Step­ping up to green

House Good plan­ning, clever tech­nolo­gies be­hind en­ergy-smart River

Ottawa Citizen - - Style Weekly Homes - BY PA­TRICK LANGSTON

When Jen­nifer Hea­gle set out 11 years ago to build a house in the Gatineau Hills, her goal was un­equiv­o­cal: She wanted a place that was at­trac­tive, en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble and com­fort­able, but that didn’t re­quire tech­no­log­i­cal ex­tremes to get there.

Hea­gle, a suc­cess­ful Ottawa busi­ness­woman, isn’t eas­ily thwarted. Re­search­ing and de­sign­ing most of the three-bed­room home her­self and serv­ing as gen­eral con­trac­tor, she broke ground in 2005 and saw the River House, as she fondly calls it, com­pleted last spring just as she’d en­vi­sioned it.

Set on three acres by the Gatineau River and close to Mont Cas­cades Golf Club, the 1,800-square-foot week­end home — Hea­gle, her part­ner and two boys aged nine and 15 have a per­ma­nent house in Old Ottawa South — sits along a twist­ing dirt road and down a long, steep laneway.

The home’s south-fac­ing A-frame front blends mas­sive win­dows, rus­tic cedar shakes and neu­tral-coloured, in­dus­trial-themed ce­ment board cladding. It’s the kind of place — it’s two-and-ahalf storeys plunked on a con­crete slab amid snow-cov­ered gran­ite slopes and trees — that looks as though it’s al­ways been there.

The ar­gon-filled, low-emis­sion win­dows cap­ture bun­dles of so­lar heat on sunny win­ter days, says Hea­gle. A two-foot roof over­hang, along with ash, oak and other de­cid­u­ous trees, keeps the sum­mer sun at bay.

Inside, nat­u­ral light floods the stun­ning com­mon room, where a cathe­dral ceil­ing soars 30 feet. The 12-foot-long win­dow seat calls out for books and a cud­dle, and a plump sofa and arm­chairs beckon to en­joy the rest­ful view of the river.

“I didn’t want any feel­ing of sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the in­te­rior of the house and the out­side,” says Hea­gle, who hired St-Pierre-de-Wake­field builder Bernard Lachaine for the project.

The home’s tim­ber-frame-with-a-twist con­struc­tion helps carry the out­doors inside.

De­ter­mined to use as many re­cy­cled or sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als as pos­si­ble, Hea­gle came across a pine post-and-beam frame built from lo­cally har­vested wood by a Car­leton Place com­pany for a home in Hawaii. The cus­tomer had begged off and Hea­gle im­me­di­ately spot­ted its po­ten­tial.

Work­ing with Ottawa-based CSV Ar­chi­tects’ eco-con­scious ar­chi­tect An­thony Lean­ing, who as­sisted her with the de­sign and green tech­nol­ogy, Hea­gle used the chunky, wood-pegged frame as an ex­posed in­te­rior struc­ture. Gyprock, painted off-white with a low-volatile or­ganic com­pound (VOC) fin­ish, makes up the walls and ceil­ings. At­tached to the out­side of the pine frame is the build­ing’s en­ve­lope — a sec­ond, con­ven­tional two-by-four-foot frame that Lachaine and his crew stuffed with formalde­hyde-free fi­bre­glass in­su­la­tion and cov­ered with build­ing wrap and rigid Sty­ro­foam in­su­la­tion.

“We paid a lot of at­ten­tion to air-tight­ness,” says Lean­ing, adding that the home’s mod­est size, southerly ex­po­sure and use of long-last­ing ma­te­ri­als do as much as a whole whack of tech­nolo­gies to achieve Hea­gle’s green goals.

Lean­ing also gives full credit to Hea­gle for in­cor­po­rat­ing the mam­moth, glass-door fire­place that sits op­po­site the com­mon room win­dows, just about dead cen­tre in the house. Ul­tra-effi- cient and boast­ing a built-in bak­ing oven, the 10-ton mass is made of heat-re­tain­ing, con­crete­filled cin­der blocks parged with dark grey ce­ment. It was de­signed by Shawville ma­sonry heater ex­pert Nor­bert Senf (

“We de­signed the house around it,” says Hea­gle. “If you burn a re­ally hot fire twice a day, the house stays at 20 de­grees. We were here for five days over Christ­mas and we never drew on the ra­di­ant floor heat­ing. It burns very hot, so there are al­most no emis­sions, and the wood comes from our own prop­erty.”

