% “Rate Rider” fee added to all pre-tax charges. When comparing older bills it is important to look at actual electricity usage instead of the billing total.
  • Seasonal Variations: electricity usage will almost always be higher during the colder, winter months. This is mostly due to increased power used for heating as well as shorter, darker days requiring more hours of lighting. People also tend to spend more time indoors during the winter, which can increase the use of electrical appliances.
  • Rental Suites: in accordance with Building Code, legal suites are not connected to your heat pump system and instead use standard electric baseboard heating. Although suites are typically much smaller than a primary residence, their less efficient heating system can often contribute to disproportionately higher electricity usage during colder months. Most suites at Westhills also come equipped with a full set of major appliances. Despite their smaller size, we often see legal suites using over $100 per month in electricity (or $200 on a typical 2-month BC Hydro bill). If you did not request a secondary BC Hydro meter for your legal suite during the purchase of your home, you may wish to consult an electrician or BC Hydro to determine whether it is possible to install one after the fact. If the suite does not receive its own, separate bill from BC Hydro, its electricity usage will be included within the overall power bill for the entire property.
  • Appliances: all appliances in your home will contribute to your overall electricity usage. Even smaller devices like computers and PVRs can impact your electricity usage if they are used more often or remain plugged in. This includes any appliances used in a rental suite.

While the items above do not relate to the energy service provided by SSL, your heat pump also contributes to your power bill in several ways:

  • Your heat pump is far more efficient than a conventional heating system, but it still uses electricity to provide heating, air conditioning and hot water* to the residence. The equipment itself draws about 2 kW of power while running, so 1 hour of heat pump operation contributes roughly 2 kWh to your BC Hydro bill. In other words, if your heat pump runs for 6 hours per day, 12 kWh per day is added to your BC Hydro bill from the heat pump. Over a 30-day period that would cost $28.69 at BC Hydro’s current Tier 1 rate, or $43.02 at their Tier 2 rate. As a comparison, two 4-foot electric baseboard heaters would typically draw the same amount of power during operation, while producing far less heat.

Your system is also equipped with a backup Auxiliary heater, which draws about 5 kW of power while running. This backup heater should rarely turn on during normal operation of the system. It is included for emergency backup purposes and also to assist the primary heat pump with requests for temperature increases of 2 degrees or more at one time.

If you remain concerned about your electricity costs after reviewing the above information, we would be happy to review your individual utility bills in greater detail. Simply email your specific concern to info@SSL-BC.com and we will endeavor to get back to you within 2 business days. Please include copies of your BC Hydro bill(s) if applicable. You can also reach us by phone during regular business hours at 250-391-7260.

Water Service

2.1 What do I do if I experience low water pressure or no running water?

Occasionally, water line maintenance in your area may affect water pressure or result in no running water. These conditions should be temporary and are almost always communicated to customers beforehand by mail, email or through a posting on our website. If you experience these conditions but are not aware of any scheduled system maintenance, please contact SSL immediately for service.

2.2 My water is discoloured, or has a strange smell. What should I do?

If you ever suspect a water quality problem, do not consume the water and contact us immediately at 250-391-7260. We have live operators available 24/7, including weekends and holidays.

2.3 My water bill is higher than I expected. What should I do?

If your water bill is higher than $250 for a 2-month billing period, there may be abnormal water consumption on the property. Irrigation systems are a common source of excessive water use, although you may also want to look for leaking fixtures or running toilets. If you have tenants, be sure to factor their water consumption into your property’s overall usage. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or concerns about your water meter.

2.4 Why does it take so long for hot water to reach certain fixtures in my house? Am I wasting water?

Recent improvements to building codes now require that low flow fixtures be installed in all new homes. These devices save significant amounts of water by restricting the flow rate discharged from each fixture during normal operation. Every home experiences a slight delay for hot water to reach a fixture, particularly if that fixture is located further away (plumbing wise) from the hot water tank. This is based on the time it takes for colder water sitting inside the pipes to be flushed out and replaced with new hot water. The delay can be slightly longer with low flow fixtures because the cold water will not be flushed out as quickly. The same amount of cold water is being flushed out of the pipe – just not as quickly as an older, higher flow fixture. Multi-storey homes may find it helpful to install a hot water recirculation pump, which can greatly reduce wait times for hot water at the tap.

2.5 My water pressure seems low throughout the house. Why might that be?

Water pressure in the community distribution system is typically maintained at a higher level than needed (or recommended) for a single-family home. In order to regulate this high and sometimes fluctuating water pressure, homes are often equipped with a pressure-reducing valve (PRV) on the property’s side of the water meter. Occasionally these devices may need adjustment, cleaning or replacement. If you are experiencing low water pressure in your home, we recommend contacting a plumber or your homebuilder.

Energy Service

3.1 How do I control the temperature settings in my home?

Temperature settings are controlled by your home’s central thermostat, which keeps your entire home at a single temperature. To maximize energy efficiency we recommend that you program your thermostat to maintain a single temperature, rather than programming nightly setbacks – try not to adjust it by more than 1°C at a time.

3.2 What is the auxiliary heater?

The auxiliary heater is a 5 kW electric heater designed to augment your primary heat pump during extreme cold, or to provide emergency heating if your heat pump fails. It is not designed to be the sole source of heat for your home.

