Pheasant Hill Home’s Mermaid Manor: The Pretty Good House
As part of Rise’s Home Pro program, we have the privilege of writing a home feature for the home of the pro’s choosing - one that stands out from a sustainability perspective. Rise recently spoke with Jason Schmidt, co-owner and construction manager of Pheasant Hill Homes, Ltd., out of British Columbia, Canada, about their Mermaid Manor home.
At first glance, it does not look like your typical sustainable home—and that’s because it isn’t. It is not Net Zero, not a Passive House, not a Living Building Challenge home, nor a LEED-certified home. It is, however, a Built Green Home. What does that mean?
Similar to LEED for Homes, Built Green is a point-based certification program that “provides a framework by which to measure the level of ‘green’ in a home.” According to Jason, though, the Built Green certification process is “significantly less arduous than LEED.” More about the Built Green program can be found in this recently published story.
But the more interesting part is that the homeowners had not requested the home to be more sustainable — it just came together that way, because it is a high quality, durable home. Pheasant Hill Homes is very experienced in Passive Home and Net Zero Energy building practices, so while “energy efficiency was not the main objective, a lot of it was incorporated. The way we look at it is that was lower hanging fruit. Air tightness is the big one; insulation details were over and above the standard. We paid attention to healthy indoor air quality and local sourcing of materials.”
Overall Goals for the Home
The primary objective for the homeowners was to create a family retreat that would be in the family for generations; it needed to be built to last. “That’s why we have wood: the exterior cladding is from locally sourced western red cedar. We know on the West Coast that it will last for hundreds of years, when it’s maintained properly.”
The other goal was that it should be a beautiful home. According to Jason, anyone who visits the home notices the remarkable charm and warmth of the home. Part of that comes from material reuse: located on a small island in the harbor, an old cabin that was on the site was carefully deconstructed, and the material was reused.
The homeowners wanted to be heavily involved in the project and incorporated many personal touches. “The mantel on the house is a piece of yellow cedar that the client found on the beach years ago.” Jason adds, “It’s not an everyday house; it’s a little quirky. One of the owners is a metalwork artist, so the client designed a lot of interesting elements in the home. At the ends of the hallway, there are round porthole stain glass windows of ocean fish and a mermaid, custom-designed by the homeowner.” (Hence, the name, Mermaid Manor.)
Pheasant Hill Homes understands that building a beautiful home by definition will make it more sustainable.
"Structures in Europe are maintained for 100 of years, not just because they are durable, but because they are beautiful. If it’s not beautiful it won’t be maintained. Nobody wants to live in a sustainable home that is ugly."
Jason says he has never been in a house that feels so warm. So, what are the coolest things about this home?
One of the most important elements of a home is the location, and this family retreat is situated on a small island in the harbor off of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, just northeast of the town of Nanaimo: Protection Island, home to only about 350 residents. With only narrow gravel roads, “everything happens at a slow pace here.” While there are some cars, most residents get around using golf carts. So, there’s a golf cart garage that’s part of the property. The vibe is all about unplugging, but with all of the modern conveniences.
“The other thing I love about the house is a full masonry assembly, locally sourced from Vancouver Island,” says Jason. The outdoor side is a giant Rumford fireplace; on the inside is an airtight wood stove insert. The homeowner crafted a custom fire grill outside, with a jellyfish design: the holes are for sticking marshmallows through, making it whimsical and practical at the same time.
Homeowners often wonder what to do with the backsplash behind the stove, as it is one wall that can get quite dirty. In this home, the owner “took a chunk of plate steel that was on the beach—it had to have been there at least 40 years—that was rusted and pitted.” Utilizing the owner’s metal capabilities, Jason worked with the owner to make a beautiful piece of art as a showcase in the kitchen, the heart of the home.
But it really was the journey that Jason loved the most. “This was my favorite project to date,” Jason says. Why? “The process was so collaborative—it was a project that included the whole family. We love the opportunity to have that type of collaboration in our building process for our projects.”
But not everything could be perfect, right? When asked if the builder would have done anything differently, knowing what they know now, he thinks about it for a bit. “We would maybe have put in triple pane windows and would have encouraged them to upgrade the building envelope a bit. We aren’t aware of any issues, but doing these things helps a lot in terms of comfort, and we could have lowered their operating costs over the years even more, so it would have paid off.” Now, all Pheasant Hill Homes are built with triple glazed windows.
No Magic Bullet
We asked Jason if he had any recommendations for homeowners looking to build or renovate in a more sustainable way. “I would encourage people to seek out someone who is experienced in energy efficiency and materials selection, and to understand what the builder is about.” Everyone says they build green, but “homeowners really need to do their homework and understand who they are talking to.”
“Homeowners need to understand the house is a system,” he adds, “and all the components work together. There’s no magic bullet. In choosing the right builder, you have to find someone that is experienced, has done and tried a number of things, and who knows what the costs are going to be.”
Pheasant Hill Homes will do the financial analysis for homeowners—which is somewhat unique among builders. They have people in-house who are capable of energy modeling, passive house trained and net-zero energy trained, “so we do help clients with the cost/benefit analysis. It’s about what the client wants; some want that data, some trust our expertise and go with our recommendation. Every client and every home is different.”
Pretty Good House Philosophy
The “Pretty Good House” philosophy is one that has been gaining traction among builders across the country as a way of appealing to a wider group of both builders and homeowners who may not want to pursue LEED, Passive House, or any other prescriptive building certification program, because it’s either too expensive or too hard. “Pretty Good House” has been touted as a way of getting to better (or much better) than average: better than building code—which is at the low end, but not as far as the extreme, best-in-class program like Living Building Challenge—in order to move the bar towards higher performance buildings.
Pheasant Hill Homes is on board. “The main thing we would like to encourage is the pretty good house strategy. You don’t necessarily have to go through certification. You can strategically use energy efficient building technologies and bring very good value, and it may not cost you any more. There are many ways to build better than code, and easy ways to get excellent returns.”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: 2020-08-06T15:22:07+0000