We realise that this blog didn’t start off with the basics. So it’s about time we outlined some details of the site and the project more generally. We have an acre lot in the village of Marysville on Wolfe Island, one lot back from the shore of Lake Ontario. The land slopes gradually down toward the main road and then to the lakeshore to the north-west.
The existing house sits towards the southern corner of the land. It’s an old military barracks house, one of several that were bought by local farmers from the army and shipped across from the mainland after the War of 1812. It’s six-pole construction, 1 1/2 storeys, and has been extended to the property line along the road on the west side, and then further again to the south. There is also a small 2 storey wooden singled barn almost in the very corner of the property, which is in dire need to restoration.
When we moved here 5 years ago, our original plan was to refurbish this house to make it super-highly insulated and add solar power and so on. The main house is fine if tiny but, like most houses on the island the place was originally oriented to the road and the windows to the south-west side are small, which makes the house pretty cold at all times of year, and dark in all the downstairs rooms, particularly the kitchen / dining room in the first extension. It has been insulated with blown cellulose in the framing, and doesn’t score too badly on a blower test, but it’s still very cold in winter. The water, septic and plumbing systems are also all pretty disastrous and not to any kind of contemporary building code. Finally, the whole thing is finished in some pretty horrible cream coloured vinyl siding and the roof is the standard asphalt shingles. We explored all kinds of ideas and had two different sets of architects come up with plans, but once they were costed, we realised that we would have to spend a lot of money to improve the place, and we’d still end up with a house that had unresolvable fundamental problems.
We thought about demolition and rebuilding on the same footprint, but the house has a basement, which is just dug into the rock and which sucks heat out of the house, and has water flowing through it much of the time. To build a southern-oriented house, on the same site, we’d have to either fill this in entirely or build the new house diagonally over the basement which would make the area much bigger than we wanted or needed. In the end, we decided to build completely afresh, but to keep the old house, converting it into a studio and guest space, demolishing the newest extension, and converting the first extension into a single garage, and then refinishing the old place in the same white cedar siding and steel roof as we will use for the new place.