Location: Ancaster, Ontario
Status: Built
Date: 2015

To reconcile the client’s needs for a home that is both familiarly comfortable yet sustainable, this house develops sustainable living practices within accepted notions of domestic comfort. The house explores how we can harness our understanding of culturally-ingrained lifestyles in order to affect change, reforming perceptions of suburban comfort from within, and making the adoption of widespread lifestyle changes as seamless as possible.

The house imbues every element of the traditional house with new opportunities, from its spatial layout to the construction of its walls. The well-beloved massing of the local split-level home (part bungalow and part multi-story house) is augmented to promote connection to nature, spatial efficiency and accessibility. The house, while true to its beloved domesticity, becomes an active agent of change within its context. It interacts with the natural flows of the site, sun, water, wildlife and flora, framing the changing character of its setting, making seasonality integral to the experience of the home. The traditional walls of the house are also no longer simply spatial dividers, but highly efficient yet breathable straw by-products of local farming practices. The house uses the beloved image of the suburban home to unsuspectingly become the first electrically net-zero straw house in Hamilton (thanks to 36 solar panels located on the roof), rethinking the traditional spaces and features of the suburban home to create opportunities for sustainable mechanisms (like proper cross-ventilation and high-efficiency fireplaces to drastically reduce heating and cooling loads).

The house is composed of 16” thick prefabricated strawbale walls clad in magboard, plaster and shou-sugi-ban (charred eastern white cedar to replace suburban vinyl siding, insuring longevity and protecting against rot), creating a breathable yet optimally insulated building envelope (R-40). To replicate the versatility of traditional construction methods and replace straw construction’s mandatory large overhangs with recessed gutters, a different type of breathable wall was developed. While most straw construction clads strawbales directly with plaster, the house’s strawbales are shielded by magboard, covered in a rainscreen that acts as air gap, and then clad in plaster or wood. The plaster was additionally coated with a silicate paint rendering it hydrophobic. While the plaster invariably gets exposed to water, it is able to fully exhaust absorbed moisture thanks to the continuous air gap and the hygroscopic properties of the plaster.

The house is located right on the Dundas conservation area and the landscape design, composed of native and non-invasive species, cradles the house as if embedded within the conservation area itself. The planting scheme uses native species from the conservation area, including ferns, river birches, sedges and pawpaws.A system of channels, concrete dams, swales, and porous pavers manages stormwater from on-site and uphill neighbouring properties, replenishing the aquifer, thereby reducing strain on the municipal drainage system and the conservation area. The flat rooftop is home to a pollinator garden offering a habitat for birds, bees and butterflies.

Nicolas Koff