What’s a Green Retrofit?
A green retrofit is an environmentally conscious renovation or building upgrade (exterior and/or interior). It involves implementing sustainable design principles and incorporating energy-saving technologies and practices to reduce the building’s environmental impact and enhance its overall performance.
A green retrofit may include various measures such as improving insulation, upgrading windows and doors to enhance thermal performance, installing energy-efficient lighting systems, integrating renewable energy sources like solar panels and using eco-friendly building materials. It can also involve reusing and repurposing existing elements of the build.
In addition to environmental benefits, green retrofits, if done right, result in long-term cost savings through reduced energy and water usage. Overall, green retrofits play a vital role in transforming existing buildings into more sustainable and energy efficient structures, aligning with the goals of environmental stewardship and sustainable development. An efficient home means not only reduced electricity bills and water use, but also improved insulation, air quality and circulation, noise control and natural light.
Insulation and Efficiency
The first step towards improved efficiency is enhanced insulation. In the case of Beaver lane, this meant taking out the slab (the foundation) and insulating it. In this process, the slab supporting the bathroom, mudroom, mechanical room and Alli’s painting studio was replaced and insulated.
Alli van Gruen's cozy art studio on the ground floor of the house. A northern orientation means the least fluctuating light throughout the day, ideal for creating art.
That way, we were able to add an additional 6 inches in headroom and achieve standard height (this worked wonders for the studio). That was just the beginning; the entire foundation (inside and outside) of the house was gutted and re-insulated, as well as the inside and outside walls and truss roof. As a result, the house has no thermal breaks. In addition to the slab and the walls, the windows were also upgraded from double to triple glazed. A number of old doors and windows were repurposed for use in construction of remote cabins.
The Masonry Stove (Kachelofen)
A unique feature of this house was the existing masonry stove. “When we first saw the house, Ian was intrigued by the masonry stove downstairs. It was much bigger before than what it is now”, recalls Alli. An efficient layout needs to make a big difference not just in terms of practicality, but also in terms of energy efficiency. In this retrofit, one of the key structural alterations was placing the masonry stove in the centre of the house.
The remodel was executed by the amazing Carl and Stefan at SIDL Masonry Heating. Most of the old tiles on the stove were sold for reuse.
Before the renovation, the stove was located in the corner of a large room, isolated from the rest of the house. Thanks to the new, central placement, the whole household could benefit from its heating surface during the long winter season.
Whether it's warming mittens, drying jackets or keeping a furry friend warm, the stove became the hearth, and heart, of the home. “In the winter months, I would start the stove in the early morning, and it would keep the house warm for the entire day”, said Ian. The original stove was fully covered in bespoke emerald tiles; three of which were kept on the new white stucco finish (see photos).
It’s All About the Details
This particular retrofit had three main goals: (1) enhancing overall energy efficiency, (2) improving the layout and (3) reusing original components of the house. “The original build is from 1979,” says Alli. ”The interior was wood from head to toe; kitchen cabinets and walls were all alpine natural wood finish. There was so much intricate work (see before and after photos in the gallery). “It wouldn’t be to everybody's taste but it was a labor of love.” Ian adds: “We loved the combination of vertical and diagonal, which is common in ski cabins. We liked that look, but we needed a little bit less.”
Much of this “wooden interior” was the paneling throughout the whole house. The original cedar wood wall cladding was carefully removed, stored and then refitted for the perfect finish. Because each panel was different length and thickness, refitting the wall was a protracted, but worthwhile process.
Knowledge and patience are always key elements of a successful refit. In the living room, the red brick wall section was left as a reminder of the original space. The glass railing on the staircase through the centre of the house opens up the common space. “The carpeted stairs had a Brady Bunch feel, we liked that”, says Alli.
The Living room. On the right is a piece by Lil'wat Nation artist Levi Nelson; piece by Taralee Guild on the left.
The Retrofitted Bathroom
“Our bathrooms had wood paneling, and I liked the cozy feeling. I wanted all the bathrooms to all have wood paneling.”, says Alli. Smaller details such as the original 1970’s light fixtures were retrofitted with LEDs. “We really liked the light they gave off, I thought they were funky, and I didn’t want something super sleek and modern, I was having a hard time finding something that worked and wasn’t tacky. The whole time we were trying to reuse what we had”.
“The bathroom mirror was from our old house and just comes with us wherever we go”, adds Ian. The swanky medicine cabinets complementing these bathroom spaces were custom made by Redl Kitchen Studio to accommodate the fixtures.
“The armoir in our son's bedroom is from our old house. We brought it here because we needed more storage. Before the renovation, we had it in our relatively small entry. When the renovation began, we at first wanted to put the armoir in the TV room, but it wouldn’t fit in. The perfect fit for it was found at the end of the renovation (see photos), in the entry. The armoir was originally built by local millworker Yves Wenger at Mountain Design Inc. He also built a chest of drawers for us in the guest room.”
An Artful Palette
“It was important for us to have a neutral palette in the house”, said Alli. “We like to add colour to our spaces through art”. Many of the pieces in the house are Alli’s own (eg. kitchen, master bedroom). Others are the work of a host of emerging and established Canadian painters, such as Christina Nick (entry), Levi Nelson (living room) and Taralee Guild (hallway). The bench is a Balinese thrift from North Vancouver.
Dining area and kitchen entry. Bespoke painting by Toronto-based artist Patti Aziz. “The painting features our whole family outside our old house, on a snowy day. It’s one of my favourites”, says Alli.
Interior Design Guidance and Coordination
Interior design on this project was done in house by Katarina Schreyer in collaboration with the van Gruens. What does that mean in practice? Katarina assisted Ian and Alli in developing the exterior and interior palette of material and color specifications. The process often involves things like joint trips to showrooms or running samples. “Usually, this is a fun and satisfying experience for both clients and us”, says Katarina. The new layout for the retrofit, as well as the exterior, were designed by Crossland Doak Design.
Cost Perspective On Balance
In conclusion, you might want to consider green retrofitting before deciding to tear down. The benefits are many.
For one, consider demolition and disposal costs. Then there are property taxes, which are normally much lower for renovations and retrofits than new builds. A green retrofit is typically, overall, kinder to the environment than a regular renovation or new build. To incentivize homeowners for the retrofit, there are also a number of retrofit grants available across Canada. For information on green rebate schemes and eligibility in British Columbia, check out our Green Renovation Rebate Schemes blog.