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Welcome to the house of the future

Pique recently explored an off-grid passive house in the Soo Valley, learning the ins and outs of a modern take on the wood cabin

A house in the Soo Valley could be the future of climate-friendly home development.

Named SoLo House, the modern twist on the classic log cabin was built by Dürfeld Constructors and designed by architecture firm Perkins&Will. Constructed out of only six materials, the 4,090-square-foot build is made mostly from mass timber, a fully recyclable, fire-resistant product that can replace carbon-heavy construction materials like concrete and steel.

Dürfeld invited Pique to explore the property and learn about what makes the space unique.

The frame and finishes are made from Douglas fir, and were built offsite in Pemberton. The prefabricated, modular construction allowed for a quick build time, and reduced construction equipment on the remote property.

@piquenewsmagazine Pique recently toured Durfeld Constructors’ new off-grid, sustainable build, SoLo House: The house of the future. Read more here: #Whistler #SoLo #PassiveHouse #offgridliving #SustainableBuilding ♬ original sound - Pique Newsmagazine

Passive house design

Mateo Dürfeld, chief executive officer for Dürfeld Constructors, has been in the business of building homes in Whistler for decades. His appreciation for wood products grew into a passion for passive houses when he built Canada’s first during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Whistler, the Lost Lake passive house.

From there, a new vision for the type of homes he builds was born.

“You can build an airtight, energy-efficient house and you can realize about a 90-per-cent savings in heating and cooling compared to a conventional house, so we kind of bought into that system,” Dürfeld said.

The idea was convincing enough that his company started BC Passive House in Pemberton, where SoLo House was created before being put together onsite.

The home’s off-grid power comes from solar panels, a ground source heat pump and a hydrogen fuel cell. Snowfall in the Soo Valley and the site’s topography meant the solar panels had to be mounted vertically on the south side of the home. The hydrogen fuel cell is a backup energy solution for periods with little sunlight or high use. There are also options for wind power in coming years. Water is collected and treated on the property, and wastewater is treated through a septic tank.

Perkins&Will was chosen by the developer, Delta Land Development, to design the home. Cillian Collins is a senior associate with the firm, and said the project was a way to showcase what could be possible on bigger builds.

“It became an opportunity to showcase and test some of the technologies, design philosophies that would then be utilized in larger-scale projects,” Collins said.

The architecture firm aims to incorporate environmental stewardship building both for the future and present, which informs material selection, ventilation, airtightness, and its scientific approach to house design, according to Collins.

Collins noted prefabricated houses are not yet competitive within the Canadian construction market compared to countries in Europe, but he sees the market evolving.

“We're not quite at the stage yet of developments… where each town or each city has a series of prefab shops, where it's sort of cost competitive and that's just a normal way of doing things,” he said.

“But certainly as we move towards more innovation in the construction industry [that will change].”

SoLo House

The name of the property is a nod to the Soo Valley and the off-grid design, with the home sitting alone atop a forested knoll with views of the valley.

The project was finished in 2020, and is a certified passive house using low energy. The time put into the design, however, was energy intense.

With floor-to-ceiling Douglas fir, each room and the exterior evoke a sense of calm. The back of the home has a large deck facing the valley, with plenty of space to spare for social gatherings. The back entrance has floor-to-ceiling windows and doors, letting nature into the space.

The living room and kitchen are open-space, with modern, clean finishes from the furniture to the kitchen island. The bottom floor also includes a bedroom, bathroom and a separate entrance to a walkway that connects to a private and spacious woodfired sauna.

Following a floating wooden staircase, inhabitants arrive on the second level to a loft overlooking the living room. From there, two more bedrooms and a bathroom are available for the owners and guests.

Mass timber

Mass timber is engineered wood product fastened together by glue, dowels or nails. Solo House only uses dowels and nails, in line with the project’s goal of ensuring the wood is recyclable.

“I think the mystique of the log cabin, besides being a trend, is it's something that people feel really comfortable in,” Dürfeld said. “If you were to look at it scientifically, that falls into what we call biophilia. It’s sort of being surrounded with what you see in nature that triggers something in the brain that gives you comfort and a sense of healing.”

Biophilia can be evoked in a built environment by bringing nature into the design of homes.

Dürfeld explained other benefits of mass timber include moisture regulation, energy storage, And the fact it’s recyclable, fire-resistant, and reduces harmful chemicals found in most construction sites.

“It's actually seen as a good way to build a fire zone because it doesn't burn nearly as quickly as, say, petrochemical-based products or even open-framing,” he said.

Carbon is also sequestered in the wood itself.

According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), development is responsible for 37 per cent of global emissions. The embodied carbon of a product, or the amount of greenhouse gas emissions attached to a product, accounts for emissions from extraction all the way through to products landing on shelves. Building materials like concrete and steel have much high embodied emissions, and the UNEP is promoting emissions reduction in construction with methods like bio-based building materials—including timber.

While timber is considered a renewable resource because it regrows, it does take time to develop. Dürfeld said he often hears questions about the sustainability of wood products, and that so long as forests are properly managed, the product will keep on giving.

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