And sonic drilling can make an otherwise difficult project go smoothly.

The sign says it all. At the very top of a list of lifestyle features, the sign for a new community lists geothermal heating and cooling as its main attraction. For many, it’s a sure indicator of what the future holds in new home construction.

Located within the thriving community of Sooke, British Columbia, phase five of the new community of Woodland Creek offers a temperate rainforest climate, stunning scenery and three geothermal holes per home – homes that are built with Mother Earth in mind.

All of the homes in this phase are constructed to certified Built Green standards, a Canadian program that asks builders to be environmentally conscious (including waste management) and to construct homes with excellent energy efficiency and indoor air quality. Built Green homes, by design, often are made from recycled content, conserve more water, energy and other natural resources, and have a longer lifecycle, requiring less maintenance.

The latest Woodland Creek phase is the first neighborhood in Sooke to offer energy-saving geo-exchange heating, cooling and hot water – technology that can reduce each home’s annual CO2 emissions by 2.5 tonnes to 5 tonnes (equivalent to the planting of one acre of trees per year).

When the locally-owned Totangi Properties first came up with the concept for Woodland Creek more than 10 years ago, the idea was simple – create a residential community using Earth-friendly methods to build environmentally-sustainable homes with lasting value. To date, more than 80 homes in the Woodland Creek community already have been built, purchased and occupied.

“It’s so important for today’s developers and contractors to use sustainable practices and offer homeowners green energy saving options, like geoexchange heating and cooling,” says Blair Robertson, of Totangi Properties Ltd. “But, until very recently, it seemed that they only were available to developments with big price tags. Being able to create both an Earth-friendly and affordable neighborhood, like Woodland Creek, has been a long-term goal for us.”

With price tags starting below $400,000, standard home features include natural gas fireplaces with wood mantles, designer-selected light fixtures, -inch premium engineered wood flooring, master suite walk-in closets, central vacuum systems, gourmet kitchens with top-of-the-line appliances, landscaped yards and more. The actual geoexchange systems, supplied by Kelowna-based GeoTility, are 30 percent to 60 percent more cost efficient than other heating and cooling systems, and there’s the added benefit of being environmentally friendly, as well as comfortable, safe and quiet.

Studies have shown that living in a geo-exchange home offers significant health benefits. By blowing cleaner air, allergy and asthma sufferers can experience fewer symptoms and breathe easier. And, in light of rising energy costs, the efficient geo-exchange systems can save homeowners a lot of cash. Although a geothermal system can cost between $20,000 and $30,000 to install, the energy savings over a five-year to 10-year period can pay off the majority of the cost of installation. From that point on, the savings begin to accrue and, upon resale, homeowners generally recoup their investment as banks and buyers alike see the value in going geothermal.

For real-estate developers, geothermal certainly can offer a unique attraction for potential buyers, but, in some cases, it also comes with its share of challenges – all depending on the ground below. In the case of Woodland Creek, the drilling began with a conventional mud-rotary rig that encountered extremely difficult conditions. This resulted in only one hole being drilled in a three-week period. GeoTility, the geoexchange provider, then made the decision to engage Sonic Drilling Ltd. to complete the drilling program.

While it’s common for the sonic drill to be called in as a “rescue rig,” its performance at Woodland Creek became a project lifesaver. The sonic was able to drill three to four 115-foot holes per day, making it many times faster and allowing the project to actually be completed. Without the sonic rig, there was no economically viable way to drill at this location, which would have prevented the completion of the geothermal installations. In this instance, the contractor opted for a newer smaller-sized, track-mounted sonic rig that allowed for easy access in a restricted space.

Because of its unique advantages, the sonic rig now is in use around the world, helping to further the adoption of geothermal energy as a sustainable, renewable option by making the cost of a geothermal installation a more affordable choice for consumers. Not only does it have the ability to drill through tough terrain that would have prevented geothermal installations in the past, it also allows the operator the ability to drill, case the hole, install the geothermal loop and grout the hole closed – all in one operation. 

“Sonic drilling technology allows the drilling industry to take advantage of more opportunities,” says Ray Roussy, developer and patent holder of the now-famous sonic drill head, and president of the Sonic Drill Corp. “By reducing on-site costs and increasing profit margins, more companies are able to grow their geothermal divisions and, most importantly, drill in areas that were impossible in the past because of challenging terrain.”