Low tech country living

Eastern Townships house fits landscape

THE HATLEY HOUSE NEAR MAGOG, Que., sits up a dirt road out in the country amongst rolling hills, its high-pitched gables so typical of the area displayed proudly.

The architecture firms Pelletier de Fontenay and François Abbott Architecture, both of Montreal, collaborated on the three-winged house. According to Yves de Fontenay, associate principal architect at Pelletier de Fontenay, the house is composed of a central communal wing, the master wing, and the guest wing. All three wings have double-height spaces reaching up to eight meters high.

“We had to build on the lot in a kind of a weird, longitudinal row — the way the land was subdivided in Quebec about 300 years ago along the St. Lawrence River,” says de Fontenay. The orientation was created at the time to provide access to the water. He added that the house could only occupy a small percentage of the lot away from the road in order to be classified as agricultural land.

The client wanted a barn-like effect for the exteriors and interiors “instead of a more traditional Victorian house or farm-house,” explains de Fontenay. The house was also to be decidedly low-tech, with a request that no HVAC system be installed.

Temperature control is engineered using structural elements. “They didn’t want to invest in complicated heating and cooling,” says de Fontenay. “The main concept was insulating the house to passive house standards. There is a foam layer all over the outside of the house, providing a complete thermal break. About an R40 on all of the walls and about R70 on all of the roofs, with an insulated slab on grade. There is a very smart air exchanger, no A/C and the heating is all radiant.

“With construction there was also a wood lattice on the perimeter — which is not entirely a sustainable design — but it definitely helps keep the facades cooler with less heat gain.”

He adds that the galvanized steel metal roof has its pros and cons. With no snow accumulation, its insulating properties are lost in winter. “But it definitely helps for reflecting the sun and all of the skylights are electrically operable,” he says.

The region around Hatley house has very strong dominant winds, something de Fontenay learned about from working on two other projects in the area. “There is immense natural ventilation. The house isn’t designed entirely around that, but that is the main cooling method.”

For the cold months, an electrical furnace is joined with a hydronic system embedded in the concrete slab. “Being in Quebec,” he says, “it is great to be able to use electricity as your renewable energy source.”

Exposed polished concrete is spread throughout the whole house, according to de Fontenay, other than the two mezzanines which are entirely clad in birch plywood.”

The owners are happy with their loft barn spaces, he says. “They wanted to be able to host a lot of people and are looking forward to planting trees.”

The finished Then-and-Now project is featured on each issue’s cover. Please submit project suggestions to news@wimediainc.ca.

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