Friday, July 27, 2007

Summers in the City

Rick Summers is a true visionary. Part entrepreneur, part activist, Rick has combined his background in social work with his interest in business to create a truly unique company. His product is affordable, sustainable homes and businesses, but his true passion is people.

"My goal is to have a company with employees who are committed to showing compassion and concern for others and who are focused on doing what is right," states Rick's website. "I want my employees to be encouraged and to always seek improvement for themselves and the client. Summers & Co. believes that each team member should be doing what they love and excel at."

Talking with Rick, it's clear that he walks the talk. Rick's latest project is a shining example of exactly how much of a difference one individual can make. Along with his business partner, Khanna Holdings Inc., Rick has magically transformed the historic Oshawa House Hotel in downtown Oshawa.

Built in 1848, the Oshawa House Hotel is the city's oldest commercial building. Until very recently its glory days were well behind it. By the time Khanna Holdings purchased the hotel in 2004 for the relatively modest sum of $650,000, it was little more than a run down flophouse frequented by drug addicts and alcoholics. Three years and over $1.1 million in investment later, the Oshawa Hotel is now a totally retrofitted 32-suite apartment complex combined with main floor storefront businesses.

What makes the project so exciting is that part of the investment includes a $175,000 geothermal installation that provides all the heating, cooling and hot water requirements for the entire complex. To save space, 200-foot boreholes were drilled horizontally under the small backyard parking lot. As Rick explains, "You need 175 feet of piping for every tonne of heating and air conditioning." provided the all-Canadian installation, and P.E. Coulter and Associates engineered the project. Both companies are local businesses.

Each suite is equipped with a fan-coil heating/cooling unit with individual thermostat control. In addition, a heat recovery system recirculates fresh air by capturing energy from stale exhaust air and transferring it to the incoming fresh air. The result is that this very old building is now energy self-sufficient and carbon neutral. At current energy rates, the entire installation will pay for itself it 5 to 7 years.

As a further bonus, plans are underway to mount photo voltaic cells on the hotel's flat roof to generate electricity. When that happens, the building will become energy independent, no small accomplishment for a 169 year-old building located in the heart of the city.

But the real magic of the Oshawa House Hotel is that 25 of its 32 studio suites have rents that are designed to be affordable for low-income earners. The remaining seven suites are rented at market value.

"I want to create communities that combine affordable housing with upscale accommodation," said Rick.

Unlike other low-rent accommodations, all the suites at the Oshawa Hotel - both affordable and fair market - are equally beautifully outfitted. Each studio features upgraded bathrooms and kitchenettes, complete with granite countertops and low-maintenance laminate flooring.

Shirley Van Steen, Director of Housing Services for Durham Region is delighted with the hotel.

"It really is a perfect solution," said Ms. Van Steen. "And it's certainly something we would like to see a lot more of. It's excellent quality housing. It's a win-win-win for the tenants, the landlords and downtown Oshawa."

Not to mention its environmental benefits. As Oshawa's Mayor John Gray points out, "This historic building houses both commercial and residential units and supports a green and sustainable community."

The City of Oshawa provided interest-free loans for facade improvements and building code upgrades as part of the city's downtown revitalization project. In addition, the project received $250,000 in funding through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) Rental and Rooming House Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program.

If all this wasn't enough, a portion of the profit from Summers & Co. is donated to aid the poor.

"I believe that if people have food, shelter and clothing," said Rick, "then they should do their part in helping others to have the same."

Like I said, a true visionary.


For more on the magic of Rick Summers, check out

For everything you wanted to know about geothermal heat pumps, check out This all-Canadian company has been successfully designing and installing heat pumps for over 25 years.

For more information on government grants and programs that are available for both homeowners and businesses to help protect the environment and conserve energy, visit and


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