The high performance Warburg house by bioi was built for under $100,00 The high performance Warburg house by bioi was built for under $100,000. © Alison Anderson

A High Performance Home on a Shoe String Budget

Ecohome June 1, 2012, 6:36 a.m.
Camille Ouelette

Seeking to balance function, efficiency and budget is not an easy task; but this was the brief provided for the Warburg house. The question posed by the client was simple: could a contemporary and energy efficient home be built for less than $100,000?

On a wooded Canadian farmstead in rural Alberta, the new house replaces a dwelling that was no longer able to fulfill its function. The architectural concept for the new home was simple: open, flexible, and efficient.

The first problem the architects encountered was a high water table on the building site, so to meet both budgetary and durability targets, the house floats 200mm above ground on screw piles (support  posts). A combination steel and wood frame allowed for a seamless R40 floor, and eliminates the concerns of water infiltration and frost heave.

Warburg house
© bioi

Two steel frames make up the main structure of the home and with double offset 2x4 walls, the R32 building envelope eliminates thermal bridging. The simple form creates a singular interior volume. The exterior skin is draped in black corrugated steel sheets long enough to extend the full length of the house.

Both the east and west end-walls are punched into the form to create an announcement of entry and provide a small weather break for the entry doors on either side. The opposed entrances offer morning and evening natural light as well as passive cooling in the summer months.


The interior volume is simple and minimally detailed. The space is differentiated by two elements: the structural steel frames, and an interior birch-clad 'box' that houses all of the functional elements of the house including the kitchen, mechanical equipment, a full bathroom with laundry, and storage.

Windows and skylights are positioned to take full advantage of the natural light from the southern exposure, and are detailed with extruded wooden frames that accentuate their placement and views. To provide comfortable living in a small space, the Warburg house is essentially divided into two halves, a public side a private side.

With a well-insulated building envelope, high performance mechanical systems and radiant heat in the polished concrete floor, this modest-sized one bedroom house earned the highest EnerGuide rating possible for a home that is not net-zero.

By incorporating emerging technologies and innovative construction methodologies, a fundamental step towards a more affordable, efficient, and functional system of residential architecture has been realized.

Warburg house
© bioi

Warburg house
© bioi

About bioi

Bioi is a small design studio based in Alberta, Canada. With a focus on innovation in architecture as well as construction, bioi seeks to further what we currently accept as typical in standard building practice. With over 35 years of experience in architecture, construction, industrial and graphic design, bioi is a collaborative studio under its principals Jordan Allen and Ryan Trefz.  bioi.

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