3.3 How do I know if my auxiliary heater is running?

Whenever your auxiliary heater is running, the “Aux Heat On” indicator will appear on your thermostat screen. Some thermostats will display a red light in the top-right corner of the thermostat case when the auxiliary heat is running.

3.4 Are there any other instances where auxiliary heat will turn on?

Auxiliary heat will automatically activate any time your thermostat calls for an immediate increase in temperature of more than 2°C.

3.5 What should I do if I notice my auxiliary heat running frequently?

If your auxiliary heat is running frequently (longer than 30 minutes at a time, multiple times a day), or if your auxiliary heat is running but the room temperature does not match your thermostat setting, please contact us immediately.

3.6 What should I do if I plan to be away from home for a period of time?

If you plan to be away from your home for more than 3 weeks consecutively, you may want to contact us. There may be a more energy efficient setting for the system during your absence.

3.7 Do SSL energy customers still need an account with BC Hydro?

Yes: BC Hydro still provides all electricity to the project, which is used for lighting, appliances, electronics, etc. The heat pump in each home also uses some electricity. SSL does not provide electricity as part of its energy service.

3.8 My home seems humid and I have condensation on my windows. Is this related to the heat pump?

Newly built homes can sometimes have higher humidity levels due to the gradual release of moisture from the building materials, but this is normal and should eventually dissipate over time. Your heat pump simply circulates conditioned air within the home and does not provide ventilation, air exchange, or humidification. If you have any concerns about humidity levels in your home, please contact your home builder directly.

3.9 How do you determine the energy usage charge on my monthly SSL bill? If my bill from BC Hydro already includes electricity used by the heat pump equipment, why does SSL charge me for energy?

The energy usage charge on your monthly bill from SSL is a measurement of thermal energy provided to the heat pump from our Community Energy System. Although this energy usage is reported in units of kilowatt-hours (kWh) on your bill, it is not a measurement of electricity – it is the amount of heat transferred to the home (during heating) or the amount of heat transferred away from the home (during cooling). This is measured by a thermal energy meter (commonly called a BTU meter) which is installed next to the heat pump itself.

Thermal energy is transported to each home through a water-based distribution network, acting almost like a fuel source for your heat pump. Our energy meters measure the temperature difference between the water that enters and exits the heat pump, as well as the flow rate, to accurately calculate energy provided to or removed from the home.

A similar example would be homes with natural gas that receive a monthly gas bill on top of regular electricity bills from BC Hydro. Natural gas is typically billed in units of gigajoules (GJ), but that energy can also be converted to units of kWh (1 GJ = 278 kWh). Many gas appliances in a home also require electricity to operate, like your heat pump, but their primary fuel source is gas and homeowners are billed for both forms of energy usage.

Virtually all of the energy contained in the water supplied to your heat pump comes from the geo-exchange borefield installed under Goudy Field. It is conditioned by our central energy plant and delivered to the community at an optimal temperature year-round to ensure your heat pump operates at peak efficiency, regardless of outdoor air temperature. During winter, the borefield is warm enough to provide the community with heat; during the summer, the borefield is cool enough to accept every home’s “waste heat” that is rejected when homes use air conditioning.

3.10 Why are my total energy costs higher than other homes with geo-thermal heating systems?

A conventional, standalone geothermal heating system typically includes underground boreholes and related infrastructure installed directly on a homeowner’s property. In those cases there is no additional energy billing component and overall operating costs are often less than those experienced at Westhills as a result. The major difference is that these standalone systems can cost upwards of $30,000 to purchase and install, making them unaffordable for most homeowners due to an exceptionally long return on the initial capital investment. By connecting to our centralized geo-exchange borefield and community distribution network, Westhills residents enjoy the environmental benefits of a local, renewable energy source, central heating and air conditioning (with forced air systems), and complete equipment coverage – including lifetime maintenance, repairs and eventual replacement – for an overall operating cost that is comparable to a conventionally heated home with no upfront capital investment.

3.11 What is the 'Service Charge (25 mm connection)' on my bill?

The Service Charge covers the costs of providing and maintaining an energy service connection to the property, which consists of two runs of underground pipe connecting the home to the distribution lines in the streets. Service charge is based on the size of the energy pipes (typically 25mm, or 1” for most homes).

Customer Service

4.1 My thermostat displays a 'Change Filter' message. What should I do?

Regular maintenance, which includes a filter change, occurs twice per year in the summer and winter. You can contact SSL for information on the timing of the next regular maintenance appointment. If this message is being displayed and regular maintenance is still several months away, we can send a technician to replace the filter or adjust the thermostat programming. The “change filter” indicator is set to an internal timer and does not necessarily mean that your filter needs to be changed. Please do not attempt to change the filter yourself.

4.2 I have no hot water/heat/air conditioning*. What should I do?

Please contact SSL immediately at 250-391-7260 and a technician will be sent to rectify the situation.

4.3 Can I pay my bill by credit card or pre-authorized debit service?

No, at this time SSL only accepts payments by cash, cheque or directly through participating financial institutions. Please see our Accounts and Payments page for more details.

* May not apply to all homes. For more service information contact SSL-Sustainable Services Ltd.