Harnessing the Trias Energetica / by Sustainable

Written by: Donald Peckover


The owners of what would become Willowdale Passive Solar House had a poorly built, leaky, drippy, mouldy home that needed to be torn down. We normally try to salvage stuff and avoid landfill, but there was truly nothing of value here.


Before we met the owners, they themselves met with several architects and green designers to try to get their new home built. He wanted an energy-efficient home with $0 hydro bills. She wanted a healthy indoor environment. They were told they could have one but not the other, whereas we grasped the challenge of both, tackling them head-on to create an energy-efficient, healthy, and affordable home that will last for 100 years. And along the way, for fun, we decided to get LEED Gold Certification.

We first looked to reduce the amount of energy the house used. Central to these exercises was the building envelope: walls, roofs, and foundations. We used all natural materials to create an airtight, well-insulated healthy envelope: concrete, clay, plaster, wood fibre, and rock wool insulation.


No plastics or foams here! All natural, breathable materials provided allergen and VOC-free interiors.

Next, we looked to nature to provide free energy. Large south and west-facing windows collect warm winter sun. Concrete within the home captures passive solar heat and re-radiates it throughout the day and night.


In the summertime, fixed outdoor shades prevent the sun from even entering the home, while maintaining views and indirect lighting. These passive strategies use the power of nature for free – lowering energy use – and avoid large mechanical systems which can blow dust and allergens throughout the house.


Lastly, we used active technologies to generate energy and heat on site. Solar photovoltaic panels make power. Eight 200 foot deep geo-exchange boreholes provide heating and cool capacity. These technologies use nature on the site, avoid connection to the energy grids, and avoid high-polluting and unsafe energy generation methods, such as natural gas and nuclear.

We went above and beyond a typical North York home, and in the end we achieved much greater results by working with the owners to achieve their goals.

By listening to and addressing both energy-efficiency and health, we proved that these are not two mutually exclusive ideas. Working with the contractor we also realized these goals on a budget similar to a typical custom home construction. A truly remarkable achievement.