Architect Jonathan Kearns shows that you can have it all.
When Americans loyal to the Crown moved north after the American Revolution, many settled in Prince Edward County, projecting into Lake Ontario just about 20 miles across the lake from the USA. Many of the houses they built became Ontario classics; small, square, efficient plans with steep roofs enclosing attic rooms on the second floor.
Charming yes, but energy efficient they are not. So when architect Jonathan Kearns (of Kearns Mancini Architects) with partner Corrine Speigel wanted to renovate one to Passive House standards, they faced a number of challenges. Passive House is tough enough on new construction and extremely difficult on renovations, so the Passive House institute developed a special standard, EnerPHit, that certifies retrofits and allows slightly higher energy consumption that varies according to climate.
It probably would have been cheaper and quicker to start from scratch, but there is a charm and beauty to these old houses that Kearns wanted to preserve and expose. So he stripped the interior down to the wood structure and sandblasted it, creating a stunning, warm, wooden interior.
He then wrapped the whole house in a new house built of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). Kearns described it in Canadian Architect, listing the five key principles of Passive House design:
1) massively insulated, thermally broken airtight envelope.
The original building was reduced to its barest hand-hewn wooden structure, meticulously cleaned, and then sealed inside an airtight skin. We then added a new jacket of R43eff Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) based insulation to the walls and roof. (The “eff” designates “effective” R-values of the wall assemblies as opposed to the suppliers’ nominal values per layer of material.) One of the many challenges was to get an airtight seal around the existing structure. To achieve this, we had to lift all ground level floorboards, insert an Oriented Strand Board (OSB) layer and then relay. We had to pry loose the old board-and-batten walls, working progressively around the building so that we could seal the floor to the air/vapour barrier wrapping the house. The front gable window was intentionally oversized to allow a glimpsing view of the original house within the new house.
2) Triple-glazed airtight, thermally broken windows.
3) Optimized orientation.
4) Mechanical ventilation energy recovery
5) Optimized functional design.r Michael Anschel:
Buildings should be designed around occupants. That's who they are for! They should be comfortable, full of light, grand or quaint, they should resonate with our souls. Passivhaus is a single metric ego driven enterprise that satisfies the architect's need for checking boxes, and the energy nerd's obsession with BTUs, but it fails the occupant.
Jonathan Kearns’ Reach Guesthouse just proves Michael Anschel wrong once and for all. It is supremely comfortable, full of light in places, cozy and dark in others, grand in places and certainly quaint in others. It has history, charm and character that resonates with our souls. It is beautifully proportioned, designed by an architect who cares as much about beauty as he does about data and performance.
So don’t let it ever be said that Passive House design can’t be beautiful as well as functional and efficient; Jonathan Kearns demonstrates that in the hands of a talented architect, one can have it all.