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What goes into a green house

The Whistler EnviroHome – a designation given by the National EnviroHome Selection Committee – in Nordic is built on a lot that was owned by the Whistler Housing Authority and sits next to a WHA housing project. The sale of the lot to Rod Nadeau helped the WHA build up its housing fund.

Zoning on the sloping site allowed a house up to 5,000 square feet, but it wasn’t the easiest piece of land to build on. Nadeau had some rock fill on another site that was used to level enough of the Nordic lot to build a house.

All organic material from the site was used for base fill beneath landscaped areas.

The house, like most spec houses built in Whistler these days, was designed for the high-end of the market – it includes a media room, a nanny suite, five bedrooms (each with its own ensuite bathroom) and all the bells and whistles one would expect on a $3 million home. Tim Elford, of Elford & Paroyan Designs, designed the home to accommodate different family types and be adaptable to changing family needs.

But it is the way the house was built, and the philosophy behind it, that makes the house different. The concrete used in the ICF walls has about 25 per cent flyash content. Flyash is a byproduct of coal burning power plants. The use of flyash as a partial substitute for Portland cement reduces the environmental impact of cement production and makes for stronger, more durable concrete.

The foundation was backfilled with crushed glass – material which would have ended up in a landfill and which provides excellent drainage. The price (free) was also less than that of drain rock.

Engineered lumber, rather than solid joists and beams from old growth trees, was used for floor joists and other structural elements. This allowed Nadeau to order lumber to the exact dimensions required, reducing the amount of waste material.

There are some large timbers and edge-grain fir in the house but it is used where it can be appreciated, in the entrance, cabinets and interior window trim.

The siding on the house is made of fibre-cement, rather than cedar. It lasts longer and won’t require repainting for 25 years. The decks are finished with concrete pavers, rather than wood.

When house construction started, one of the first things Nadeau did was remove the waste bin, the big steel box that’s ubiquitous to construction sites and gets filled with scraps of lumber, tile, drywall, packaging and other construction detritus. Like many contractors, he also put a box of lumber scraps at the edge of the property with a sign that said "free firewood". But before lumber went into the box it was all cut to sizes that would fit in fireplaces. All the lumber was taken.

"Then I started looking at the waste pile as a resource," Nadeau said. "We used scraps of plywood for joist hangers, rather than buying steel hangers at $1 apiece."

After the structure was done, Nadeau started looking at finishes and fixtures. Low-flush toilets – "the Australian and European designs that work" – were chosen. Light fixtures were fitted with long-lasting bulbs.

"Whoever buys this house will probably sell it before they have to replace a lightbulb." Nadeau says.

Low maintenance is one of the side benefits of the EnviroHome. From the paint on the exterior to the granite countertops to the floors of limestone and wood, the materials were chosen for their durability as well as their environmental benefits.

Buying materials and products in B.C. also lowered the transportation costs and the environmental impact of getting the materials to the site.

"That’s the key. You have to be able to do it here, using local trades and products readily available in Whistler," Nadeau says.

He estimates the cost of operating the home at half to one-third of a conventional home, but it’s difficult to say for sure.

Finally, Nadeau credits his staff, associates and trades with making the house what it is.

"I didn’t build this house. The trades, our staff, they built it. They researched the paints and low-flush toilets and everything else. I just had the development strategy.

"Everybody already knew… they just had to be asked to do it. Guys who build houses are proud of what they do."

Nadeau and all the companies that worked on the house have produced a resource CD detailing all the materials, techniques and labour that went into the project.

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