Mike Holmes’ eco-friendly reno rescue
How Canada's most famous contractor took a reno gone awry and replaced it with a modern, green dream home
Christina Kovalik wrote a tearful seven-page letter to reno guru Mike Holmes, in 2005. Two years previous, Christina and her husband, Joe, hired a family friend to fix up their small bungalow in Toronto. The $200,000 job went off the rails very quickly–shoddy work and unexpected costs–so they put a stop to it. In retaliation, the renovator put a $535,000 lien on the house. Amid piling debts and a crumbling house, Christina made her appeal to Holmes, hoping he and his crew could fix thingsup.
Their wish came true, but instead of fixing up the Kovalik bungalow, the house was torn down. Holmes said the damage to the foundation and other spots was too immense for a regular renovation. He replaced the house with a state-of-the-art example of green homebuilding, with green roofs, grey-water and rainwater collection systems, spray-foam insulation, in-floor radiant heating and solar panels. Why go to all this trouble? “This house is a prototype for the houses I believe we should all be building,” Holmes says, whose mantra–“If you’re going to do something, do it right the first time”–was never more apt.
Sustainable, system-led design “takes into account everything from air quality, resource efficiency and the type of building materials used, plus what’s called universal design: creating a house that’s accessible, with wide doorways, curbless entranceways, levered door handles–a house that can accommodate all types of people through all life stages,” says Mark Salerno, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s (CMHC) Toronto district manager.
From a distance, the house looks like a giant box opened at the front (and I mean this in a good way). At the front, large concrete slabs mix well with myriad windows and wooden cladding to create a feeling of strength and warmth. This super-green house is also a home; the Kovalik’s have lived here since January.
Low-tech, high gain
“This room is great any time of day,” Joe says, leading me into a living room fit for a Roman emperor. Massive laminated-cedar beams climb up the three-storey, 24′-high ceiling flanked by remote-controlled windows. The high ceiling and windows encourage convective airflow: hot air is expelled through the windows, naturally cooling the house. “It means we only need to run the air conditioner on really hot days, if at all,” Christina says.
Natural cooling and heating continues with large, south-facing windows gathering passive solar warmth during winter months. The recessed windows are hidden from the high-flying summer sun, which can create oven-like conditions.
A low-tech and highly efficient design permeates the house. The walls are painted with volatile organic compound (VOC)-free paint; non-allergenic carpets line the stairs; easy-to-clean tiles and hardwood flooring eliminate mould and dust buildup; and a high-tech filter system and ultraviolet furnace filters provide superior interior air quality.
“[Consumers] are starting to get the message that indoor air quality affects health,” says Thomas Green, project manager for CMHC’s EQuilibrium healthy housing initiative. (See A refined balance.) Off-gassing from engineered wood products, paints and other finishes laden with VOCs–to say nothing of mould, dust and dander in carpet–can combine to create an indoor air index three to four times more polluted than outside air, according to CMHC. In other words, green homes aren’t just about creating healthy structures but also heal-thy homeowners.