Eco-friendly Estate in West Vancouver Proves Sustainability and Luxury Can Coexist

Forget about straw bales and grass roofs. ?This LEED gold certified home is ?eco-friendly and uber-luxurious

Credit: Photo by Terry Guscott / Styling by Heather Cameron

Despite its 6,100 sq. ft. of space, this home’s carbon footprint is LEED R2000-certified

At first glance, the elegant home in the hushed and exclusive neighbourhood of Altamont in West Vancouver fits right in with its tony neighbours.

The pool, the gourmet kitchen, a bathroom for every bedroom, a fireplace for every season, generous outdoor entertaining space, landscaped gardens and designer flourishes are all present and correct.

Yet hidden beneath the contemporary craftsman exterior lies a house that turns conventional wisdom on its head. Eco-homes are supposed to be about straw bales and grass roofs. But by building this house, Vancouver developer and Brit transplant Simon Baston of Leading Homes has proved that luxury living and sustainability can coexist.

Canada’s First LEED for Homes Gold-certified House

With discreet green engineering, smart design choices and the rigorous selection of materials, Baston has made this 6,100-square-foot home Canada’s first LEED for Homes Gold certification and gained the R-2000 certification given only to the most energy efficient and sustainable homes 

While many in the green crowd tutted at the size of the project and the locals thought he was crazy, he forged ahead with his vision to create a future-proof eco-home in one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in B.C. 

“You can be criticized for building a 6,000-square-foot home, but you have to work in the market that you live in,” he says. “So my view was to make the home sustainable and efficient and to reduce its carbon footprint by as much as I possibly could.”

Future-proofing Homes for Sustainability

Selling homes today is all about the decor and the lifestyle, but Baston believes that in a few years time the sales sheet for any respecting home will come with a list of other attributes. 

“In five or 10 years time, people will sell homes by the carbon footprint and these homes will be significantly more valuable than the home next door because they are built to such a higher standard – they are built to be sustainable,” says Baston. “You won’t be able to sell a home by how beautiful it looks or by its immaculate gardens. Buyers will want to know how sustainable it is, how much it costs to run, how efficient it is.”

While every aspiration of the price range has been met, Baston worked with Eileen Keenan (who was then working as a consultant with the Sustainable Building Centre in Vancouver) and a team of architects, designers and engineers, to ensure that the environmental toll of building the home was limited.

Take the kitchen for example. It looks very much like the type of kitchen you’d expect to find in an up-market home. The sleek countertops are made from reconstituted granite, the rich walnut veneer cabinets and oak floors are made with wood approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) of Canada, and all of the high-end appliances are Energy Star rated. 

There are no energy-dissipating double-height ceilings in this home, but the fluid open-plan interiors enjoy lots of natural light that floods in through the low-E Energy Star rated windows and glass partitions. Even the staircase was built a foot “off” to improve the flow of light between the three levels. 

Interior designer Ruth Mason of Mason Design Group wanted to avoid the use of quarried stone so she chose porcelain, which is easier to recycle, as a surround for the family room fireplace.

Like all of the fireplaces in the Altamont residence, the main fireplace features a non-standard pilot light that has to be switched on manually. Traditional gas fireplaces have a pilot light that burns non-stop. For that slight inconvenience, the owners can cut down the amount of gas used by 10 per cent.

Hidden behind the cool, neutral tones of the walls are heating and ventilation systems including an air-to-air heat source pump, heat recovery ventilation system and a passive grey water heat recovery system that cut the home’s carbon fuel use by up to 
85 per cent.

There are six bathrooms in the home and each one has been fitted with dual-flush toilets and high-efficiency faucets. The countertops are made from concrete-using waste products. 
Dimmable LED and fluorescent lighting in the main living areas, the use of non-toxic floor sealants, paints, glues and finishes, spray-foam insulation and flexible layouts that allow for changes to the use of the house all combine to make the home sustainable in the long term. 

The Cost of Green Upgrades

It takes more than a few light bulbs and recycled timber to create an eco-friendly home. These days it’s all about clean power, local renewable energy sources and healthy living systems. Simon Baston has raised the bar on sustainable home construction. The question is, are homeowners, designers and architects ready to embrace more sophisticated green technologies that will usher in a new generation of desirable homes?

Baston estimates that the green upgrades on the Altamont home cost an extra five to six per cent. Even with future energy savings, the extra up-front costs can be a hard sell to potential 
buyers – especially as there are few tax incentives for buying an eco-home. But he was determined to lead the way.

“There are massive environmental challenges here and they are largely being ignored,” he says. “I’m proud that we were the first have a LEED Gold home and made genuine change. Not by talking about it, but by actually physically doing it. I’ve actually put my money where my mouth is.”

The home turned out to be a perfect match for John Innes and his wife Jill. John, who is professor of forest renewal at the University of British Columbia and BC chair in forest management, was keen on the home the moment he read 
about it. 
However, the couple needed a home that was easily accessible for Jill, who uses a wheelchair. So an elevator was added, and they moved in.

“I was impressed with the energy efficiency, the LEED certification and other green certifications,” says John. “But I was also impressed about the quality of construction. The average lifespan of a Canadian house is 34 years. I’m from Britain, and in Europe houses are made to last a lot longer than that. One of the main attractions of the house was that it was clearly built to last.”

Green upgrades may cost about five to six per cent more up front, Baston estimates. But the long-term energy savings and reduced carbon footprint are priceless.

Outdoor Efficiencies

All the rainwater that lands on the property is collected from the gutters and grates in the ground and funnelled into two 4,500-gallon tanks buried underground. This water is used to irrigate the organic vegetable garden and drought-tolerant plants via hidden tubes on the ground.

The concrete patio contains 
35 per cent fly ash, a waste product from coal-burning power stations that usually ends up in landfills. Concrete made with fly ash requires less water and is more durable than traditional concrete. Fly ash was also used in some of the bathroom countertops.

The 16-by-30-foot saltwater pool and spa is heated by solar panels fitted to the exterior roof of the house. Saltwater pools require just 10 per cent of the chlorine needed by freshwater pools.

The pool cabana was constructed from the remains of the small post-and-beam house that was previously on the site.

See more photos of Canada’s first LEED for Home gold-certified house.

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.