Presenting – Alex Winch & the Beaches Solar Laundromat
Over the last couple of years I have had the opportunity to interview many interesting personalities: tourism experts, authors, philanthropists, and enlightened entrepreneur “Alex Kime rs. For my article series about Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood, I have specifically been looking to interview business owners who have come up with socially and environmentally innovative business ideas.
Michael Prue, the Provincial Member of Parliament for the Beaches / East York, pointed me in the direction of Alex Winch, owner of the Beach Solar Laundromat. You might think – a laundromat, how can that be an interesting business? Well, read on and you will see that this business and its owner are definitely outside the norm.
Early this cold Thursday morning I met Alex at his premises on Queen Street East and got an introduction to this unusual business. When Alex bought the laundromat in 2002 it was outdated and dingy, so Alex got to work and replaced almost half the washers and dryers with new high-efficiency machines. He also put the place through a complete cosmetic overhaul and brightened it up considerably.
But where it gets really interesting is behind the scenes, where the entire operational process of the laundromat was redesigned. Alex always wanted to turn this business into a leading-edge environmentally sustainable business. So in October of 2002 he ordered eight solar panels which were commissioned in December of 2002. Alex had planned all along to use solar energy for heating the water needed in his laundry facility.
Alex explained that the eight solar panels on his building’s roof measure about 250 square feet and were installed by a company named Solcan, located in London, Ontario. The thermal panels include a layer of black copper with a four inch copper vane that contains a three/eighth’s inch copper tube with antifreeze flowing through it. This antifreeze consists of food-grade propylene glycol and transfers the heat energy from the roof through the entire system down to a heat exchanger in the basement. Even if there was a leak in the antifreeze conduits, this would not contaminate the water supply.
The anti-freeze has a freezing point of -25 degrees Celsius at which point the glycol gels, shutting down the solar water heating system since the glycol simply stops moving inside the tubes. In this case a natural gas backup boiler system kicks in and starts heating the water.
In the interest of making his business more environmentally sustainable, Alex has also replaced the lighting system and installed new high-efficiency fluorescent tubes that are under an aluminum reflector. The reflector essentially doubles the light output of the actual fluorescent tubes. Combined with high-efficiency electronic lighting ballasts, this measure alone has resulted in lighting energy savings of 72%. Alex adds that these energy-conservation measures are important since the lights in his business are on for 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.
One of the first things that Alex explained to me was an air handler above the door which draws warm moist air in from the Laundromat, runs it through coils and dehumidifies the air. The condensation is captured and gets transferred through a pipe system into a basement drain. The condensate water is not re-used in the laundromat out of concern for lint contamination of the water.
To illustrate the operation of his company’s solar water heating system, Alex took me into the basement where he showed me an assortment of water tanks, piping and sophisticated measuring equipment that calculates the actual energy output and natural gas displacement provided by this solar water heating system.