Energy Efficient Netzero+ Home in North Cowichan, BC

Early 2019, after we managed to successfully subdivide our 1.5 acre property in North Cowichan, we started the design and planning process to build a new home for ourselves. This article has links to sections with more details for builders or future home owners who want to dive deeper into some topics. If you just want to get the gist of it - read this overview section.

Initially, we wanted to build this home as a super energy efficient Ecolog log home. However, it turned out that this wasn't as easy as we thought it would be. The background section of this article provides more detail about our final decision to build a hybrid SIP/Timberframe home instead.

Final house seen from south-westThe design process for our home took over 1 year, and was driven by many requirements - from setbacks and size limitations imposed by the Municipality to property slope, solar exposure of the roof to our personal requirements for the living space. The design section dives into more details and how we ended up with the final design.

One of the goals for this home was to build a "Netzero+" house. This means that the house should generate more energy than what is required to live in the home. In our case, the "more" was our desire to generate enough energy to also charge our electric car. The key steps to achieve this were:

  • energy efficient design - the less energy a house requires for heating (or cooling), the less we have to generate.
  • efficient heating system for hot water and space heating.
  • passive solar heating - design roof overhangs and windows/doors to collect solar heat during the heating season.
  • solar panels that generate enough electricity for all energy used.

Once I dug into the planning details for our home, I found that I had to balance many aspects which sometimes conflict with each other:

  • cost - we wanted to limit our cost to somewhere between $250-280 per sqft (turn key cost including taxes), and we ended up at exactly $250
  • availability of the required materials
  • sustainability and environmental impact of materials
  • longevity of the home
  • living comfort for us
  • resulting energy efficiency
  • knowledge of the local trades with chosen materials and methods

West view of our Netzero homeThe Construction Detail section of this article tells the technically inclined person in more detail what materials and systems we used. This section also describes our Heating, Ventilation and Cooling system as well as some of the electrical challenges.

Building a super energy efficient house was mainly my personal goal. My wife was more focused on the look-and-feel aspects, comfort, and practical day-to-day living features of the home. During a Passivehouse training (a few years ago), I saw pictures of many super efficient homes - and I must say, I didn't like the look of most of them. Interior and exterior design is a matter of personal taste. My past experience has shown me that no matter what you do - some people will love it, and others won't. If you build a spec home which will be sold right away, you want to design to "current trends". But we don't plan to sell this home any time soon - we want to live in it. That's why we didn't even try to get "professional" advice on design aspects, but went with "gut instinct" and combined a lot of different ideas:

  • Modern looking structure with shed style roof panes in different directions.
  • Classic board & batten and cedar shingle siding (using wood from local sawmills).
  • Stone veneer on outside basement walls (quarried in BC).
  • Lots of timberframe elements: carport, entrance porch roof and inside living room/kitchen.
  • Ecolog home look on some interior walls to provide some variety to the drywall finished walls.
  • Green stained maple kitchen - this is the eye catching focal point of the living/dining area.
  • Loft areas in office and master bedroom. These are for looks as well as to extend available space; as sleeping areas for visitors, storage space, etc.
  • Modern looking deck with glass panel railing and a glass canopy to provide sheltered space during inclement weather - and all year use of bbq.
  • Rustic looking barn style doors.
  • Stained copper/bronze coloured concrete floor in basement.
  • Sewing machine vanityThe guest bathroom vanity consists of an antique foot pedal sewing machine with a solid stone sink.

The whole house provides an interesting mix of contemporary and classic design. This, we find personally very appealing, as it doesn't get "boring" by being one or the other, and always offers surprises in each room. The Design section provides some more detailed information and pictures.

Living room with timberframeAs I write this article, we have lived in our home for about 9 months - and we love it. We love the warm feeling and look of all the exposed wood. We love the sunlight flooding the living room all day and the evening sun at dinner time. Sandra is very happy with our kitchen design - and apart from the unique look, it's also very practical. We don't have too much experience with how the heating system performs, as we haven't spent a full heating season in the house yet. The performance section provides more information about the energy efficiency of the house and will be updated in future to reflect our real world monitoring.

Construction of the house took 10 months in total. We started excavation in April 2020 and moved officially into the home early February 2021. If you want to find out about the key trades and suppliers for our home, check out this section.

I have designed a lot of homes since I started Vanisle Ecolog and every project has had lots of learnings. The Learning section of this blog post will summarize the key learnings and things I would do differently if I would start this project all over again.

You can start a slideshow with a short summary of the construction process and the resulting finished home by clicking on any of the pictures on the right side.

If you want to build an energy efficient home yourself, or just want to learn more about sustainable homes like this and draw on our experience - please contact us! We are happy to share our experience and learnings.

 

Next Section: Background

Project Slideshow - Click any Photo to Start