Passive House on the Lake

A modern interpretation in prefab on a difficult site

The objective of the design for this lakeside home was to create a modern interpretation of the Passive House. The clients wanted to meet the Standard without having to compromise on design. Preliminary discussions were focused on typical planning and programming within the home given some very difficult site constraints. The topography and compact nature of the site were a huge challenge. The waterfront site slopes sharply down to the east with panoramic views out over the lake and mountains across the valley.

By Lydia hunter


First and foremost the development program was to optimize the site’s view opportunities with almost all rooms facing the views to the east out over Alta Lake with Whistler Mountain beyond. Fortunately the desired placement of windows complemented the need to optimize passive gains and losses. The west and north orientations were not seen as important view opportunities and so windows were reduced to meet our Passive house strategies while also preserving homeowner privacy.

Shading from neighbouring home and its stand of coniferous trees interfered with solar gains on the lower levels of the south orientation. The massing of the home, therefore, was stepped and jogged on the upper floor to optimize the glazing and views without sacrificing privacy. Exterior window blinds and overhangs were used to prevent overheating in the shoulder and summer months.  Preliminary reviews  using the Passive House software showed that the home was meeting the basic energy use limits. The model was updated as the detailing was further developed and refined to ensure the Passive House intentions continued to be achieved.

Further aesthetic refinements were added to provide variation and interest to the massing and exterior finish treatments so that the home  fit the local building vernacular without being too mundane or severe.  It was also important that a reasonable level of craft and detail be expressed on the exterior to complement the overall design and allow Dürfeld Constructors to express their capabilities with wood construction.  Exterior design treatments and landscape features were developed later to accentuate the home and add a greater degree of livability to the home.

Interior Design
It was important to include a fireplace in the living room for a sense of focus, ambient lighting and even tradition.  Traditional fireplaces pose a challenge in Passive House projects with the risk of overheating, and dealing with the meed to provide adequate incoming air for fireplace operation while also maintaining the airtightness of the envelope. The answer was found in a bio flame unit with a subtle heat output, creating a beautiful interior focal point to balance the dramatic exterior views.

Interior design for prefabrication projects requires preplanning and an understanding of the interior volume of the space. It is difficult to adjust window heights or reposition an opening once the panels have been manufactured so previsualization tools, including the 3D models, were used in the design of the project. A collaborated approach on the window package to determine the position, opening window placement and finishes was required in the design phase to ensure correct placement to achieve the views and maintain privacy and performance goals.

Hiding mechanical corridors when roofs and floors did not have exposed floor joist cavities set up challenges that in the end created beautiful solutions.  Dropped ceilings were constructed on the main floor to conceal the minisplit system. The exterior wall containing the fireplace was protruded out to accommodate a mechanical cavity, which in turn influenced the jugular angled marble block of the fireplace.  The bulkheads in the family room were contained by a wood ceiling detail.

The staircase “tower” idea was introduced early on, playing an important role in maintaining a comfortable interior temperature. The feature was played up with a floating staircase and a Mizu Quartz pendant installed into a complementing wood ceiling detail.

  • Project credits
    Owner Karel and Karan Jonker
    Architect Murdoch + Company Ltd.
    Interior Designer Arbutus Interiors
    Engineer Mountain Resort Engineering
    General Contractor Dürfeld Constructors
    High Performance Panel Provider BC Passive House
    Photos David McColm Photography, Ema Peter Photography, Karel Jonker
  • Materials
    High-performance prefabricated panel package with engineered wood joists and beams; fibre-cement boards, wood and stone for cladding. Mineral wool and cellulose insulation. Schenker VR90 Exterior Venetian Blinds from SunPro Enterprises . Eight 14 kw solar panels by Sunpump . HRV by Zehnder ComfoAir 550.

Lydia Hunter is with Durfeld Construction and BC Passive House.

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