After a couple of weeks of intensive work between the architect, Mikaela, our passive house ‘consultant’ and middle-man to the suppliers, Malcolm, and ourselves, we have the final plans. With the house being factory-built from CLT, there are far fewer changes we can make after this point than to a conventional stick-framed house. But we’re happy with things.
The house is small by North American standards – under 1600 square feet (or less than 150 m2) internal area – and that’s the way we like it. We’ve tried to combine elements of what people around here expect a house to look like, to reflect something of the village feeling but, at the same time, this is not an ordinary house nor does it entirely look like one. However the differences are subtle – at least from the outside.
First the orientation and ‘balance’ is not what people would expect. The windows are predominantly on the south side, regardless of the view, in order to maximize both passive solar gain, and the southern roof will be completely covered in panels for solar thermal water heating and solar PV generation. The windows on the east and west bring light in morning and evening but are also designed for cross-ventilation in the summer. On the north side, windows are minimal but this also produces an interesting and slightly whimsical pattern.
This solar-orientation also affects the interior structure and layout. Places where we will spend most time and want to be brightly lit and warmest are all on the south side, whereas the north side of the house has all the ‘utility’ spaces.
So the ground floor is dominated by a relatively large space, running the whole length of the house from the kitchen in the east through the dining room to the lounge in the west – I use the conventional terms because that’s how we’re thinking of the space, although the latter two ‘rooms’ are entirely flexible in how they could be used and laid out. The main entrance is in the north-west corner, and this is where the first element of Japanese thinking comes in. The ‘genkan’ (entrance hall) is a place where you take off outdoor clothes, including shoes – we don’t wear outdoor shoes in the house – and there is a deliberate change of flooring to indicate where this transition occurs. Also in the north half of the ground floor is the utility / machine room, where all the tanks, he ERV, the control panels, washing machine etc. will be; and finally a dedicated pantry for all kitchen and food stuff, freeing up the kitchen area itself for actual cooking (which we both enjoy).
Upstairs, there is a small landing area, and again the south-north split is evident. On the south side, we have two generously sized bedrooms, and in between a Japanese sitting room with a raised wooden platform covered with tatami (woven grass) mats. This will also double as a guest bedroom, with futons stored beneath the tatami. To the north, there is a walk-in closet, which could be converted into a smaller bedroom if necessary, and on the north-east corner, a Japanese-style bathroom space, with separate WC, a changing room, and a wet room containing the shower and soaking tub.
The chimney from the stove, and the solar thermal pipes and solar PV lines will also run down through the central core of the house from the utility space below up through the storage attic above, and the whole house is also designed to minimize the distance water has to travel and the length of pipes from toilets etc.
Outside, the roof extends well out from the wall line, to provide shade for the upper windows from the harshest overhead sun, while maximizing the solar gain at other times, and downstairs the same effect is created by the porch that runs all along the west and south sides of the house.
We’ll talk about the construction details in future posts.