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June 06, 2024

Transforming Discovery Place

A 39-year-old residential building in Burnaby, British Columbia upgrades its hot water system, seeing immediate and long-term benefits in cost-savings, energy efficiency, and satisfied residents.

Nestled in the heart of Burnaby, British Columbia, Discovery Place stands as a symbol of residential comfort and modern living. With its 25 stories boasting 182 units, complemented by a vibrant recreation center and charming townhouses, Discovery Place is a cornerstone of the community. However, like many aging structures, the passage of time took its toll on the building's hot water systems. The existing systems in the building included boilers and larger storage tanks.

Dorys Boissonneault, the building manager of Discovery Place for the past 16 years, recalled the challenges posed by the old water heating system. "Sometimes during peak hours, we would run out of hot water, leading to numerous complaints from residents," she explained. "It was a headache to deal with, and the maintenance costs were getting higher." 

Performing maintenance on the system also required a total shutdown of hot water in the building. And in a condo sales environment where water pressure and quality are often near the top of potential buyer’s wishlist —that aged system was now an even bigger obstacle in attracting new residents. 

Jay Mallan with JJM Mechanical Group Ltd has been working with the building and its leadership for numerous years and became familiar with the challenges facing the aging building. He felt they could modernize the hot water systems while also incorporating new technology that would drive additional benefits and efficiencies — including major rebates from local utility and increased curb appeal to potential buyers.

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"When we first entered the building in 2017 as a preventive maintenance contractor, we noticed that the equipment was nearing the end of its life expectancy," he explained. "We proposed the idea of transitioning to Navien tankless systems, which would address the immediate issues [and] also offer long-term benefits."

JJM Mechanical Group suggested 10 NPE-240S condensing tankless water heaters with a common venting configuration. With Navien's Ready-Link® cascading technology, when a unit gets up to 80% capacity the next unit will turn on to help meet hot water requirements.

"We installed the Navien tankless systems in parallel with the existing system to minimize disruption," said Mallan. "Residents experienced no interruption in hot water supply during the transition, which was a crucial aspect given the size and complexity of the building."

“We switched over the system in about 2020,” he continued. “Since that time, the client has been able to receive fuel savings on their new equipment operation [and] their maintenance costs have gone down significantly. Interruptions for hot water service are marginalized with having multiple units. In this case we have 10 NPE condensing tankless units operating with three 200-gallon storage tanks. So anytime we need to do service, we're not putting the building down for hot water for any reason.”

Mallan has been asked in the past as to whether tankless water heaters are designed for residential or commercial applications — can they stand up to the demand of 182 residential units?

“This is definitely a commercial building — 25 stories is not a single family residence,” he explained. “The units are designed for commercial applications, provided that you install them properly and they are cascaded, sized out correctly with a proper pump and pipe sizing. We haven’t had any complaints about hot water delivery— everybody tends to have hot water within 10 to 15 seconds, which is astounding in the building this size.”

Reflecting on the immediate improvements observed after the installation, Boissonneault affirmed, "Since we switched over, there have been no issues whatsoever. Residents now enjoy faster access to hot water, no downtime for maintenance, and overall improved reliability."

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One of the most significant advantages of the Navien tankless systems is their energy efficiency, resulting in substantial utility savings for Discovery Place. "At the beginning of the system in 2020, utility costs were noticeably lower," Boissonneault recalled. "Even with the recent increase in prices, we are confident that we are still saving money compared to the old system."

In addition to the tangible benefits, the modernization of the hot water systems has had a positive impact on the property's value. "It's a big selling feature for anybody looking to sell their units," Boissonneault said. "The upgraded mechanical room shows our commitment to quality and efficiency.

It’s also attractive to new residents. 

“When you go to a mechanical room and it's an old boiler, you ask ‘how is the plumbing in the building?’ she says. “But if you walk in and you see [the new system] it's a bonus.”

The project also qualified for rebates from FortisBC, providing additional financial incentives for the upgrade. "We were able to get $10,000 back, contributing towards the decision to switch over to Navien tankless water heaters," Mallan explained.

Looking ahead, Discovery Place continues to reap the rewards of its investment in modernizing its hot water systems. With reduced maintenance costs, improved reliability, and enhanced resident satisfaction, the transition to Navien tankless systems has proven to be a wise decision for this iconic residential tower. For Boissonneault, it comes down to a few simple facts that have held true for three years now.

“We’ve had no issues whatsoever in three years,” she says. “Low maintenance. No downtime.”

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