Designing and building a beautiful, energy-efficient home requires careful thinking and execution with special attention paid to the building envelope. A tight envelope means that a smaller heating and cooling system can be installed, and therefore, the running costs will be lower than a typical home of the same size.
In this case, the owners, who are minimalists, requested an energy-efficient home with views of downtown Calgary. However, the way the land is situated required that the main living space be on the upper floors, creating a reverse walkout situation.
From an exterior perspective, designing a home that did not overwhelm its neighbours was critical, while inside it was important to create an entrance that didn’t feel like a basement.
Bathroom left, main entry way, lower right. Stairwell allows light to filter down
Living room with walkout to backyard (yoga studio in the background)
The Green Home Design Challenge
Calgary-based Alloy Homes did the design-build for this project. The company specializes in design-build for modern, energy-efficient homes.
In any environmentally conscious home, design is as important as the energy efficiency itself. If a home doesn’t look good and function well, it will be renovated or torn down in a relatively short period of time essentially wasting the resources used.
The reverse walkout configuration presents its own issues. The architects have to find ways to bring light into the home and make the entrance not feel like a dark basement.
In the end, the design includes skylights and a staircase tower that runs the height of the building. On the upper floors, large windows and sliding doors lead out to the backyard. The home feels private and airy while allowing views of the downtown skyline.
The plan is open-concept, with a fireplace situated next to the staircase, adjacent to an elevator. The elevator was added to future-proof and allow for aging in place.
View of the back of the house
Achieving A Tight Building Envelope
Alloy Homes used a 2lb closed cell spray foam insulation and triple-glazed low-e windows by Lux, to create a well-insulated home. The heating equipment is a combination of a high-efficiency gas furnace and boiler with heat recovery ventilators which are necessary in very tight homes to allow for air changes and prevent moisture build-up.
The windows are operable and are used regularly in pleasant weather and for most of the summer months.
The lot faces east/west so there is sun in the morning and evening. The architects designed deep eaves to reduce solar gain in the summer and allow it in the winter. Thoughtful design features such as these increase the energy-efficiency of the home, helping lessen the load on the mechanical equipment.
The house was designed “solar-ready” so the owners can add a solar array to the rooftop when ready. An array could help it produce a net-zero electrical budget (minus the elevator power draw – see below).
Other environmental design considerations
Low-flow plumbing fixtures and LED lighting were installed throughout the home to keep the electrical draw and water use to a minimum. All appliances are Energy Star, while finishes were sourced as locally as possible.
Last but not least – the elevator
As mentioned, the owners built in the elevator to future-proof the home. It allows them to stay in it as long as possible without having to worry about accessing all the floors. Currently, and in the foreseeable future, it is not used regularly, but in the future, it might very well be used on a daily basis.
From an environmental perspective, that one piece of equipment will use more electricity than the rest of the house combined, even once solar panels are installed. But it allows the owners to stay in place as they age. Perhaps by the time it is used, the public electric grid will be de-carbonized, and/or solar panels will be powerful enough to feed the elevator.
These environmental conundrums exist everywhere and they shouldn’t stop us from applauding the work that is being done to increase residential energy efficiency and a beautifully designed space.