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Father-Daughter Team Build A Passive-House Duplex in Cottage Country

By Camille LeFevre Home Features Editor
May 9, 2021

Rick Zytaruk's retirement was short-lived. The former business consultant thought retired life in Muskoka, Ontario, would include lots of free time. Then, his daughter had a chat with him.

Melinda Zytaruk has not only been in the home-building industry for more than a decade. Currently, she's the general manager and a founding member of Fourth Pig Green and Natural Construction, a sustainable construction company. She's a PHIUS Certified Builder, trained as a Passive House Institute consultant, has completed Canada's Net Zero Home Building Science Training, and is a registered designer.

Tooketree Panel in Factory
Tooketree Panel in Factory. Photo Credit: Tooketree

Melinda is also the CEO and president of Tooketree Passive Homes, where her dad is now CFO. "Melinda made me aware of how the building industry contributes up to 50 percent of the carbon that's driving climate change," Rick says. "She convinced me that prefab is the way of the future, that stick construction in the rain and snow and heat isn't the best way to do things." Together, father and daughter purchased three lots in Baysville, Ontario, with plans to build and sell homes.

Tooketree Panelized Home Toronto
Tooketree Panelized Home in Toronto. Photo Credit: Tooketree

Melinda also inspired Rick to start Tooketree Passive Homes, which constructs panels for panelized prefab home construction. "We decided to build a panel factory and construct environmentally and people-friendly Passive Homes," he says. So, when it was time to build the first home on one of his three lots, Rick and Melinda collaborated. "We grabbed the Passive House baton and said let's build a duplex," he says.

Why a duplex? "Lots of people want a single-family home," he explains, "but a duplex serves a market for families looking after parents, or wanting to keep their adult children close, or who would like to rent one of the units to offset the mortgage." In April, Rick and Melinda's first duplex (with Tooketree panels and built by Fourth Pig) was completed and hit the market. Designed in collaboration with Passive Design Solutions, the duplex features two healthy homes that are also easy on the environment.

Tooketree Logo

Starting with SEEDs 

Fourth Pig and Tooketree constructed the duplex with Tooketree's signature SEED (sustainable, ecological, efficient, durable) panels. The company fabricates these panels in its 7,000-square-foot factory in Muskoka. The wood panels include wood-fiber insulation near the exterior (R-8) and dense-pack cellulose and denim-batt insulation on the interior (R-45.3).

Passive Duplex Panel Placement
Passive Duplex Panel Placement. Photo Credit: Tooketree

A smart membrane "controls vapor and prevents air movement," Rick explains, "but allows moisture in the wall to dry out in either direction, helping to minimize the risk of mold." As a result, the panels are super-insulated, air-tight, weather-resistant, and engineered for durability and longevity. "The carbon-sequestering building envelope is good for people and the planet," Rick says.

The Tooketree factory makes panels for walls, floors, and roofs. The passive house duplex is clad metal siding, as is the roof. A helical pile foundation will prevent a moldy basement in the future. They installed high-performance triple-pane windows to let in abundant light and contribute to the homes' air-tightness. The HVAC system includes a heat-recovery fresh-air ventilator with HEPA filtration, along with humidification, dehumidification, heating, and cooling.

Passive Duplex Wall Raising
Passive Duplex Wall Raising. Photo Credit: Tooketree

An All-Electric Sustainable Duplex 

Fourth Pig also designed the 2,542-square-foot duplex with accessibility in mind for aging-in-place. The designers added soundproofing between the units, which enjoy their own entrances.

Passive Duplex Bath
Passive Duplex Bath. Photo Credit: Tooketree

The front unit is 1,331 square feet and has three bedrooms and two baths. The 817-square-foot rear unit has two bedrooms and one bath. It will be perfect as a rental unit or apartment for aging parents or adult children to create an ideal co-housing arrangement.

Passive Duplex Kitchen
Passive Duplex Kitchen. Photo Credit: Tooketree

Both units have LED lighting and electric ENERGY STAR appliances, including induction ranges, dishwashers, refrigerators, and washers and dryers. The bathrooms have ceramic tile. Elsewhere in the units, the floors are FSC sustainably harvested and engineered hardwood: Nadurra European wide-plank oak, to be precise. Inside, the duplexes were completed with low-VOC paints and finishes and have solid-wood trim.

Moreover, location and walkability are part of the package. The duplex is just a short stroll or bike ride to the picturesque Lake of Bays, public docks, and a beach. After a busy day, however, the homeowners can enjoy the view from the large cedar decks.

Passive Duplex Kitchen 2
Passive Duplex Kitchen in Second Unit. Photo Credit: Tooketree

Do More, Doing Good 

"I used to tell my grandchildren that I compost, so I'm doing my bit for the environment," Rick recalls. "They'd said back to me, 'That's not even the beginning!' So, I wanted to do more. I wanted to leave a legacy on their behalf."

"By building a duplex to Passive House standards, and by avoiding materials that emit high levels of greenhouse gasses," he continues, "this project stores more carbon than it releases. While the average home produces 50 tons of carbon, this project sequestered 21 tons during the building process."

The new owners of the light-filled two-unit home will not only enjoy low energy bills and low maintenance. They will also enjoy a quiet home with a consistent temperature and a continuous supply of fresh air. Homes built to Canada's National Building Code use up to 30,400 kWh of electricity every year, for an average cost of around $4,773. This Passive House duplex requires less than half - only about 12,100 kWh annually. This energy usage will approximately translate to an affordable $1,900 in electric bills per year.

Passive Duplex Front View
Passive Duplex Front View. Photo Credit: Tooketree

As for Rick and Melinda, they're already planning their next Passive House build. "Maybe a four-plex or a six-plex," Rick says. "Lots of people in the area need one-bedroom units. We're so excited to be building resilient, comfortable, healthy homes for people here that not only sustain the community but are also responsible and responsive to the environment."

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-11-19T03:22:18+0000
Camille LeFevre

Article by:

Camille LeFevre

Camille LeFevre is an architecture and design writer based in the Twin Cities.