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Atrium 3: Sandy & Bill

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Sandy and Bill’s Atrium 3 design was featured in the article LEED for Homes: Dennison Homes Builds with the Future in Mind in Green Building and Sustainable Strategies Spring 2012.  Below are excerpts from the article by Marylene Vestergorn. Sandy and Bill chose to go way beyond the energy recommendations of Sun Plans to also include many other green building features in their home.  In general, home owners can add infinite layers of details to make each set of Construction Prints match their priorities, finishes and tastes.

Sandy’s commitment to reducing her footprint began with a magical month abroad a yacht. She was a member of an environmental cleanup team. Along with her fiancé Bill, they bought a piece of property in anticipation of building a life together.

At that time the standard for environmentally-friendly building in Canada was R2000. They interviewed three qualified local builders including Steve Dennison of Dennison Homes. That week the Canadian Green Building Council emailed her the brand new standard, LEED Canada for Homes. Steve called to say that with very few changes, their house would be a good candidate for LEED certification. He was on the same path and even signed up for courses on how to build to LEED standard. Since he was so enthusiastic it made our decision easy, said Sandy.  This was definitely a learning process, said Steve.

When building any house, you have a million choices to make. But when you're trying to build green, your choices are narrowed with limited information to guide you. It's not just about energy, points out Steve. LEED is also about the house as a home; about the health of its inhabitants. To avoid off-gassing, all the finishes, paints, insulation, MDF - everything has to be low VOC. There are a lot of competing rating systems out there, says Steve. You think you've found the right product and everything seems to check out, but it doesn't meet the LEED recycling content. Building to a LEED standard requires a huge investment in the education process.

Researching for the right vendors and products was a team effort. Sandy was very involved sourcing the partners to pull off this project. It started with acquiring the building design. Sandy found Sun Plans, specialists in passive solar homes, online.  The atrium creates a very dramatic space. Its ceiling is finished with reclaimed pine flooring and we installed a fabulous chandelier. The house has a simple layout. The builder said it's basically a box with three covered porches and wide overhangs  that provide character.

The two-story atrium provides natural light and ventilation that eliminates the need for air conditioning in their mild summer climate.  The kitchen, dining, and living areas are all open to the atrium. The two main walls of the living space face south so the master bedroom, den and living room have windows that get direct sunlight during the day. The kitchen and utility areas (mudroom/laundry room, stairwell and front entrance) are on the north side of the house. The house is expected to meet LEED Gold.

Adhering to the LEED checklist meant considering every detail, including CFL lighting and ENERGY STAR fans and appliances. A local plumbing contractor took care of all the low-flow plumbing fixtures and the heating system, which includes an HRV system with an ECM motor and a high-efficiency Envirosense hot water tank to supply both domestic hot water and in-floor heating system.

Products are either built locally, or are environmentally friendly, but you don't often get both, says Sandy. One exception is the decking. Northern Composite Products use rice hulls, recycled glass and plastic to make decking that is durable, beautiful and environmentally friendly. Sandy opted for an aluminum roof that's recycled and durable.

The success in this project was in the learning. As for LEED certification, Steve's advice is to build as energy efficient and environmentally friendly as you can, but don't chase points by incorporating things that may not be practical for you.

We could have built the home for less, says Sandy, noting higher end finishes for countertops and flooring and two custom built showers upped the ante. I like to think of our house as a practical green home that is just right for us.