– The Ottawa Construction News Special Feature
Based in Manotick, The Conscious Builder is part builder, part renovator and part educator, helping clients and communities buy and build better homes.
Owner Casey Grey says he understands that his company can only personally build or renovate a finite number of homes. The company generally takes on two or three at any given time, depending on their scope. He believes though that he can have greater impact beyond those Conscious Builder projects, by arming others with the knowledge and information they need to ask questions, to look for answers and to decide based on the implications of these.
Grey’s own path toward more conscious living and building started four years ago with the pending birth of his first child. “I had been working as a carpenter for seven years, had been out on my own for two and had always had an interest in sustainable construction. Once I knew we were expecting though, that changed the thought process.”
Instead of continuing as he had been, he says he began thinking about what he did, and why. He took the time to educate himself about sustainable building and about living more consciously. His work into more sustainable construction began with his own home.
“We designed our home to meet Passive House standards and use it for open houses, as a tool to inform and educate others.”
He says some clients come to his company because of its sustainable and conscious focus, others through word of mouth, while others just stumble across them seeking a contractor. Whatever they knew before, he says every client needs some degree of education to move forward. “Sometimes they know very little, other times they know a lot but don’t know how much more they can achieve.”
Understanding the unique differences between clients – what they know or don’t, what they want compared with what they need – is critical to helping clients achieve optimal results. He says generally if people know the options, and know the consequences of the options they are presented with, they want what is best for them and for their families. “Not everyone takes all of the suggestions we might make but we do want to present them with ‘have you thought of’ and ‘what if we did… to achieve…’ options.”
Here are some of The Conscious Builder’s projects:
Red Castle Passive House
The Red Castle is Grey’s own home and his first Passive House inspired project. “I wanted to align my own home with my beliefs and values, to use this to learn from, as a stepping stone, and as a tool to educate others.”
Fossil fuel free, the home uses solar panels, air source heat pumps, an air source heat pump water tank, two Enthalpy recovery ventilators (ERV), a water filtration system and drain water heat recovery. All of the systems, Grey says, are simple and easy to maintain as a way of demonstrating energy efficient doesn’t have to be a science experiment, and possible because thought and engineering was focused on the envelope. “We have R100 in the attic, R30 under the slab, R73.5 in the walls and all of the rear windows are south facing.”
The other intent of the home was to demonstrate that sustainable could be beautiful, according to whatever beauty is to the owner. Grey and his wife appreciate a warm, country style look and feel, and that is exactly what designer Vert Design Inc. achieved.
The Conscious Kitchen
Evidence of the potential for sustainable to be beautiful, warm and welcoming is evident in Grey’s kitchen. Designed by Style Haus Interiors, the kitchen uses concrete counter tops by Threshold Design, wood floors made by Logs End of reclaimed wood from the Ottawa River, and cabinets by Kitchen Craft.
The kitchen also features butternut wood sourced from Grey’s mother’s home in Vermont. “The wood appears in the backsplash, on the mantel, in the trim work, and in the custom made stools. Basically we used up whatever we had where we could.”
Powder Room Simplicity
The powder room, a finalist in the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (GOHBA) awards also uses the reclaimed wood flooring and butternut wood. A unique feature of the open space is the deep window sills, reminiscent of the character of a 100-year old home but the result of the super thick insulated walls.
Westboro R-2000 Home
For a home in Westboro, The Conscious Builder was charged with taking an existing design by Flynn Architect that included complex overhangs and open spaces within and upgrading it to R2000.
Grey says, without impacting the interior beauty and functionality, the team was able to focus on extra detailing on the air barrier, upgraded insulation under the slab, in the walls and in the attic, to achieve the desired results.
The Conscious Builder was recognized by GOHBA with Green Renovation of the Year for its work on a Fifth Ave. home. Designer Vert Design Inc. approached The Conscious Builder to help solve the challenge of transforming an older structure on a tight lot into a fossil fuel free home, without touching the front of the house. “Without changing out the windows or adding insulation to the front of the house at all we were able to create a more comfortable home overall that performs better and maintains continuity within, flowing the old into the new.
Grey says a roof, made from 95 per cent recycled material composite blend and with a 50-year warranty and rooftop gardens are some of the more unique and somewhat hidden features.
Another unique renovation on an older home borrowed from existing living and laundry room spaces that were under-utilized to create a more spacious and open grand kitchen and pantry that was better suited to the family’s entertaining needs. A finalist in GOHBA’s Custom Kitchen (241 sq. ft. or more) category, the kitchen also connects to an outdoor patio and the pool area.
Transforming a front porch that was little used and a back porch used even less, The Conscious Builder created a main floor powder room and rear mudroom, expanding the interior living space in this older home.
Also a GOHBA finalist in the Custom Bathroom category, this renovation demonstrates the opportunity of functionality as an inspiration for design.
For more information on The Conscious Builder, visit http://www.theconsciousbuilder. com.