Taking sustainability home
From its perch above Burrard Inlet, the Royer residence is a beacon of the zeitgeist
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.