A Modern Homestead

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From Dreams to Reality

It’s a story reminiscent of the late Victor Kiam – he famously liked Remmington Shavers so much he bought the company – Similarly, Chris Vander Hout liked the work Evolve performed for him so much that he became a partner in the firm.

Chris and his partner Christine Hoy set out in 2001, intending to find a secluded rural property. Their wish: to build and live in an efficient, self-sufficient home, tending to the land in a modern homesteading exercise. They would manage their woodlot while providing fuel for winter heat. Grapes and fruit trees would be planted for seasonal fruit and preserves. A vegetable garden would provide seasonal food and more for canning.

All of this required a property and home designed to suit their future life.

They got all of this and more. First their housewarming came in 2004. They liked the work performed for them so much that Chris later became a partner in the business originally hired to assist with construction – Harvest Homes and sister division Evolve Builders Group Inc.

First Steps

Chris and Christine had a plan. Chris would take leave of his job to project manage and participate in the construction full time while Christine would continue in her career to generate income. They would commission renowned green building architect Martin Lieffhebber. He in turn would generate the concepts taking into consideration the natural surroundings, site opportunities and his clients’ lifestyle intentions. Martin accepted and over the next year architectural drawings emerged ready for permits.

Getting Started

Recognizing that architectural plans are not “how to” instructions and knowing that they would be best served surrounded by people more experienced than themselves, Chris and Christine hired key tradespeople to help take their drawings from paper to reality. Evolve’s sister business – Harvest Homes – was recruited for consultation and construction services, at first limited to the specific framing details and finishing needs of the highly insulative strawbale walls. Harvest Homes prepared precise construction details and facilitated training so that Chris, Christine and their friends and family could capably participate in the raising of the bale walls themselves. When ready, the Harvest Homes crew returned to apply a professional plaster finish. The house was starting to take shape.

As the house progressed so too did the relationship between Chris and Evolve. Borrowing from project management skills honed in his previous work, Chris and Christine were the first owner-builders witnessed by Evolve to have kept their project both on schedule and on budget. With this successful record and a personal interest in working in the Green Building industry, Chris later joined Evolve Builders Group Inc and became part-owner.

A new home was taking form and a new relationship was being forged. It was time for Evolve to dig in and help complete the many features already planned and new ideas emerging to completely fit out Chris and Christine’s efficient new home.

The Good Stuff

To deliver an efficient and self-sufficient home, Martin incorporated many elements in to the design including:

  • House is oriented toward solar south, nestled in an existing clearing allowing deciduous trees to shade the walls from the hot, evening sun
  • Sedums and other drought-tolerant plants – started in the greenhouse incorporated into the home – bask in the sun atop the roof, reducing summer heat-load in the house and rainwater run-off, while contributing to insulation in the winter
  • An angled wall supplies solar hot water collectors with an ideal angle for solar gain
  • Deep overhangs and high elevations on windows prevents summer overheating
  • Fibreglass framed windows complete with appropriate coatings and special spacers between each pane, permit plenty of openings for daylighting and views while minimizing impact on winter heat losses
  • The central greenhouse transmits passive solar heat to living spaces in the shoulder months while serving as a glowing, warm retreat for a bath in winter’s inhospitable temperatures. Steam from bathing in turn helps hydrate the air and plants in the dry of winter
  • Hydronic radiant piping efficiently and comfortably distributes heat throughout the floors
  • Domestic hot water and radiant heat is generated primarily by a wood-gasification boiler using selectively cut trees from their own property. Solar hot water automatically contributes while a high-efficiency propane boiler provides backup when the owners are away
  • Plastered strawbale walls contribute to thermal mass which serves to reduce temperature and humidity fluctuations while the excellent insulating properties conserve winter warmth and resist summer heat
  • Parallel Strand Lumber (PSL) post and beams recall historic building methods but using materials formed from wood wastes rather than felling more large timbers

Evolve further supplied or installed numerous natural components to provide the perfect finishing touches to this unique design:

  • Locally handcrafted doors, trim and flooring all made from trees felled from their own woodlot
  • Natural oils applied by hand on exposed wood provide a durable, elastic and visually rich finish
  • Mineral based paints applied as a colour-wash play with colour and light, and are naturally mildew resistant, fire retardant, permanent and emit no noxious VOCs
  • Light-clay-straw infill in some partition walls improves fire-resistance while dampening sounds between bedrooms
  • Earthen plasters fashioned from local clay and sand merge perfectly with the bale walls provide antidote to manufactured drywall and vinyl-filled joint compound [pic: round window]
  • An adobe earthen floor resembles suede leather with its mottled satin colours yet highly resilient without being brittle
  • Exterior wood siding was milled from cedar found on the property
  • Greywater from all household fixtures nourish select plants in both an indoor planter and an outdoor leaching bed
  • Solid wastes from the central composting toilet system are used as a soil amendment

Harvest Homes’ Chris Vander Hout Builds his Off-Grid Straw Bale Homestead

The television program “Body and Health” profiled Evolve co-founder Chris Vander Hout’s construction of his off-grid home using straw bales and many other alternative building materials. Architect Martin Liefhebber and his green / alternative architecture firm “Breathe Architects” were contracted to design this unique off-grid home. The combination of environmentally-conscious clients and bold architecture lead to some pretty interesting design choices, including straw bale walls, living roofs, composting toilets and solar power.