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An environmentally friendly renovation

Martha Uniacke Breen

There's no question that the need for more energy efficient, earth-friendly design is becoming an increasing imperative, and in some cases, governments are actually legislating a certain level of environmental sustainability through new "green" bylaws. But does incorporating the environment into building or renovation plans mean compromising design, forgoing comfort and luxury, or living with expensive, sometimes temperamental technologies? Absolutely not: as a number of recent projects by the Toronto architectural firm of Moss-Sund demonstrate, green principles can be the springboard for beautiful and highly livable design.

The owners loved this former bungalow in the Beach area of Toronto, but it was too small for a growing family with two little daughters. The father of the family is a designer himself, and felt strongly about creating a more contemporary aesthetic in the home's upgrade, as well as considering the environment in the design, construction and later, day-to-day operation of the home.

Top of the list was to add a second story, but they wanted to open up the interior to light, and add a front porch to the home. Also, some of the existing home's issues were tricky: not only was the home completely uninsulated (possibly in keeping with its original 1920s role as a summer cottage), but there was a large tree right at the back of the house that the family wanted to save, reducing elbow room in the rear elevation clearance.

"There are two ways you can go when you upgrade the insulation in a home," explains company principal Carolyn Moss. "You can create a continuous envelope around the outside by wrapping it in foamboard, or you can open all the interior walls and retrofit from the inside." Both methods have their pros and cons, but in this case, since the entire interior was being opened up to replace the services, beefing up the interior insulation made sense.

The new interior principally revolved around a central staircase "stack," with large windows on the back and two skylights in the roof. The staircase takes advantage of a simple law of physics: warm air rises. The open stairwell maximizes air circulation through the home and aids in cooling the house in summer, while a handsome slate-covered wall placed directly where incoming sunlight hits it stores heat and radiates it out at night, helping to heat the home passively in the cooler months.

More impressive, but equally simple in its own way, is the new geothermal heating system: two wells installed under the home's front lawn store water and circulate it through the home. Once installed, the system is astonishingly efficient. Compared to a typical high-efficiency gas furnace that returns a rate of about 95%, geothermal returns about 400%. "The temperature of the earth is remarkably consistent," explains Simona Sund. "Water is circulated through the two wells, naturally cooling it in summer and warming it in winter. And all you need is two wells spaced seven feet apart, making it entirely feasible in a city property."

In the last stage of construction, two green roofs will be installed on the house: the first will cover the new front porch roof, while a second one consisting of shade-loving plants will grace the back, under the spreading maple tree. Green roofs—flat roofs planted with greenery—carry so many advantages that all new commercial construction in Toronto now requires at least one green roof in the design. Once established, these roof "gardens" can be virtually self-sustaining, have high insulating properties and, just like a conventional garden, help return oxygen to the atmosphere while reducing pollution and atmospheric carbon dioxide. It's a way of giving back what the concrete jungle has removed from urban areas.

Given the simplicity of the earth-friendly mechanicals in the home, it seemed right that the aesthetics should be equally uncluttered. A small palette of materials that includes walnut, slate, engineered wood (a reclaimed material with a beautiful grain), and white-painted walls, creates a calming oasis for the family. "I love the flow of this house," observes Carolyn. "All but one room has windows on two sides, which makes it a really sunny, lovely house to be in."

Posted on Friday, April 26, 2013 at 02:28PM by Registered CommenterElaine in | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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