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Take a look inside the super-green home of Matt Gilgan

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The super-green, passive-solar, straw-bale home of Matt Gilgan sits among the traditional Tudors of Oakville. Mr. Gilgan is the eldest son of billionaire home builder Peter Gilgan who started Mattamy Homes in 1978. In fact, “Mattamy” is a blend of “Matthew” and “Amy,” the two oldest of Mr. Gilgan’s eight children. Matt Gilgan left the company six years ago and shortly after purchased the 1870 stucco-clad worker’s cottage on Oakville’s Chisholm Street, a designated heritage building associated with a tannery that was once the town’s largest employer.

Benjamin Petrie

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While maintaining the heritage elements, Mr. Gilgan set out to explore cutting-edge sustainable ideas he wasn’t able to pursue during his time with Mattamy: “I wanted to see all these things I’d heard about and read about and evaluate them for myself,” he says. After finding Milton-based architect Tom Kolbasenko of Our Cool Blue, Mr. Gilgan set to work on “deconstructing” the non-heritage elements of the house to prepare it for its green reawakening.

Benjamin Petrie

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Unfortunately, the old foundation proved to be so poor, extra time and money was spent re-supporting the home on steel beams, which he sarcastically calls “a minor setback.” New parts of the home would have walls made of straw bale sealed with earthen plaster, which, he says, most people associate with hobbit-like structures in the country (a myth he wants to disprove), so Camel’s Back Construction near Peterborough was brought on board as well. The home would have a large passive-solar element, a geothermal system, radiant floors and plenty of recycled material.

Benjamin Petrie

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The massive, $25,000 soapstone fireplace, says Mr. Gilgan, was a joy to watch go together. Plates of stone were “stacked to make this weaving, three-dimensional maze” that directs heat on a long journey before delivering it to the chimney; this, he explains, traps most of the heat within the stone (to radiate for hours and warm the house) rather than wasting it. “Fireplaces are getting a bad rap in some circles,” he adds. “Usually, they’re wide open and you’re not capturing much of the heat – but this, it burns very efficiently and we’ve been using it on the cold, cold days and it’s amazing.”

Benjamin Petrie

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The Valcucine kitchen.

Benjamin Petrie

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Second floor bridge. In addition to recycled wood, some parts of the concrete floors are clad with a half-inch of local clay mixed with straw bits and sand that came, literally, from a big hole at a construction site. While it took three weeks to air-dry, Mr. Gilgan says it’s “quite durable” and “very repairable.”

Benjamin Petrie

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Detail of stairwell wall a three-dimensional work of art – bits of lath, chain, barn board, copper pipe and old grills all jumble together – that came about because Mr. Gilgan had been itching to use all the bits he’d been collecting over the years (some salvaged from dad’s construction sites, some from this house). There is an earthen plaster sink upstairs that was built on-site and sealed by a Moroccan process known as “tadelakt.” An old claw-foot tub has been repurposed as a dog-washing station in the basement. And, finally, there is a “truth window” in the master bathroom upstairs (most straw bale homes leave one small square of wall open to show the bales behind the plaster).

Benjamin Petrie

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Tree detail in straw bale wall. The home doesn’t need a conventional furnace. Solar energy is captured in the stone-clad walls of the tall, south-facing solarium. Standing on the home’s second floor floating bridge, Mr. Gilgan points to a series of air intakes that can, if needed, direct that free heat via fans to the middle of the home or, if that’s too warm, all the way down to the basement, or, in summer, eject it outside.

Benjamin Petrie

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Stairwell light made from recycled pipe.

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Another view of the stairwell artistic wall made from found materials.

Benjamin Petrie

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The master bedroom. Mr. Gilgan is putting the home on the market in the next few weeks, asking $4.5-million. His next adventure, he says, is to try and enroll his two children into Bali’s The Green School while he and his wife learn even more about sustainable practices.

Benjamin Petrie

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