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Yakisugi Passive House on Vancouver Island Blends Science and Beauty

By Camille LeFevre Rise Writer
Apr 12, 2021

The small town of Ladysmith, located on the east coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, has a local economy based on forestry, tourism, and agriculture. So, when Gabrielle Lee and her family decided to build a sustainable home in the area, after purchasing a 76-acre parcel, they were determined to minimize their impact on the environment any way they could. 

"We wanted to offset the intrusion on the agricultural land of which I am now the steward," Lee says, "and create a structure that will be of service to future generations." She sought out Pheasant Hill Homes, located in nearby Nanaimo, as the company is known for designing and constructing energy-efficient homes. The company's owner, Ken Connolly, is a Passive House consultant and a zero-net-energy home builder. 

Yakisugi House Pergola
Yakisugi House Pergola. Photo Credit: HA Photography

Building sustainably, Lee adds, "reduces the daily [environmental] stress of inefficient heating, and of wasting water and other natural resources. "As it is my intention to take care of the land in an ecologically responsible way, I am interested in the ways that the damage can be minimized by mathematics and engineering principles based on physics." 

That's why she chose to build a Passive House. "We love the science-based solutions, and the mathematics is a comfort to us," she says of the Passive House methodology, which is a rigorous, performance-based, and energy-efficiency construction standard based on five core principles. 

Yakisugi House Hallway
Yakisugi House Hallway. Photo Credit: HA Photography

Foam-Free Passive House 

"We took on the challenge of building the house, which required all of our experience," says Jamie Kuhn, project consultant, Pheasant Hill Homes. The biggest challenge, he continues, "was that the homeowner didn't want to use any foam products and wanted to use the most environmentally friendly products in her home." 

"Our deep desire was to minimize intrusion on the site," Lee says. "For example, despite the cost, we decided not to use any foam products at all in the construction."

Yakisugi House Floor Construction
Yakisugi House Floor Construction. Photo Credit: HA Photography

For the Pheasant Hill team, that meant "We had to find a way to design the home specifically around these parameters while still meeting Passive House standards,' Kuhn says.  "We did that by designing the house with an unconditioned crawl space while using cellulose and rock wool to insulate the floor system," he says.

Yakisugi House Cellulose
Yakisugi House Cellulose. Photo Credit: HA Photography

What Insulation Was Used, in Place of Foam to Build This Passive House?

The R-57 floors include R-50 dense-pack cellulose in the 11 7/8-inch I-joist floor system and R-7 Roxul (mineral or rock wool) comfort board on the underside of the I-joists over the cold crawlspace. 

The team achieved R-47 walls using fiberglass batts in the 2x4 exterior walls and R-32 dense-pack cellulose between Larson trusses attached to the exterior sheathing. The R-64 ceiling has R-50 blown-in insulation and R14 fiberglass batts

Yakisugi House Larsen Truss
Yakisugi House Larsen Truss Construction. Photo Credit: HA Photography

"This worked so well," Kuhn says of the super-insulated enveloped, "that we are using it again on another high-performance building." 

Yakisugi House HRV
Yakisugi House HRV. Photo Credit: HA Photography

The air-tight home has Euroline triple-pane windows and a Zhender HRV system that provides consistent fresh air year-round. 

Yakisugi Rain Barrel
Yakisugi Rain Barrel. Photo Credit: HA Photography

How Did the Home Use a Rainwater Catchment System For All its Water Needs?

All of the water for the 1,800-square-foot home is rainwater collected from the roof and stored in five cisterns, totaling 5,500 gallons of storage, located in the crawlspace. The complete rainwater harvesting system includes a pumping system and a whole-house UV disinfection unit. The house does not have a well and is not connected to any other water source. 

Yakisugi House Bathroom
Yakisugi House Bathroom. Photo Credit: HA Photography

"A challenge many local people deal with is difficulty procuring water from wells," says Lee. "To avoid importing water from Nanaimo, we devised a way to harvest rainwater into cisterns. We also had to decide on a septic system. We found the 'type 2' BIONEST system, which is basically a mini-treatment facility." The cisterns, she continues, "allow us to use water more efficiently by using tank-less toilets."

Sustainable Interiors 

Lee applauds the Pheasant Hill team for "making time for extensive meetings to discuss every detail, no matter how minute," she says. "For instance, we had difficulty finding formaldehyde-free cabinetry, and they were able to involve Oak Hills Woodcraft to provide custom, locally sourced, white-oak cabinets."

Yakisugi House Kitchen
Yakisugi House Kitchen. Photo Credit: HA Photography

Pheasant Hills also locally sourced the Pacific maple floors. Tile was used for the great room and bathrooms. The kitchen countertops are stainless steel with a matte finish. The bathroom countertops are from the Silestone Eco Line Series.  

"To source materials throughout the home that meet the client's expectations, we used local and benign materials as much as possible," Kuhn says. 

Yakisugi House Baseboard Detail
Yakisugi House Baseboard Detail. Photo Credit: HA Photography

All of the woodwork in the house was sourced from Vancouver Island. The site manager Gerry Boy was instrumental in designing and crafting all of the wood fittings, the dining table, and the tokonoma. (Located at the far end of the tatami room, the tokonoma is a decorative area where a Japanese scroll, painting or calligraphy, seasonal flowers, or other ornaments are displayed.) The dining table was crafted from deadfall maple wood found on the property, as were most of the trim details and the tokonoma. 

Yakisugi Shou Sugi Ban Closeup
Yakisugi Shou Sugi Ban Closeup. Photo Credit: HA Photography

Japanese Inspiration 

Lee and her family spend much of their time in Japan and admire "the useful and sustainable items" used in home construction that "predate the use of fossil fuels," she says. In addition to designing and constructing a Passive House, the new home needed to include "Japanese flair," says Jamie Kuhn, project consultant, Pheasant Hill Homes. 

Yakisugi House Shou Sugi Ban
Yakisugi House Shou Sugi Ban. Photo Credit: HA Photography

What Japanese Features Were Included in the Home?

Shou sugi ban or Yakisugi charred wood, board-and-batten siding, a custom-crafted Yakisugi timber-frame pergola, and a custom-made Yakisugi rain barrel were all built for this Passive House. All of the red-cedar siding was burned on-site by Pheasant Hill's carpenters and treated with tung oil.  

Yakisugi House Tatami Room
Yakisugi House Tatami Room. Photo Credit: HA Photography

Lee also wanted a tatami room, but there was a catch. "As much as we love tatami rooms, we were disappointed that we could not find a sustainable source," she says. "Although we have local craftspeople in Vancouver who can make tatami, the material has to be sourced from Japan." The wa-modern room is filled with Japanese woodwork. The home also has spalted maple baseboard trims, custom barn doors, and simple and clean lines.

Yakisugi House Angle
Photo Credit: HA Photography

The house will be completed in May 2021, with the family moving in shortly thereafter. "An additional challenge is our effort to offset active energy consumption as much as possible," Lee says. "In pursuance of this goal, we will probably install the latest available solar energy solution when we move in."  

Meanwhile, she adds, the family is looking forward to enjoying their new Passive House. "We are most excited," Lee says, "to have found workable solutions to be more at ease in terms of our environmental impact." 

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: 2021-04-22T18:43:24+0000