Gulf-Island Super-Insulated House: The NEW High-End Home
The concept of a high-quality home is changing. Conventionally, thoughts of a high-end custom residence conjured images of an architecturally unique home in a stunning setting with exclusive materials and finishes, and a meticulous level of craftsmanship. The new concept of fine homes still includes these components, but adds three more elements that were not previously part of the schema: outstanding energy efficiency, exceptional comfort and environmental consideration.
Completed in 2015, this Gulf-Island custom residence embodies the new definition of a high-end home. Designed by David Kominek of DRK Design, it has a unique, custom-fit architectural design tailored to meet the needs and aesthetic of its clients. Uniquely situated on the top of a long bluff overlooking the Salish Sea , the house is oriented to face south, absorbing light that reaches deep into the house, but applying intelligently designed shading and overhangs to restrict solar heat gain during the summer months.
Utilizing locally sourced, custom-milled cedar 5/4 x 12 board and batten, jobsite manufactured Kynar coated standing seam metal and yellow cedar on the exterior blends highly durable materials with a natural palette so that the home will sit lightly in its setting, and will do so for decades to come. Inside, clear yellow cedar provides a stunning canopy over neutral white walls to provide a bright, calm setting inside the home, which draws focus to the built-in stone fireplace, the subtle but contemporary palette of kitchen finishes, and most importantly to the world-class views right outside the expansive glazing on the south façade. Using such durable materials not only means less maintenance over the life of a home, but it means that their beauty and uniqueness will endure, to be appreciated by generations of people long into a future when they may no longer even be available for new homes.
Craftmanship, too, is alive and well in the new high-end home. Employing architectural drywall beading meant that all casings and trims in the house could be eliminated. Instead, a ½” x ½” reveal winds its way around the interior, framing the floors, doorways and clear pine window sills. Custom fabricated steel stairs provided a sparse, open feeling to the stairwell, which supports thick fir slabs as treads, and a very custom glass pane provides an un-obstructive partition between the two flights. The clear cedar ceiling in many areas of the house are also unadorned by trim, meaning that nearly every single piece necessitated scribed ends to precisely and tightly fit the shape of the drywall.
But what really sets a high-quality home apart from others that may still cling to an out-of-date era, is the energy efficiency of the building. This residence, while not certified, is built very closely to the highest energy efficiency program in the world: the Passive House standard. Simply put, a Passive House building strictly limits the heating and cooling demands of a building to about 85% less than a code built house, limits whole-house energy consumption to less than half that of a new building, and it requires the building to be at least roughly 5 times more airtight than a typically performing new building.
What does this mean in a practical sense? It means that the house will have extremely high insulation levels on all 6 exterior surfaces, it will have very high performance windows and exterior doors, and it will be carefully air sealed to ensure that any energy spent keeping the interior space comfortable stays within the house, rather than being lost to the exterior in one way or another.
This house was constructed with many unique components to achieve these goals. Chiefly was the use of pre-fabricated exterior wall and roof panels by BC Passive House of Pemberton, BC. These are, essentially, 2×8 walls or i-joist roof panels that are packed full of cellulose insulation. The panels are then carefully air sealed using gaskets, sealants, and high quality air-sealing tapes, such as those by the Swiss Manufacturer SIGA. Adjacent to those are additionally framed insulated walls or ceiling/roof spaces that house all of the wiring, plumbing and mechanical services required. Keeping these elements inside of the air barrier/exterior panels ensures that the house remains as airtight as possible and prevents the disruption of the thermal layer by those services. Combined, these layers provide effective R-values that are double or triple those of newly built, code compliant buildings.
The windows and doors, too, are exceptionally energy efficient. Imported from Ireland, the Klearwall units are aluminum-clad wood windows that are triple-glazed with dual layers of low-e coatings and argon gas. An average vinyl window would have an R-value of somewhere between 2 & 3. These units are closer to R-8, AND are extremely air and watertight.
Underslab, there is a full 12” of insulation. Heat loss to the ground is very effective in an uninsulated concrete slab because of the direct contact of two solid surfaces. Because of this, the amount of energy loss through the floors and foundation walls of a house is often grossly underestimated. Having such a thick layer of foam nearly eliminates heat loss to the ground.
Mechanicals for the home include an air-source heat pump with whole-house ducting. Incorporated into that ducting is an UltimateAIR ERV, which transfers most of heat energy from the exhaust air to the fresh incoming air; a necessity for any energy efficient, airtight building. And when one’s building uses so little energy to heat or cool, the hot water demands of the home often become the single largest energy point-of-use. To that end, the house uses a Stiebel-Eltron heat pump hot water heater to provide hot water in a very efficient manner. It is over 2.5 times more efficient than a basic electric element hot-water heater.
All of these energy efficiency measures not only equate to far lower energy bills, but just as noticeably is the interior comfort that these measures provide for the new high-end home. The plague of existing, older housing stock, and tragically even some new homes, is a pervasive feeling of discomfort during the winter or summer months. Poor insulating values can mean floors that feel extremely cold underfoot, windows that have a zone of cold around them, and a constantly running furnace having to blast a rush of air into rooms to keep them at a comfortable temperature. Poor air sealing can mean one feels cold drafts when sitting adjacent to operable windows, or patio doors. All of these effects have the result of making us uncomfortable in what should be the most relaxing, restorative place in our lives.
The Passive House standard was originally devised as a way to quantify the properties of a building that allow it to provide an extremely comfortable environment. Creating a highly insulated, airtight envelope which employed windows and doors with excellent thermal and air-sealing properties created very comfortable, predictable and homogenous conditions inside the home. And as an incredible side benefit, these same qualities also just happened to be the very techniques one would utilize to create a building that had very low energy bills and a diminutive carbon footprint. This “two birds with one stone” approach is perhaps the single most important feature of a new high-end home.
Beyond simply lowering one’s energy bills, which is a huge part of the equation, there are many aspects one can employ to lessen the impact on the earth further. Durable materials and a high standard of construction detailing creates homes that will outlast “disposable housing” currently created in our society. Grey-water recycling can take water from sinks, laundry and showers and use them as water to flush toilets or irrigate landscaping. One can utilize drainwater heat recovery devices to transfer the heat from shower drains to pre-heat incoming cold water to the hot water heater. Photovoltaic arrays can turn the sunshine into electricity which can power any electrical device or element in your house, including an electric vehicle. This particular house captures and stores enough rainwater in a year to provide all of the domestic water used by the occupants inside the home. With storage cisterns outdoors and very simple particulate and UV filters in their mechanical room, they have world-class quality purified water to meet all of their needs. There are many methods and technologies one can employ to create a home that has far less impact on the environment from construction, to operation. Employing as many as is affordable should be a trademark of every high-quality building.
There are still builders and designers that are stuck in the past, and who are failing to implement the strategies which can elevate a good, custom home to an outstanding one, representing the finest qualities achievable. Excellent design, fine materials and impeccable craftsmanship are still key elements in creating a beautiful residence, but in all honesty, they are icing on the cake. At the core, every home should start with an envelope that ensures high levels of comfort, low utility bills and a responsibility to live lightly on the land. When one combines these foundations with all of the finer attributes above, THAT is when one ends up with the rewarding synthesis of what the new, high-end home can really be.
To discuss how you can elevate your home into something truly outstanding, contact Pheasant Hill Homes. We’d love to show you the unique things that we can do for you.