RELAC Respite Back on RA Agenda

by Karen Goff May 21, 2014 at 9:28 am 15 Comments

Lake Anne PlazaThe Reston Association Board of Directors has called a special meeting for June 12 to revisit who can get an exemption from using RELAC.

RELAC is the much-maligned cooling system powered by lake water and used by about 300 homes in the Lake Anne area. When it was installed in the mid-1960s, it was touted as quiet and environmentally friendly.

But as time went on, the system was found by many customers to be inefficient and mold producing. Furthermore, prices have risen rapidly the last few years, users say.

Homes that have a RELAC system are bound by deed to use it unless owners can show a reason for a medical exemption.

The RA board has been discussing changes to the RELAC policy since last year. It was slated to be revisited by February.

The issue: who should be able to obtain an exemption? Should a person have to prove a medical issue, and should that issue be called a handicap? What documentation must they show? And should that exemption be updated annually or should it be in place, as it currently is now, as long as the homeowner is in the home?

Those ideas were not received well by many RELAC users, who attended the December RA meeting expressing privacy concerns and taking issue with being designated handicapped. That terminology is put in place because fair housing laws state that accommodations must be made for someone with a handicap, said RA attorney Ken Chadwick.

The RELAC issue has led some Lake Anne-area residents to organize a referendum to free them from RELAC. Washington Plaza Cluster resident John Hunter began the process over the winter.

A previous referendum, in 2005, was defeated 130-100.

“Our goal is to make it so people have a choice,” Hunter says. “If they are happy with RELAC, great. If not happy, then they can get off of it.”

Hunter, who has lived in his home about four years, used the medical exemption to get off of RELAC. He said the system could not reach the third floor of his townhome, where it was routinely 80 degrees in summer. He said he installed an electric heat pump at a cost of more than $6,000. He will still have to put the RELAC coil back in place when he sells the house, he said.

To get a change in the covenants, interested RELAC users would have to petition the RA Board of Directors. The board would then pay for a referendum of all RELAC customers. The vote would have to be a two-thirds majority in order for the board to consider the change.

  • vdiv

    Not sure why the system cannot be augmented with a modern chiller plant. Also in the meantime to prevent mold why not use a dehumidifier? Sure, they are a bit loud and cost a few hundred bucks, but they are well worth it in the humid days. Even with a new high efficiency HVAC system I use one especially now that the AC is not needed as much.

  • Mykle Lyons

    This archaic system simply does not work and never did.


    Reston Association and RELAC? What is the nature of that relationship? There is nothing so eternal as change. These homeowners are being unjustly deprived of the full use and enjoyment of their homes. Amend the bylaws or do whatever needs to be done to allow these families cool their homes in any way that THEY choose. RA needs to get out of the way. No HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION should have the power to make residents prove anything. The idea that a resident would be asked for medical records is really disgusting. Screw them. Defy them. Sue them. Whatever it takes to stop them from power grabbing.


    I just contacted a friend of mine who is a doctor in McLean. He will give everyone in a RELAC property a ‘doctors note’ if they want one. Free of charge. And it will say whatever RA needs to hear to grant exemption. The whole issue would be funny if it weren’t true.

  • John Hunter

    Couple of issues with this story. I never said I’d have to reinstall RELAC ductwork. I would have to reinstall the coil. Also the previous referendum was in 2005 not 2008. May want to note that you can get a good AC system for $4000. I paid more as I also upgraded my heater.

    • Karen Goff

      Sorry about that. I will make corrections.

      • John Hunter

        Thanks Karen

  • John Hunter

    From my experience, the main reason people want the RELAC monopoly to continue is that they believe if folks are allowed to make a choice, then RELAC would raise their rates as folks left the system. Actually in that case RELAC would be forced to lower their rates to remain competitive. Otherwise they would loose more customers. Basic economics tells you that a business would not raise rates in order to try and keep customers. Another argument I’ve heard is that RELAC would shut down if folks are allowed to choose their A/C system. If this is true then that would enforce the notion that RELAC does not work and is only viable as long as people are forced to stay on it. Personally I believe RELAC would still be viable as it does work for many folks. It should be noted that RELAC-served Condo owners (whom already are not bound by the covenant) have not gotten off of RELAC even though they could if they wanted to. Their buildings have chosen to stay on it.

  • Mason

    FULL TIME – the reason that RA is involved is not because of a desire to dictate what HVAC system resident uses, but because they are charged with enforcing the restrictive covenants. There are design standards for every neighborhood in Reston. In the RELAC neighborhoods, there is no provision for heat pumps or AC units on the exterior of the units or buildings. I do not think that RA should get any more involved than they already are by raising the requirements for an exemption or increasing the frequency of reviewing those exemptions. What really needs to happen is for the referendum to move forward and change the standards.

  • Mason

    vdiv – RELAC did propose installing a larger capacity chiller, but the local residents do not want more equipment in the vicinity of their homes.

    • Not true. We asked the new RELAC owners about this and they stated that they have installed the higher capacity chiller, but choose not to use it due to the expense of running it. I think Aqua Virginia actually installed it, but I’m not sure.

      • Mason

        Sorry for the mistake, but that seems crazy… It seems to me newer equipment would be more efficient.

  • Carolyn Penharlow

    vdiv: Come chat with those of us on RELAC and we’ll share our stories. We already do use dehumidifiers, supplemental interior AC units, ceiling fans, insulated window coverings, and some of us have gone to the expense of new windows, sliders, insulation, new roofs, attic fans, and whatever else we are allowed to do per RA. A new chiller is hundreds of thousands of dollars, no small amount and one that likely would be shared only by those of us *forced* to stay on the system. A new chiller is not the end of the problem, though and will not solve the overall problem. The pipes leading into our homes (all are original!)? Low water levels (remember that RELAC uses water from Lake Anne and when the water level is low from lack of rainfall or drainage to the country club our AC does not work)? Cost of RELAC chilling vs what the rest of Reston pays (RELAC fee + water + electricity = alot of money and we’ll show you our summer cooling bills)?

    Please come to John’s meetings and learn what RELAC really is and show your support. Come to the RA meeting. Read the draft revision that RA made in January listing all the requirements and hoops we have to jump through in order to get off RELAC. The list is unbelievable.

    • Mason


  • A correction is needed, “The vote would have to be a two-thirds majority in order for the board to consider the change.”. If you read the covenant, it clearly states that if the vote passes, the covenant is removed regardless of the Board’s feelings on the subject.

    Given the current Boards clear bias towards RELAC, if that statement were true they would clearly “consider” the referendum and then ignore it – just like they’ve been ignoring the majority of home owners opinions on the system.


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