1981 Passive House Retains Architectural Interest & Performance

 The modern housing era is rife with uninteresting, often hideous architectural designs.  For you folks already offended, I am not talking about high quality beautiful architecture that we occasionally have the privilege to see, I am talking about ticky tacky ostentatious garage first garbage that dominates the North American suburb. Still, every once in a while, you find a home owner who thoughtfully designs a custom home with an architect, and it exemplifies a certain kind of understated perfection. 

Gloria Marsh and her husband bought a modest cottage on Lake Wilcox in the Oak Ridges Moraine, in Richmond Hill Ontario in 1977. In 1981, they cobbled together the resources to optimize the site with an architecturally designed Passive Solar House. The space reflects a Northern European design sensibility with clean lines, ample storage and sensible flow. It's thoughtfully oriented 6 degrees off perfect south, taking full advantage of the gorgeous view of the lake while at the same time capturing the warmth of the winter sun to offset heating.

While some of the finishes are dated, the space is designed in a way that resonates. Time and time again I have walked people through the house, and consistently they leave inspired and awed.

There are several things at play in the space. First the building has an entirely understated, bordering on austeer, curb appeal with very few window openings on the street side, and landscaped to almost be camouflaged into the surrounding trees. The beautifully appointed gardens welcome visitors, but it's only after you step through the threshold to be greeted by the lake do you get a full sense of the wisdom of the design and space. 

The inverted floor plan invites visitors up a modern steel and wood staircase to an open entertaining level on the Upper Level. The Panoramic windows pull the beauty of the trees  into the living space while the view of the other shore of the lake draws the eye to the horizon. The open kitchen invites guests out to a 4 season solarium and outdoor deck while the spacious pantry is hidden from view behind a partition wall. The entertaining space draws the trees in through the panoramic window, letting the living dining room and kitchen be literally embraced by nature.

 The lower level is a place for rest and reprieve. A family room sits at the centre of two wings of the house, with the master and ensuite bathroom to the west, and the 2nd and 3rd bedroom to the east. Each wing has its own bathroom with toilet separations so that private bathroom use need not spoil the air for teeth brushing. These are sensible ideas that I deeply appreciate and that any family lifestyle will benefit from. 

The family room joins the beautiful garden which is an expansive space bustling with life and beauty. Through the garden the lakefront and canoe launch sits nestled between a pair of gorgeous black willows that offer shade to the home and garden in the summer and in winter let the sun in through to warm the house. 

Not only is this home beautiful but it performs. We had an energy assessment done revealing an EnerGuide score of 76. Compare that to a modern code new build house that I sold last year that also had a 76, and the results are remarkable. Adding to the story is 33 years of energy savings that have rewarded Gloria and her family with a noticeably lower cost of living. Today's Ontario building code is targeting 30% better performance compared to houses built in Ontario prior to 2011, and this house is 33 years old. The total gas, hydro and water costs for this property are just $2500 annually. When you compare that to a typical 2500 sq ft 1981 home, which we estimate to be roughly $3800. Consider those annual savings in a world of de-regulating and increasing energy costs, represents a significant constant savings, not to mention some powerful climate karma.

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