This Island home, nestled in an untouched forest, was built with energy efficiency and ecosystem restoration in mind.
BY NESSA PULLMAN | PHOTOS BY MATT SHANNON
When Jillian Buriak and Michael Brett first came to look at the overgrown one-acre lot on the northwestern tip of North Saanich, they were glad they came prepared.
“We had on our hiking boots and bushwacked our way through,” says Buriak. “We knew instantly this was the place for us.”
Both Buriak and Brett are semi-retired professors with a passion for the outdoors, and had a dream of building an energy-efficient home surrounded by the vast ecosystems of the West Coast. With backgrounds in chemistry and mechanical engineering, designing their home was as much a science project as it was a building project for this couple. They reached out to local design-and-build company Villamar to tackle this unique job.
“Going in, the clients had an impressive amount of knowledge on renewable energy,” says Drew Mackie, construction manager at Villamar Construction. “It was certainly a team effort integrating their knowledge with ours.”
The one-acre lot consisted of an untouched second-growth forest that housed multiple micro-ecosystems, and it was important to the homeowners that they made as little of an impact on the land as possible. This meant removing as few trees and leaving as many native plant species undisturbed as possible.
Duane Ensing, designer at Villamar Design, had to get creative in mapping out the footprint of the home to avoid damaging any mature trees or essential plant species. The end design consisted of a unique three-structure home, staggered on an angle in between towering trees.
“I wanted the home to blend into the woods as if it were a part of the forest,” says Ensing.
The largest structure of the three consists of the main living area, two bedrooms and a gym, while the mirroring structure hosts a private suite and a double garage to store the clients’ outdoor equipment.
Ensing opted for a modern Scandinavian style that would endorse creative angles and unique esthetic choices — all of which allow for the distinct structural requirements for energy-efficient applications. One, in particular, is a six-inch-thick Rockwool exterior insulation which allows for almost no heat transfer. Because the walls are so thick, the builder was able to integrate the roof’s gutters and drains into the wall cavity, creating a clean and simple flush roof overhang typical of Scandinavian design. In addition to heavy insulation, profound airtight measures were applied at all surface penetrations leading outdoors.
For the interior of the home, simple, purposeful, function-driven elements were the client’s wish. Ensing, along with Megan McKeage, a residential designer at Villamar, designed the space with crisp white walls and natural hardwood floors for a clean envelope shell — allowing the outdoor landscape to flow into the home through thoughtfully placed windows and skylights.
Because the clients wanted a minimal footprint, there is no traditional backyard, which would have demanded more tree removal. Instead, the vast woods surround the home’s edgy exterior.
“We didn’t need a home that was primarily esthetically pleasing,” says Buriak. “We needed a useful space — one that provided function and efficiency.”
In addition to wanting to save energy, the clients requested important seismic components be added to the structure in case an event should occur. Mackie and the team built structural steel moment frames on all levels of the home to raise it to commercial seismic standards.
“We were constantly balancing the vision for the home with the physical land barriers,” says Mackie. “It took a lot of thoughtful pre-planning and customary problem solving.”
The result is a modern, eco-friendly home that is highly resourceful. For the homeowners, looking at design through a scientific lens produced a uniquely satisfying result.
“I can look around my home and justify every decision we made with an evidence-based answer,” says Buriak.
Building designer: Villamar Design / Duane Ensing
Interior designer: Villamar Design / Megan McKeage
Construction manager: Villamar Construction / Drew Mackie
Electrician: EM Electrical
Engineering: UNISOL Engineering / Munro Engineering
Finishing carpentry: Harrison Custom Woodworking
Custom millwork: Harbour City Kitchens / Deep Cove Customs
Stairs: Broadwell Metal Company
Pavers: Rocks + Stones Masonry