Homes

Healthy, Beautiful, and Energy Efficient: Inside a Passive House on Bayswater

For architect and energy adviser Mark Rosen, his home is also his showpiece. “You can have everything you want in an electric car. In a passive house, I think you can make the same argument.”

Mark and his wife, Meghan, have built a home on Bayswater Avenue in Hintonburg that is modern, comfortable, filled with natural light, and designed with distinctive features like a sunken bathtub and soaring ceilings. It’s also extremely energy-efficient.

The couple bought this reclaimed-teak dining table, shown in the background, in 2009 and love how well it has aged. It took them two years to decide on the sofa. “We’re slowly doing one piece at a time,” says Mark. “We want every piece to be special to us.” Photo by Brendan Burden

Mark owns Building Energy Inc., which offers consulting and testing for energy performance; it was started by Meghan’s father, architect Bruce Gough, a pioneer in the field. Mark’s approach is to incorporate the tenets of passive house construction, a rigorous voluntary standard, as one of the parameters of the design process. Similar to the way building codes insert themselves into every aspect of a build, so, too, can passive construction dictate such things as wall thickness, window placement, and material choice.

As Mark says, “It’s in pushing against parameters or constraints that some of the more interesting architecture solutions reveal themselves.”

The bright kitchen features deep window ledges that work as counter space. The quartz-topped island and surrounding cabinets were custom-built by Astro Design Centre. Photos by Brendan Burden

Mark and Meghan, who works as a graphic designer at Shopify, aimed to design a healthy, beautiful, and energy-efficient home for themselves and daughters Mina, 6, and Josephine, 4. They admired the Moroccan design focus of a central courtyard and adapted it to the Canadian reality.

The home revolves around a central two-storey dining space with a tall south-facing window. Adjacent staircases and hallways afford glimpses of this space. Travel buffs, they also incorporated the idea of “wandering” by including huge windows where the views change with the time of day and the season “so we don’t become too rooted in our house,” says Mark. The house itself is conducive to wandering, with four main and three smaller levels in 1,600 square feet of finished space.

Mark and Meghan love Moroccan architecture, particularly inner courtyards. Photo by Brendan Burden

Remarkably, there is no furnace, and yet it’s a cozy 21 degrees inside. The only heating comes from a heat recovery ventilation system. Fresh, cold air is initially heated with inexpensive geothermal heat that comes from shallow tubing under the basement floor. Then the fresh air gains warmth through an exchange with stale inside air and finally goes through a small heater (about as powerful as two toaster ovens) to bring it up to room temperature. The indoor air is fully exchanged eight times a day with fresh, warm, and healthy air.

This small top-floor nook, which overlooks the front sundeck, is a secluded spot for reading, office work, and yoga. In winter, it’s the warmest spot in the house. Photo by Brendan Burden

Other heat sources include sunshine and activities that generate heat: laundry, cooking, taking a shower. And that heat stays inside because the house is super-insulated, with thick (26 inches) walls and triple-glazed windows.

That’s not to say there is no energy bill, but it’s all electrical: about $2,000 a year in all. (It would have been closer to $1,200 if they’d opted for natural gas, but they are aiming for sustainable energy.) When solar panels are installed, they hope to achieve a net-zero house. They also plan to apply for official Passive House certification.

It just goes to show: “You can have everything you want in a home and use way less energy and not by being a hippy or a green head,” says Mark.

A view down the centre of the house. “We like the idea of gathering around a central core,” says Mark. Photo by Brendan Burden