Building a Green Vacation Home at Sun Peaks

Two urbanites create a mountain retreat that not only showcases the beauty of Sun Peaks, but that is itself as green as the surrounding forests?

Credit: Gavin Lawrence

This green vacation home has a rustic feel tempered by a few luxurious additions and some impressive energy efficiencies

You know you’re escaping the buzz of the city when you begin the winding ascent to Sun Peaks Resort and the wheels of your car transmit the rumbles of the road’s first cattle guard.

The guards are relics from years ago, and today they serve as a reminder of creatures of the two-legged variety. They let you know, definitively, that you aren’t in the city anymore.

Though Sun Peaks, 45 minutes outside of Kamloops, is home to million-dollar chalets and is the official training ground of the Austrian ski team, it retains the quiet allure of small-town life. It was precisely this neighbourly country feel that convinced Torontonians Toni and Snjezana Sorsak that Sun Peaks would be the ideal location for an eco-friendly vacation home. 

“We loved the area and loved the people,” Toni Sorsak says. “It’s very relaxed here. We already know our neighbours here better than we do in Toronto, where we’ve lived for years.”

Building a Green Vacation Home at Sun Peaks

But as the owner of the residential and commercial construction company Kaptol Homes, Sorsak wanted more than just a getaway. He had long been interested in building green, but recognized few people would invest in green technology until they were assured it would make long-term financial sense. That’s difficult to demonstrate, since a host of factors affect a home’s footprint: size, age, location, even the directions the windows face. So when a friend in London, England, asked Sorsak to supervise the building of a house in Sun Peaks, that opportunity spurred another: for Sorzak to build his own four-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot home. The green twist? He would incorporate energy-saving technology and materials, and then compare the savings to the conventional build.

Snjezana, a mechanical engineer and realtor, created the initial drawings of the Sun Peaks home before handing them to an architect friend to finalize. Toni embarked on a steep learning curve and took courses in geothermal technology so that he could understand the new technology coming to market.

The result of their efforts is a stunning mountainside chalet that already counts energy bills totalling less than half of its neighbours among its successes. Ultimately, Sorsak believes the home will contribute excess energy back to the grid. 

Energy Efficiency Meets Luxury

When you walk into the house, across the elaborate pattern of polished slate in the entryway, energy bills will be the last thing on your mind. This is not your grandfather’s ski lodge. It was designed to showcase the view, and the materials to complement the natural surroundings. Look up, and your eye is immediately drawn to the home’s star attraction: a wall of south-facing windows that stretch from the floor to ceiling in the two-storey living room and frame the hills of Orient Ridge. 

The windows run along the length of the open-concept living room, dining space and kitchen. The stone fireplace, timbered ceiling and hand-scraped, American-cherry engineered floors give the space a rustic feel, tempered by elements such as granite countertops and stainless steel Energy Star appliances. The balance of unfussy materials with luxurious touches is carried throughout the house: the bedroom furniture is made from reclaimed wood, and fir trim accents on the walls match the solid fir doors.

Function was the Sorsaks’ first priority with a house that was built to be a comfortable retreat. All of the interior walls are insulated with the same recycled newspaper that insulates the 
exterior walls, so if guests stay up late in the living room, they won’t disturb the occupants of the neighbouring master bedroom. “Recycled newspaper is a friendly insulator,” Toni says. “It is more efficient than fibreglass and performs better in a fire.”

It also helps maintain the home’s nine temperature zones, so that when there are fewer visitors, empty rooms won’t require heating and cooling. The home has three spacious guest bedrooms with well-appointed bathrooms, complete with showers featuring steam generators and polished porcelain and glass tiles. The real showstoppers are the marble countertops that contain fossils. More practically, each bathroom is outfitted with a fan that operates on a timer, an important feature in a vacation home that may sit empty for weeks at a time. Not that the Soraks are likely to be short of visitors. In fact, in March, before the grout was even dry, the couple had already had a group of friends come to stay. 

The solar panels were installed later in the spring, once the snow melted, placed “on the lower balcony, not on the roof,” Toni says. 

This positioning is more in keeping with the house – the classic wood structure won’t be disrupted by sleek, modern solar panels – and will do just as effective a job at storing the sun’s heat in batteries, which can be used to power, among other things, the LED lights that illuminate the fireplace and the staircase (an important feature when you may have guests unfamiliar with the home coming down the stairs at night).

Overall, the home more than meets Sorsak’s goal: it demonstrates that a house can be energy-efficient and luxurious, too, and the investment will pay off over time. For her part, Snjezana says the home is everything she wanted. “I really don’t think we compromised on anything.”

Standing in the living room taking in the view, radiant flooring warm underfoot, it is hard to imagine that anything is lacking. It might be a beautiful day to be outdoors, but in this cosily grand space, it is an even better day to be indoors.

The Mechanics behind a Green Home

It may be difficult to get excited about a home’s mechanical room, but it’s what makes this particular home so special. 

Here, are a few green features in Toni Sorsak’s favourite room in the house: 

  • Thanks to a drain water heat recovery system, you can feel less guilty about lingering a little longer in a hot shower after a long day of skiing or hiking. 
The system of copper coils 
pre-heats cold water using the heat from the warm water that flows down the drains.

  • Once utilized for its heat, that same shower water goes to the grey water tank, where it is cleaned and used in the home’s dual-flush toilets.

  • The entire home is wired to work together, so that, in summer, when the thermostat reaches 21 C, it will trigger the window shades to lower, reducing the need for air 

See more photos of the Sun Peaks Green Vacation Home

Originally published in BC Home magazine. For monthly updates, subscribe to the free BC Home e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the bi-monthly magazine.