The gly­col-based ra­di­ant heat sys­tem Hea­gle men­tions is used mostly to keep the house from freez­ing when un­oc­cu­pied. Be­fore be­ing pushed through in-floor pipes by a small, en­ergy-ef­fi­cient pump, the gly­col is heated in a com­pact tank, where four burn­ers also pro­vide vir­tu­ally on-de­mand hot wa­ter for the house­hold, thus elim­i­nat­ing the need for an en­ergy-suck­ing hot wa­ter tank. A first-floor me­chan­i­cal-cum-laun­dry room houses the setup.

The ra­di­ant-heat pipes are en­cased in the glow­ing dark grey con­crete floor on the home’s first storey. Painted with a low-VOC acrylic sealer, the floor con­tin­ues the in­dus­trial/rus­tic theme of the home’s ex­te­rior while of­fer­ing an al­most-in­de­struc­tible sur­face.

“One of my son’s friends brought a pogo stick to a birth­day here and started bounc­ing on the floor,” laughs Hea­gle. “I started to say, ‘What are you do­ing?’ and then thought, ‘Oh yeah, it’s con­crete.’ ”

The con­crete also soaks up so­lar heat and cools the struc­ture dur­ing the sum­mer, ex­plains Hea­gle.

And while my feet and back were sore af­ter walk­ing shoe­less on the floor for a cou­ple of hours, Hea­gle, who is a part­ner in Ottawa’s Red Apron cater­ing com­pany, says she’s ac­cus­tomed to stand­ing on hard sur­faces for hours at a stretch while cook­ing.

An eco-con­scious cook’s mind is clearly be­hind the River House’s L-shaped kitchen. Sep­a­rated from the com­mon room by the fire­place and a gran­ite fea­ture wall, it glows with En­ergy Star-rated stain­less-steel ap­pli­ances and Shak­er­style cab­i­nets that Lachaine, a vet­eran cab­i­net­maker, built of black cherry har­vested from the prop­erty. To avoid po­ten­tial off-gassing, he used ply­wood with a non-toxic glue rather than par­ti­cle board for the draw­ers and cabi­net in­te­ri­ors, and sealed the ex­te­ri­ors with low-VOC, wa­ter­based polyuretha­ne.

The kitchen’s built-in butcher block, set in a gran­ite coun­ter­top, comes from an ice-storm­top­pled maple tree from Hea­gle’s fa­ther’s farm in Os­goode. Gran­ite rocks, culled from Hea­gle’s own prop­erty and hand-split by Lachaine to re­veal their gleam­ing pink, grey and sil­ver in­te­ri­ors, form the fea­ture wall that wraps from the com­mon room into the kitchen.

Re­cy­cling, lo­cal sourc­ing and cost-con­scious­ness pre­dom­i­nate the rest of the home. Stair treads are made from that same Os­goode maple tree, while tongue-and-groove knotty pine from a lo­cal sup­plier cov­ers the bright, airy sec­ond and loft floors. The three bath­rooms boast cab­i­nets of ash, again from the prop­erty, while the walls com­bine in­ex­pen­sive, off-white ce­ramic tiles with larger, mot­tled­green ag­glom­er­ated mar­ble tiles made of re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als.

Low- and dual-flush toi­lets, along with a 1930s cast-iron bath­tub from Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity’s Re­Store on Walk­ley Road, empty into a state-ofthe-art sep­tic sys­tem that im­pacts min­i­mally on the en­vi­ron­ment. Hea­gle, who has com­pleted sev­eral in-town home ren­o­va­tions and knows bet­ter than to limit re­sale po­ten­tial, wisely took a pass on com­post toi­lets.

She also nixed so­lar and wind-based power gen­er­a­tion. “There was a hy­dro line al­ready on the prop­erty, so we de­cided to go with that and re­duce con­sump­tion in­stead.”

With no rum­bling fur­nace, no whine of traf­fic, no ca­coph­ony of television or beep of com­puter (both off-lim­its), the River House is bliss­fully quiet. No won­der her fam­ily’s fallen in love with the place, which Hea­gle ac­tu­ally built to sell but has also fallen in love with and will prob­a­bly now keep.

With con­struc­tion costs un­der $175 a square foot, the home meets Hea­gle’s other, orig­i­nal goal: “I wanted to prove there are bet­ter ways to build a home and that it’s no more ex­pen­sive than con­ven­tional con­struc­tion.”

Pa­trick Langston is an Ottawa writer.


With its see-through stair­case and mas­sive low-e win­dows, Jen­nifer Hea­gle’s sun-filled home on the Gatineau River re­mains bright and toasty on even the cold­est win­ter days.


The en­suite com­bines an over­sized glass shower and shelv­ing for cloth­ing needed on week­end ex­cur­sions to Jen­nifer Hea­gle’s Mont Cas­cades re­treat. Hea­gle set the stove and stain­less-steel range hood against the back of the ef­fi­cient stone fire­place.

Wood beams run across the vaulted ceil­ings in the com­bined mas­ter bed­room and bath­room.

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