What is the best option for building our next resilient home?

John Bae Published: Aug. 27, 2019, 3:55 p.m.Last updated: Sept. 6, 2019, 8:48 p.m.

We are currently living within the GTA area but looking to buy a land (within the next couple of years) about 2 hours away from the central Toronto area and build a new home. It will be a small 2-bedroom bungalow or rancher (just under 1400 sqft) that we would keep, essentially forever.

We are both few years away from retirement. Once we build the house, we plan to travel for about 4 to 5 months of the year (mostly winter and few months in summer) mostly in USA & Canada. As we become older, we plan to live in the house for longer durations.

Given this, what would be a sensible approach in building this house? Of course, we are interested in health/comfort, lower energy cost and longevity during the ownership of the house. Basement space is a nice to have but not a must if that significantly helps reduce build cost.

I have read many of the articles posted on this site but starting a such process still appears to be rather daunting. Assuming the land does not have any city hookup infrastructure, is it realistic for us to build a fully liveable "passive" house for under $350-$400kCA (land excluded in this price)?

Thank you.

Responses (1)

Ecohome Aug. 28, 2019, 10:25 a.m. Reply

Hi John,

Our recommendations to everyone building a home is for the same, aim for energy efficiency, durability, safe indoor air quality and responsible material choices etc. All that would apply still in our minds when a house will be left to sit unattended for a winter, so look through our green building guide for high performance construction techniques, and on top of that, we would suggest you take extra time on resilient home design. Since you won’t be there a lot of the time, try to foresee any issues your home may face and add design features to deal with them passively.

Here is a short list of measures you might want to consider that will help protect your home while you are away for long periods, and we have included as many relevant links as we can think of:

Choose a suitable lot to build a home with consideration put towards soil quality, water tables, emergency service access, and close enough to a community so you could have someone on call that can attend to your home regularly.  

Super-insulated homes such as passive house, and designing a home for passive solar heat collection will keep your energy costs at a minimum and also help it stay warm in the event of power failures.

When you suggest a basement, my first thought would be to avoid that and stay above grade. Building a basement is typically a more expensive way to build, and even if you take measures to protect it against flooding, you will still be at risk. A slab on grade house on high ground will safeguard your home against extreme weather events in a changing climate.  

If you do choose to go with a basement, please see our guide to durable and healthy basement construction, and take extra durability measures such as installing a sump pump, possibly a second one depending on water tables, and even a battery backup.

Choose durable roofing materials to protect against high winds, such as a professionally installed and well-fastened metal roof, or a living green roof. Asphalt shingles are the least durable and are susceptible to damage from wind and hail.

Smart homes and home monitoring with devices– control the systems of your home remotely, and monitor for intruders, temperature swings, and get smart phone notices for leaks from basements and or appliances.

We make no secret of the fact that we prefer slab on grade homes over basements, and particularly in your situation. Aside from what we mention above, it’s great to have a retirement home on a single level so you can avoid the need to negotiate stairs if you have mobility issues in the future. That said, we also have information on downsizing and home design for seniors, that you may want to consider now for when your travelling days end.

For additional inspiration, we have a few demo homes we have built that meet much of the criteria described above; the LEED V4 Platinum Edelweiss House, our LEED Platinum Kenogami House, and our newest demo house in Wakefield QC has a feature that may be of interest, we installed a solar air heated floor. That way a large portion of your heating demand could be provided by a small solar panel running a fan, to help keep your home warm during extended power failures. You might also want to read up on Passive House certification - as having an official certification for your new home has been shown to increase it's value in the future.

Finally, to address the issue of cost – yes, you will put more money into a durable and efficient home, but they pay for themselves in the long run. As you plan to stay in this for the long term, we truly believe that the added investment for a greener home will pay off. The best way to keep costs down is to keep the size down and the design simple, so take time to consider how big a home you really need.

And given that you aren’t starting to build right way, keep an eye out for more information on our site in the near future about high performance and affordable prefab kit homes
We hope that helps, good luck!