Tak­ing sus­tain­abil­ity home

From its perch above Bur­rard In­let, the Royer res­i­dence is a bea­con of the zeit­geist

Vancouver Sun - - AT HOME - BY CLAU­DIA KWAN

No one ever takes the build­ing of a new house lightly, but it’s doubt­ful many peo­ple put quite as much thought into it as Gae­tan Royer did.

In 2007, Royer de­cided it was time to move his fam­ily from their large Port Moody con­do­minium to a sin­gle-fam­ily home in which they could live their phi­los­o­phy of sus­tain­abil­ity.

They needed a site with a south­fac­ing slope for so­lar ex­po­sure, large enough to build the home they had in mind. Dur­ing the course of their hunt, which took about a year, they looked at 100 dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties be­fore they found “ the one.”

“ We found the worst house in Port Moody,” says Royer, with a rue­ful smile. “ It was a 700-square-foot bun­ga­low, and then one room de­vel­oped a leak, so it be­came just 600 square feet.”

How­ever, the 165-by-65-foot lot al­lowed them to live in the bun­ga­low while con­struc­tion was tak­ing place on the new house. It also al­lowed them to do an ex­ten­sive anal­y­sis on the spe­cific as­pects of the site.

“ We got to learn and ap­pre­ci­ate its spe­cific char­ac­ter­is­tics, like the way the sun comes in, where the shade is,” ex­plains Royer, who will be con­duct­ing a seminar at a Van­cou­ver event called BUILDEX next week. “ We did 12 dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the plan, and even made some changes dur­ing con­struc­tion.”

Royer is bet­ter equipped than most to make de­ci­sions around build­ing a home. He has an ar­chi­tec­ture de­gree and an­other in ur­ban plan­ning, and spent more than 20 years in the Cana­dian Air Force, in part as a mil­i­tary en­gi­neer.

He wanted to ap­ply sus­tain­abil­ity prac­tices be­fore and dur­ing con­struc­tion, not just in the fin­ished de­sign of the home. That be­gan with think­ing about what to do with the dirt that would need to be dug up for the new house’s foun­da­tion to be built.

To limit how much ma­te­rial was taken off site, Royer asked a neigh­bour if it would be pos­si­ble to use her front yard as stor­age. They jok­ingly called the mound of soil they heaped there dur­ing the course of con­struc­tion “ Mount Royer”. They were then able to re­use the soil when it came time to fill the site back in. ( The neigh­bour’s yard was and re­fin­ished as a “ thank you”.)

“ We prob­a­bly saved 80 truck­loads of dirt and gravel from be­ing trucked on and off site,” Royer es­ti­mates. “ It’s a waste of time, money and en­ergy.”

BC Hy­dro asked per­mis­sion to take down a large tree on the prop­erty; Royer saved it for fu­ture use as stair treads, ceil­ing de­tail and a ta­ble. His for­ward plan­ning went right down to con­serv­ing ma­te­ri­als that cost pen­nies, in­clud­ing the plas­tic bags in which in­su­la­tion is shipped.

He care­fully saved the bags, and cut them open into large flat pieces. Later in the con­struc­tion process, in place of buy­ing rolls of plas­tic poly to keep things dry, he brought out the bags.

“ It’s not just about the cost, even though ev­ery penny counts when you’re build­ing a house,” he says. “ It’s more a case of – these things are still us­able, why are we just throw­ing them away?” He did the cal­cu­la­tions, and es­ti­mates that his strat­egy with the plas­tic bags alone saved the equiv­a­lent of a bar­rel of oil.

Rain wa­ter from the roof falls into a pool and is piped to a stor­age tank in­side the home.


Zoe and Gae­tan Royer in their Port Moody home, the din­ing ta­ble made from trees that were on the prop­erty be­fore con­struc­tion.


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