Hate Your RELAC System? Show a Note From Your Doctor

by Karen Goff December 10, 2013 at 10:45 am 12 Comments

Boats on Lake AnneReston Association is working on offering Lake Anne residents clearer rules if they want to use an air conditioning system other than RELAC.

RELAC (or Reston Lake Anne Air Conditioning Corporation) – has been the cooling system for about 300 Lake Anne-area homes since the mid-1960s. The system is powered by recirculated lake water from Lake Anne. Touted as state-of-the-art when it was built, nearly 50 years later it is oft-criticized by users for being inefficient.

RELAC had been operated by Aqua Virginia, but earlier this year it was sold to a group of local businessmen.

RA’s Board of Directors recently sent RELAC users an updated amendment, which will be voted on by the board at Thursday’s regular monthly meeting.

RA president Ken Knueven says the amendment tightens up language of an existing rule that residents showing medical reason can opt to install a supplementary cooling system.

Many RELAC customers have complained that the system does not provide enough cooling and that homes remain humid in hot months, exacerbating allergies.

Under the new amendment, residents can show a note from a medical professional showing cause to add an additional system (but the system cannot be a window unit). Residents will be granted a temporary, one-year exemption.

“At each renewal, the requesting resident must establish that there is still a handicapped, person who requires an accommodation residing in the home and that the RELAC cooling system is still inadequate to allow the handicapped person  to reside in the home without supplemental air-conditioning,” says the amendment.

Residents must also show a report from a certified HVAC technician familiar with RELAC “who can show that the central air-conditioning system in the home is in good repair and is operating properly so that it can be established that the need for a supplemental air conditioning system is due to inadequacy of the water serving the home rather than a mechanical deficiency with the equipment serving.”

Also on the amendment and in the RA covenants: Residents cannot terminate their RELAC service despite the additional system.

In 2005, a petition was signed by residents of 160 homes and RA put replacing RELAC to referendum. Residents voted 130-100 to keep the system, falling short of the three-fourths necessary to move it forward. In 2011, RA adopted the provision that will allow some RELAC users to add a supplemental system. In the summer of 2012, there was concern by residents and Knueven over low water levels that could not adequately power the system.

The new owners have said they hope to install improvements, including a cooling tower, to make RELAC run more efficiently.

Is it time to put RELAC to rest? Or at least let Lake Anne residents choose what kind of cooling system to put in homes? Tell us in the comments.

  • Ugh, disgusting behavior from RA. it would be nice to see the RA board actually working for the residents rather than the corporate interests of RELAC. Given that RA and the new RELAC owners seem to be working together against the community interests its time for community action I think.

    And, given that RA and RELAC will now be collecting medical information on residents We should make sure that RA and RELAC is following HIPAA regulations to the letter (which they are in blatant violation of right now). I will contact HHS and ask them to look into this.

    RELAC doesn’t work, its way more expensive than conventional systems and it is NOT environmentally friendly. People seem to think it is a geo-thermal system, it is not. The lake water is used as coolant which has to be artificially chilled, which is a bad design.

    Time for change.

  • mlbjunkee

    I agree with Mike. While the new owners have done a better job of making sure the system is running and that some of the problem is bad architectural design of our homes, but I get sticker shock every time I get my statement from them. I’m not sure why it’s so expensive. I’d much rather have a modern, quiet A/C unit (or none at all) than pay so much for one that is not very effective.

    I’d like to have another vote on getting rid of RELAC.

  • Charlotte Geary

    Two main facts exist:
    1. RELAC doesn’t cool homes nearly as well as modern air conditioning.
    2. RELAC is vastly more expensive to the homeowners than modern air conditioning.

    RELAC has every reason to be concerned about going out of business. If RELAC is having difficulty keeping its customers, it should stop strong-arming the homeowners into forced usage, and start providing quality service at a competitive rate. And of course, we should have freedom of choice for our own families’ needs.

    RA absolutely should not support this overpriced, underserving company at the expense of the residents’ health and quality of life. This is shameful and infuriating.

    During the summer, RELAC kept our bedrooms at a painful and dangerous 88 degrees, even in the middle of the night. Why on earth is RA insisting that we live like this?!

  • Carolyn Penharlow

    The amendment is so tightly written that it is virtually impossible to get off RELAC. The following are just a few of the hoops (sorry…requirements) we have to leap through, paraphrased:

    1. We must provide a physician’s certification that we meet the local, state and federal definitions of being handicapped;
    2.Our existing RELAC units must be inspected by an HVAC firm that is familiar with RELAC (uh….no one is, except for the new RELAC owners!) and deemed insufficient to cool our homes;
    3. We have to prove that we have maintained our units per RELAC recommendations, have had it inspected and serviced regularly, and have made all attempts to work with RELAC to improve the unit.

