What makes our home modern?
In our case it was commitment to designing and building a home with honest intentions. There are no ornate details or features whose sole purpose is to astonish. The lines are clean, dictated by an interior space that was created to meet the varied and evolving needs of its occupants.
The materials used inside and out are thoughtful, authentic and enduring. The corrugated steel siding is an example of a material that is simultaneously durable, beautiful and responsible. It requires no maintenance, it reflects heat, provides an impenetrable barrier to the elements and is always providing a new look depending on lighting and perspective. The cedar siding with its gorgeous textures and patterns is long-lasting and ties the home to the natural surroundings. Finally, the striking anodized aluminum windows are the epitome of durability and graceful craftsmanship.
Inside the home we find a simple pallet of materials and features. The interior is well-thought-out and allows people to move freely and comfortably within and between adjoining spaces. The lines are clean, the walls are white, the ceilings are high and the windows are many and expansive providing a sense of well-being and connectedness to nature. Polished concrete floors are as incredibly resilient as they are beautiful in their simplicity. At the same time they provide the ultimate connection to a radiant floor, a direct connection of “heat to the feet”! The pine floors are vibrant and provide a fabulous organic juxtaposition to the concrete and ceramic tiled floors. Kitchens and bathrooms were purposefully designed to be delightfully minimalistic; an unpretentious combination of cabinetry, fixtures, glass and metals that are as easy to maintain as they are to enjoy. Possibly the most striking interior feature of all is the Douglas-fir windows, with their incredible warmth and vibrancy, contrasting handsomely with the neutral walls and floors!.
What makes our home sustainable?
A thoughtful Footprint!
First and foremost was our commitment to building a home that did not waste and duplicate space. Every room was purposefully planned for its present and future uses, making sure that the home provided adequate space for individual needs, family uses and for the entertaining of large groups (our family gatherings often exceed 16 guests, which is easily accommodated by our living spaces). Conversely, we made sure that utility spaces were constrained to a small footprint, neatly tucked under the stairs, and bathrooms were consciously merged in bedroom areas or did double duty as a laundry room.
The house is incredibly energy efficient!
The most significant technology is actually the insulation. The floors sits upon 6” of Styrofoam insulation ensuring heat is not lost to the ground. The SIP walls (http://www.thermapan.com/), besides being structurally strong enough to be recommended for Hurricane regions, are unparalleled in their insulating performance, providing a continuous Styrofoam barrier to the elements. All other areas of the house (attics, joist pockets, and rim joists) have all been professionally sprayed with 4-6” of high density for insulation. On top of the insulation, the Living Roof also provides and insulating effect to reduce heating and cooling costs. This means that compared to nearly all homes on the market today that are insulated with leaky fiberglass and blown in insulation, this house is essentially air tight, there are no drafts, there are no zones/rooms colder than others.
The house is heated by a superefficient, 135,000 BTU wall hung boiler by Quietside (Samsung). This boiler easily provides all the hot water needed for heating and for domestic hot water usage. It requires no annual maintenance.
Complementing the boiler is the super-high efficiency VANEE Gold Series HRV/ERV. This unit minimizes heat loss, while maximizing air quality. It is also very low maintenance, extremely efficient and was considered the highest quality unit for residential purposes at the time of construction.
The windows in the home are all low-e and fill with argon gas to make them as energy efficient as possible. The home also gains a significant amount of passive solar heat in the winter as the low hanging sun heats up the interior spaces, with the main floor having the advantage of storing this heat in the concrete floors (known as a thermal mass), that is slowly released as the sun sets.
There are a number of miscellaneous features that also contribute to the energy efficiency of this home. Bathroom exhaust fans are all super high efficiency, ultra-low decibel Panasonic Whisper Quiet fans. Bathroom and laundry room exhaust points feature a Styrofoam ball unit that prevents cold air from reentering the home when fans are offs. Most lighting features dimmers. Ceiling fans and appliances are all Energy Star compliant.
But what does all this energy efficiency mean to you?
For the first 3 years this homes average yearly gas bill was a total of $750! This year, a record setting year for prolonged cold temperatures, the yearly total (from April 2013 -2014) was $850. What is so amazing about this amount is that the temperature in the house is a constant 21 degrees C! Don’t forget, this includes all domestic hot water used by the house during the year as well!
This house is local!
We made a concerted effort to source our materials as close to home as possible. The SIP’s are manufactured in Ontario, the concrete was from Lafarge, the wood, interior and exterior, was milled at Card Lumber in Kingston. The kitchen and custom vanities were crafted by Cataraqui Cabinets, the Living Roof materials were purchased in south western Ontario and nearly every product was purchased from a local supplier and all work was provided by local tradespeople.
Probably the most significant sustainable impact in terms of landscaping was our efforts to preserve existing trees. Through careful planning (and much aggravation for the excavator!) we were able to build our house without losing a single tree! The front of the house has been designed with the concept of mass plantings. There are only 4 species of plants in the front yard, all grouped together to provide maximum impact. The species, Miscanthus ornamental grass, White Echinacea, Russian Sage and Common Day Lilies were all chosen because they are essentially immune to pests/disease, are mostly or completely drought resistant, bloom for long periods of time and the host plant remains healthy and attractive throughout the season even after the flowering period has ended. The north side of the yard is a wild flower garden, requires no maintenance and blooms throughout the season. Around the patio, 2 varieties of drought resistant prairie grasses have been planted to eliminate watering and provide a uniform aesthetic. Finally, the Living Roof is state of the art in terms of green roof technology. They are called “Feather Mats’, which are variety of sedum species that were grown as a sod and require only a few inches of lightweight soil and minimal water (rain is almost always enough) to thrive. Not only is it beautiful to look at it, it simultaneously cools the air entering the master bedroom windows and moderates the temperature in the living spaces below.
Some Parting Thoughts
The garage was designed to provide lots of room for a car or truck without feeling that your doors were going to crash into the walls or your roof into the ceiling! We created a storage area at the back of the garage to provide for the extra storage a basement often supplies. There is additional storage space along the walls and up high created by building shelves with all the left over materials that remained post construction. They are not pretty, but they are functional and made use of enormous amount of wood that would have otherwise been destined for the landfill!
The driveway and front walk was purposefully left unpaved. Gravel/stone allows water to drain more slowly, is not nearly as hot in the summer and is much more environmentally friendly. It also just suited our home, a big hunk of asphalt or concrete would have clashed with the natural beauty found in the front yard.
The park in the back is City owned “Mona Lookout Park”. It is a beautifully space and is essentially an unused green space. My youngest child still insists it is his back yard and often wonders why people are wandering around in “his yard”!
Finally, we love our home and will miss it and its fabulous neighbors (I really mean this, they are amazing!). We are moving for logistical reasons, otherwise we might have never left!