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Greenest Homes: Vancouver’s Eco-Friendly Houses

By Michael Vanden Bosch July 10, 2015

Nick Kerchum’s journey to success as an award-winning home builder in Vancouver meant setting a new standard for eco-friendly developments. 

He founded Natural Balance Premium Home Builders in 2009 with a fresh emphasis on both contemporary design and environmental preservation without sacrificing quality. 

Five years ago, Natural Balance, with architect Frits de Vries, built the first LEED Platinum house in British Columbia on West 21st Avenue in Vancouver (see below).

More recently, his company’s project on West 15th Avenue in Vancouver connected the split-level home with surrounding topography, including picturesque downtown views and optimum solar exposure. Strategically placed overhangs enabled light from the sun to flow into the home, and passive design principles were employed to naturally heat and cool. 

“It was a really fascinating design because the lot is sloped,” Kerchum said. “The split-level home is celebrated by huge pieces of glass, bringing a lot of light into the centre of the house. The exterior has been molded to provide privacy from the neighbourhood while maximizing downtown views. A study was done to understand how the sun would affect the home.” 

And it was all done with sustainability in mind. As certified green builders, Natural Balance consults with an independent third party advisor to ensure all the homes it builds meet or exceed city code.

During preliminary consultations with clients, Kerchum and his staff create energy models and sustainability reports that result in a series of tailor-made recommendations for clients. Customers can select design features such as insulation types, window styles, and mechanical systems that impact performance and cost of their home. 

“The goal is to cost effectively increase the energy efficiency of the house,” Kerchum said. “You can show the client what their return on investment is.”

Building a LEED Platinum House

Natural Balance, with architect Frits de Vries, built Western Canada’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum home. Here is how they did it:

Passive Solar Design: The house is designed to maximize passive solar gain allowing for natural heating and cooling, reducing the need for mechanical systems. Entire main floor uses natural basalt stone which holds a significant amount of thermal mass.

Infloor radiant heat with an air-to-water heat pump: A new technology from Europe is a cost effective way to be deliver home heating.

Evacuated roof top solar tubes: These are used to specifically heat the domestic hot water.

Triple-glazed Fresinger windows: German made and considered among the most efficient on the planet. The house has a huge amount of glass yet still remains efficient with low heat loss.

Icenine spray foam insulation: Used in all wall cavities.

Natural ventilation and a heat-recovery ventilator: Design allows for natural cross-ventilation in summer months, all mechanical air-handling systems tested and monitored to meet LEED for Homes certification.

Green roofs: Four green roofs, including on the garage, for water retention, energy savings and a sanctuary for bees and birds.

Lighting: LED bulbs with automatic switch-off.

Green landscaping: Drought-tolerant, non-invasive planting and a garden with vegetables, fruit and herbs.

Water saving: Dual-flush toilets and low-flow plumbing fixtures.

Health: FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified (urea formaldehyde free) millwork and cabinets. No VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in paints and millwork coatings throughout the house.

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