Thursday, May 1, 2008

Green Dream Home

Spring/Summer 2008
[original story]

Green Dream Home
Photo: Marie-Eve Cloutier

MONTREALERS Alexandre Thibodeau and Marie-Ève Cloutier never imagined the yo-yo ride their life would become when they set out in 2006 to build their environmentally friendly dream home on a mountainside in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

They had fallen in love with the site’s breathtaking view of the Appalachians and optimistically figured construction would take six months, and then they would move into the house with their children, twoyear- old Léopol and newborn Mirek. But countless unforeseen challenges brought delays and budget overruns.

Thibodeau, who has a bachelor’s degree in architecture, designed the house to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the most stringent green-building standard in North America — applied so far mostly to large commercial and industrial buildings. His was the first house in Canada to be part of a LEED residential pilot program.

The first hurdle was building an access road up the steep mountain to the two-hectare site. Cost: $12,000, nearly double the contractor’s quote.

Finding “green” wood for the house frame also proved tougher than the couple thought: Thibodeau spent six weeks researching sources before he chanced on a local farmer who cuts trees in a sustainable way. Then, there was the problem of getting the large timbers up that mountain. Thibodeau’s solution: an elaborate set of pullies and cables hung from trees.

The 2,200-square-foot house, complete with creative touches like a two-storey kids’ bedroom and four rooftop garden terraces, will be heated with customized geothermal piping and an ultra-efficient masonry heater, fed with wood from their own lot. It will also feature straw-bale insulation, passive solar heat from a wall of south-facing windows, concrete floors to trap heat, and virtually no interior walls blocking heat flows.

As of January 2008, the young family had been staying with friends for nearly two years, but Thibodeau says they are finally close to moving in. Then, the inside finishing work will last another year. “It’s taken everything we have to get this far,” he says. “It’s taken all our capital — moral and financial.”

Despite their troubles, Thibodeau and Cloutier’s eyes light up during a tour of their green dreamhome-to-be. “Where we live changes how we live,” says Thibodeau. “I wanted to have an impact on the environment. It’s close to my heart.”

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