My North Vancouver residence (originally designed by Fred Hollingsworth in the late 1940’s) is an example of the transformation of a classic west coast architecturally designed house in to a smart eco-residence.
In the 60 years since the house was built much of the design’s original clarity and materials had been buried under layers of drywall and paint; bulkheads and drop ceilings masked the poetry of the exposed structure of the original design and the carport was filled in as a garage.
The goal of the renovation was to strip away materials to expose the original design and to put back only materials and details that are in the spirit and character of the original house. For my wife, Dominica Babicki, and me, the vision for the project was to use the latest and best eco-friendly systems and materials while respecting the original design. We also wanted to restore our house with proven materials and technologies that were easily accessible for homeowners and tradespeople. In short, we wanted to build smart so we could live well.
The house has been re-sided with beautiful Forest Stewardship Council Certified (FSC-Certified) clear cedar siding, and stained with CBR’s oil wood stain – BRODA® PRO-TEK-TOR for siding, log and timber. A comprehensive sand-blasting program on interior wooden posts, beams and decking was undertaken to expose the beauty of each. Where interior cladding was required – on valences and some structural beams – Kirei board (made from the compressed stalks of the Sorghum plant) was installed and finished with a natural hardwax oil.
Indoor air quality is enhanced by an in-floor radiant heating system and the exclusion of materials containing urea formaldehyde-based resins and other VOC laden paints and finishes. Instead, interior walls have been covered in natural clay plaster and all painted ceilings have been covered in a clay-based paint. Cabinets are made from formaldehyde-free FSC-Certified Maple plywood and strand bamboo, while the countertops are made from FSC-Certified PaperStone (made from recycled paper). The results from using only non-toxic and healthy finishes, although anecdotal to this point, suggest that the home’s indoor air quality is much better than before, and for this all family members are breathing a lot easier.
Space heating and domestic hot water are provided by a unique combination of a high-efficiency gas-fired demand boiler, solar panels and a wood burning cooker equipped with a boiler jacket. The home is heated by an in-floor hydronic radiant heating system contained in an exposed concrete floor finished with Polyuraseal – a water-based polyurethane product that is easy on the applicator and strong enough to withstand the impacts of small children (of which the house sees plenty!). The demand boiler, solar panels and the cooker also help to provide hot potable water for the family. And, the cooker also includes an oven which makes especially delicious oven baked pizza.
Further energy savings are gained from some very innovative dimmable LED downlights that consume only 12 Watts and are rated for 50,000 hours, new roof insulation (installed on the upper side), a retrofitted green roof, and a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) unit. A clever wall-mounted smart meter provides real-time energy, cost and GHG emission data to family members as a means to help the house operate at its highest performance levels. For my wife and me, being able to improve the EnerGuide rating of our 1950s post-and-beam house from 49 to 76 has been very satisfying, both on the comfort and the financial fronts.
Our house is located in North Vancouver close to Edgemont Village which provides easy access to our basic amenities and greatly reduces our reliance on car travel. And, the “BC Scrap-It Program”, which exchanges older vehicles for a variety of cash and other incentives, has helped us obtain our first electric bicycle and added new meaning to the concept of personal mobility. In February 2009 the District of North Vancouver honoured our family with a Heritage Award for Major Sustainable Restoration in Modern Heritage Context.
Alastair Moore is co-founder of GreenWorks Building Supply and D&A Planning, and works as a green building and planning consultant in Vancouver, Canada.