OTTAWA – Green living and elegance can co-exist. A large, Georgian-style home in a wellheeled Ottawa neighbourhood makes the point with crystal clarity.
The recently completed house, which but for its gleaming red bricks looks as though it’s always been on the quiet, leafy street, is pursuing LEED Platinum certification from the Canada Green Building Council. That’s the highest designation possible under the stringent Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, which assigns points for everything from energy efficiency to waste management during the construction process.
If it achieves certification, which seems likely, it will be the first single-family home in Ottawa to attain the lofty standards. Airtight and heavily insulated with soya-based foam, it’s also rated at 88 on the EnerGuide scale, leaving much-touted Energy Star homes – which have to hit 80 – eating its non-polluting dust.
With a generous 3,200 square feet of living space, the house is reportedly 75-per-cent more energy efficient than comparably sized homes built to code.
And it is a beauty.
Designed by green-minded architect Linda Chapman (smartarchitecture.com), it’s airy, bright and as welcoming as a cup of tea on a chilly fall day.
The home replaces the older, gloomy house on the same property that had been the family’s home for 17 years until its energy-hungry ways (using the computer in the family room during the winter meant donning gloves) finally doomed it.
“We’ve been concerned about climate change for a long time,” says one of the owners, an empty-nest couple who prefer anonymity despite their commitment to all things green. “We felt that if we were fortunate enough to build our own house then we had a responsibility to do it so it had minimal environmental impact.”
As she talks, a 250-year-old grandfather clock, a family heirloom, ticks in a corner of the living room where a high, coffered ceiling and deep crown mouldings set a tone of traditional comfort.
She explains that she’d read Good News for a Change, David Suzuki and Holly Dressel’s upbeat book about steps that have been made toward salvaging the environment.
“It really empowered me to start acting. You can’t count on the government we have in Canada now to do anything, so it’s up to individuals.”
The couple already knew they didn’t want to move from their community, and a renovation of the old house would yield too few benefits for too much money. They also knew they wanted another big home – the new house is about the same physical footprint as the old – for entertaining and for the day that grandchildren start arriving.
Both fitness fans, they’d also decided they wanted no part of nursing homes when they got older. Aging in place would therefore be an essential design element, yielding smart ideas like the slightly raised toilet in the ensuite for easier perching and a spot in the foyer where an elevator can go when it’s necessary. With its focus on long-term thinking, aging in place also accords well with sustainability.
The couple, she especially, began digging into green home-building, amassing design ideas and tracking down suppliers. The project wound up consuming countless hours. By the time they called in Chapman, the husband says, “we had done our research and we were well-organized.”
“They really pushed the green envelope,” says Chapman, “but a Georgian home also fits the neighbourhood. It proves a green home can look like any other home.”
Chapman’s design is a slightly modernized adaptation of a traditional Georgian style. Longer-than-normal windows on the south-facing elevation, for example, assure solar gain in the winter and oodles of natural light year-round.
The first floor includes a gracious entryway leading to living, dining and other rooms where Irene Langlois of Irene Langlois Interiors (www.langloisgroup.com) has blended traditional and contemporary style. A stunning stairwell soars to a cupola with remote-controlled windows that draw the summer’s heat up and out of the house.
The large kitchen features dark, solid-wood cabinetry from BCR Woodworking that’s certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) to be from sustainable forests. The light blue concrete countertops, made in Pakenham in accordance with the owners’ insistence on local materials, contain up to 25-per-cent recycled material. A touch on/off feature ensures the kitchen tap doesn’t run unnecessarily.
A family room, its windows triple-glazed like all the windows on the north side, overlooks a backyard of mature trees and low-maintenance plantings. A double-sided, wood-burning fireplace (ultra-efficient, naturally) with a surround of Quebec soapstone will cast a cheery glow in both the family and dining rooms when winter winds blow. Ottawa’s House of Fine Carpentry (www.houseoffinecarpentry.com) supplied the exquisite trim made of either non-off-gassing MDF or FSC poplar. The company also outfitted the cherrywood library on the second floor. Like the home’s framing and hardwood floors, the cherry is FSC-certified.
The second-floor master bedroom features a double-sided gas fireplace that warms both the bedroom and the ensuite. The ensuite’s heated towel rack evokes a tingle of guilt from the owners who clearly worry that that it will be viewed as a non-green frill; in fact, since the rack is warmed by the same eco-minded geothermal system that heats and cools the entire home, it requires no extra energy.
Below grade, five hulking green plastic cisterns hold 2,500 gallons of rainwater. The water irrigates outdoor plants using a sophisticated mini weather and sprinkler/drip system designed by Ottawa’s Greenscape (www.greenscape.ca).
A programmable home automation system from Moorhouse Media Tech (www. moorhousehome.ca) handles video, audio, phone and security lighting. The system is accessible from keypads throughout the house or remotely via the Internet.
Meticulous record-keepers, the couple has assembled a 19-page handbook called Building a Green House that details all this and more. It includes six basic criteria that they’ve applied to the entire project, from extensive recycling of materials from the demolished home (only 15 per cent wound up as landfill) to a stipulation that suppliers’ cars and trucks be left idling as little as possible.
The couple has also compiled a handbook, which includes contacts for their suppliers and how they recycled unwanted possessions, available on the Citizen website at ottawacitizen.com/homes
“These are the most committed green home clients I’ve ever had,” says Roy
Nandram, president of RND Construction (www.rndconstruction.ca) which built the home. “Usually you get the order (to build) and then you start suggesting green options. Here, we started with a green intention.”
Nandram estimates the couple’s commitment to green added roughly 15 per cent to the total bill, compared to about five per cent for most eco-conscious projects.
While some of the investment in green features will be paid back in energy savings, “The other part of the payback is that the owners know they’ve done something for the environment. They spent a lot of extra money to get FSC-certified wood, and there’s no financial payback there.”
Small wonder the home has been entered in the green category in the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association’s upcoming Housing Design Awards.
Few Ottawa homes, especially large ones, could rival this building for its blend of deep green features and elegant design.
The recently unveiled Minto Dream Home, a 4,200-square-foot house that will be won later this year in the Dream of a Lifetime lottery that benefits the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, does include some green elements. Electricity-generating solar panels, an energy-smart tankless hot water system and FSC-certified framing lumber are among the features that nudge it up the eco-aware scale.
And the high-profile renovation earlier this year of the Gift Home, a 3,000-square-foot house whose sale is expected to fund the construction of 10 smaller Habitat for Humanity homes, includes green elements, including airtight foam insulation, non-off-gassing solid wood cabinetry, low-VOC paints and a cast stone fireplace mantel made from plaster and stone dust.
However, the Gift Home project is a fundraiser, and the drive to minimize costs meant beggars couldn’t be choosers when it came to accepting donated products that weren’t necessarily green.
So for the time being, the handsome Georgian home stands at the top of Ottawa’s large-house green pyramid. Would the owners, finally able to relax with a clear eco conscience, do it all again? “Yes,” declares the husband. “But I don’t want to do it again right now.”
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