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A novel concept 

In the ultimate homeowner experiment, Solterre Design’s concept cottage is a prime example of green, off-grid living done to the fullest.

Off-grid and on point in Second Peninsula.
  • Off-grid and on point in Second Peninsula.

Solterre Design's concept cottage is where work, play and home intersect for Keith Robertson and Jennifer Corson. It's a demonstration project---and a bit of an experiment---for the pair of architects, but it's also their second home, a place they hope to retire. Built at 3 Pastures on the stunning Second Peninsula of Nova Scotia's south shore, this wholly green-minded project is nothing short of ambitious.

"There are a lot of things, as we work in a green building field, that we were hearing and reading and researching about and not all of them are tried in the Maritime climate, with our building materials," says Corson of the project Solterre started sketching out about two years ago. "We really wanted a chance to try out a few things before we subjected our clients to them."

This thoughtful research resulted in a 1,500 square foot home that meets both LEED for Homes platinum certification and the high energy efficiency Passive House standards. "It was a chance to try out a dozen different things that we were curious about, everything from energy to materials," adds Corson. That curiosity lead Solterre to use recycled glass in the septic field, re-purpose as many salvaged materials as possible, reuse broken window glass in concrete and incorporate a green roof into the home's design. The cottage also operates completely off-grid, using only about a quarter of the electricity that the average house uses per day.

That means this home is a sun- worshipper, making good use of solar thermal panels (from Dartmouth's Thermo Dynamics) and solar electric panels, with a low emission wood stove and propane boiler as a heating backups. And if you're picturing a long, cold and bundled-up winter, don't. "The level of comfort in a Passive House is phenomenal. It's life in t-shirts in the winter," says Corson of the pair's first season in Second Peninsula. "Passive House sometimes anecdotally says you can heat your house with a hair dryer. You can walk away from your house in the middle of winter, turn the heat off and not worry about it freezing," adds Robertson. The cottage's balmy temperatures comes thanks to insulation, ventilation and the fact the it's designed to soak up as much winter sun as possible. "Now we're able to prove that that is the case. In January we were away for eight days and would shut off the heat, and the coldest it got was 12 degrees."

Continuing on its very green path, the house also features LED lighting, rainwater collection, high efficiency plumbing and appliances, with any cooking done via a propane stone. "Life is actually surprisingly normal for us," says Corson. "We're not roughing it at all. We're just aware that it is smarter to do laundry when the sun is shining, same with the dishwasher. And shower in the daytime or early evening. It feels great to take a free shower."

The list of ecologically conscious decisions Robertson, Corson and the Solterre team made is a lengthy one, but the pair says it's important to note that most of the details they've pushed the envelope with could be done in any house. And Corson says, a Passive House can be built anywhere. "You don't have to be on a country lot with a well and a green roof. Different components work for certain projects. We were just wanting to try it all."


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