    IF, and only if, we meet those we will be approved for ONE YEAR!

    Sofor the estimated $10,000+ to install a new, energy-efficient, quiet, green,”supplemental air conditioning system” (this is the new wording for central air), we are permitted to have a cool house. AND still pay RELAC.

    Wait wait it’s not quite a done deal: we have to re-apply every year and run the risk of RA telling us in 1 year that we aren’t handicapped enough or that RELAC has done enough to make the unit good enough, thus requiring us to remove the “supplemental air conditioning system.”

    The amendment does not address those residents who have already jumped through the hoops to get off RELAC and already have the “supplemental air conditioning systems”.

    Please note that the revision process began in May of 2013 and will be voted on by RA this Thursday. We received no notice from RA that this was happening until we received the letter and proposed revisions on Sat., Dec. 7. I would think that something this important would have been communicated to Lake Anne residents/RELAC users long ago…not 6 days before they vote on the final changes.

  • John Hunter

    So Basically you’d need to go to the doctor every year to get a note. I got off RELAC because my wife has bad allergies and RELAC makes the air in your home extremely moisture laden. Before shutting it off I was emptying my dehumidifier daily and since then I never need to empty it. Not sure why I would need to prove she still has bad allergies every year. This RELAC system is horrible. You pay a lot for the system and it does not cool well. In our place it would only bring the temp down to the low 80’s in our upstairs area. Should also mention that RELAC promised better customer service and I have not seen it. They’ve tried to charge me for RELAC twice despite the fact I got off before these current owners even bought it. I agree it’s time for another referendum. I wonder when they do the Lake Anne revitalization if they are going to install RELAC in the new homes? If so good luck selling them.

  • John Lovaas

    Amazing how RestonNow, the voice of the current RA Board it seems, could portray the proposed amendment to the Covenants as simplifying and clarifying the rules governing how the indentured servants of the RELAC monopoly, for getting relief from the decrepit, inefficient and unhealthy system. The amendment, to be voted on by the RA Board at their meeting 7:30 Thursday evening at RA offices on Sunrise Valley Drive, will in fact make it even more difficult to get modern A/C for those with breathing difficulties, make any relief temporary rather than for the duration of home ownership, and limit relief to “supplemental a/c” while requiring the beleaguered home owners to continue to use unhealthy RELAC air and pay their exhorbitant monopolistic rates. All new features! Further, there are likely to be additional charges for additional “services” from the new owners.

    Most of us were pleased to see new, local ownership replace the corporate Aqua Air crowd. We were promised better service and better system performance. So far, we’ve seen a little of the former and absolutely nothing of the latter. And, regrettably, it seems the new owners are unable or unwilling to make the major capital investment to change the basic reality of the decrepit, outdated system noted by Mr. Hunter and Ms. Geary.

    This comes on the heels of the RA agreement done in secret to transfer wooded common land effectively to a private condo association for their parking lot. What next?!

    Once again, RA is striking with very short notice, notices received by the affected ones last Friday, about its intentions to take another action favoring RELAC. This is hardly the holiday present that RA and RestonNow would have us believe. In the holiday spirit, it would be a better idea to delay the final vote on this amendment so damaging not only to RA member pocketbooks but also their health, to sometime in the New Year following a greater community discussion than allowed here.
    Thursday night at 7:30 at RA.

  • New RELAC customer

    I have no issues with cooling on RELAC. In fact, I just moved here this summer and was impressed by how cool the house was. Much better than where I used to live. Also, I really appreciate how quiet the neighborhood is, especially on the borderline hot/cool days that I prefer to have the windows open. I hate the thought of being back in a neighborhood full of noisy outdoor air conditioning units. I’m not sure why RELAC sufficiently cools my place but not others? Maybe I don’t understand the system well enough?

  • Cathy Frye

    Perhaps I have my facts wrong, but didn’t RELAC come with the purchase of a residence? In other words, those on the system should have known what they were getting when they bought there, no? There was no choice of HVAC system implied in any of the sale documents, right? I don’t disagree that the system is problematic but it seems like there’s an opportunity here for residents who willingly bought into this system to work with RA and the new owners of RELAC.

  • Shemp (Bilbul Baitzim)

    Get rid of this outdated system and move on with life.
    I think that RELAC will be a thing of the past.

  • Mike Tomkins

    Worst system ever. Was sweating like crazy for half the summer.


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