They wanted to build the most energy-efficient home possible – without going off-grid and living the hippie-in-the-woods lifestyle.
The couple, excited to move to Squamish from Vancouver, acquired land in Crumpit Woods in Valleycliffe and started researching energy-efficient systems that would allow them to live according to their values without forgoing all the nice things of life, like warm showers and sunshine pouring in from windows. The more the Schauchs researched, the more they learned how to build a home that can inspire others.
“Off-grid is scary,” says Chantal, in an interview in their new home. “This is just doing better.”
Chantal is a brand strategist whose business is home-based, and Mike commutes to Vancouver four days a week to work as a partner in an investment management company.
Their house conserves energy in many ways – starting with the foundation, which uses insulated concrete forms, considered 60 percent more energy efficient than traditional foundations.
As Chantal shows the foundation blocks in the basement, where she and Mike plan to build a bouldering gym, she also points out the heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system that reduces heating costs and keeps the air cleaner.
In the kitchen is their home’s centerpiece: a large countertop made of recycled glass and recycled porcelain. There’s also an induction stove that boils water almost instantly.
They’re exceptionally proud of their 2,000-gallon rainwater tank. The rain is collected from slanted roofs on their home and is used for flushing toilets and outdoor irrigation.
The tank was only half full last week after a hot, dry spell, but the couple is still hooked up to the municipal water system and can change their habits by flushing or watering less, so there is never a problem. “Every time it does rain, it makes you much more conscious of water and how precious it is,” Chantal says.
They won’t have a lawn to water – “it’s really just a waste,” says Chantal – and are opting instead for rocks and native plants as their landscaping and they are putting in a vegetable garden. The basement of their home includes a suite they’ll rent out, hopefully to someone interested in helping garden.
The landscaping is not yet complete at the house, where they moved in six weeks ago even though parts were still being finished.
The master bedroom is a loft affording spectacular views of the Stawamus Chief, like all homes in the upscale Crumpit Woods neighbourhood. But the Schauchs chose not to install floor-to-ceiling windows because windows cause heating loss. They also placed most of their windows on the south side.
They were careful to choose a builder and designer who shared their passion for conserving energy, and they sourced many of their own materials, such as paint without volatile organic compounds.
Their stairs, beams and entrance bench are made from reclaimed wood. Half of the house sits on its original slab, which has been polished and serves as the flooring for much of the main level. “We didn’t need to put new materials on top of the concrete,” Chantal explains.
Where there is wood flooring, it’s made from eco-laminate wood from forests managed for sustainability. The lights are LED, the appliances Energy Star and the house, they expect, will be EnerGuide certified.
Solar photovoltaic panels will provide electricity, which will help heat floors, and the house also has a woodstove in the living room.
Some of the energy-efficient features are more expensive – especially the solar panels and the set-up for the rainwater collection system – but the Schauchs are unconcerned about the additional costs because of the benefits to the environment. They’re not off-grid, but they’re doing what they can to conserve energy.
“It’s very difficult in our society to take that step and live off-grid. We are just trying to do things better… that’s all anyone of us can do,” says Chantal.
“You have to have people who lead by example,” adds Mike.
Their rainwater collection system, for example, takes pressure off the town system. “If everyone were to do it, it would be a huge cost savings for municipalities,” he points out.
But the expense or potential cost savings of the energy-efficient systems are not their biggest concerns.
“It’s not really about the dollars and cents,” Mike says. “At the end of the day, it’s about your values.”
“I don’t know how we can not afford to do these things,” says Chantal. “Rather than putting in a really expensive kitchen, we put in a rainwater tank. Rather than having an entertainment room, we have a better structure.”
“Our friends don’t care about that stuff and we don’t either,” says Mike.
After selling their condo in Yaletown two years ago, the couple lived in a 600-square-foot apartment by English Bay until six weeks ago, when they moved into their Crumpit Woods home. It seems huge by comparison.
Mike says a monk once remarked, “It’s OK to live in a big house if at first you live in a small house.”
He’s happy they purged and were careful about not acquiring too many material goods. “You don’t need possessions to feel fulfilled,” Mike says.
But they do have a few precious items on display, including wood art created by a friend and a magnetic world map that covers a whole wall. They will put magnets on all the places they have been in the world to date – about 20 countries, including some in the Third World.
“We will be reminded of what we love to do, and reminded of how good we have it here,” says Chantal.
On a long trek in Nepal in 2012, she and Mike met little girls whose education they now sponsor, so their new home also includes a room with bunk beds for one day when the girls will visit. They girls are now seven and 11 years old and live in a remote village of farmers and yak herders, and the Schauchs are ensuring they get an education.
The house also includes another guest room where their niece and nephew or friends from the city can come de-stress in the quieter, back-to-nature Squamish lifestyle.
In the end, it’s not about the house or its features, but rather about building a place where they feel comfortable and that reflects their values.
“It’s not about having a building. It’s about having a home,” says Mike.
The couple is happy to be living in Squamish rather than in the busy city.
“I feel humbled,” says Chantal. “I feel very fortunate. I need that space… that healing, that connection with nature. Now we get to live where we were spending our weekends.”
Mike adds, “I kind of feel like someone is going to pinch me and I will wake up in Toronto.”
@ Copyright 2015 Squamish Chief