Cozy with concrete
Bungalow in Edmonton's Laurier Heights is a pioneer of a more sustainable form of construction
Natasha and Ben Chiam's modern bungalow is a lot of things: soundproof, sustainable, environmentally friendly, fire resistant and hurricane and tornado proof. But above all else, Ms. Chiam says, "it's just a really amazing family home."
The house was custom built for the couple and their two young children back in 2010. At the time, it was a pioneer of insulated concrete form (ICF) construction and a uniquely modern single-family home in leafy Laurier Heights, a mature neighbourhood in an upscale part of west Edmonton.
Today, the home still makes an impression with a metal roof, apple and forest-green accents; metal, cedar and concrete siding; large windows; and lofty ceilings. Located at 13503 86th Avenue, it's currently on the market for $1,624,800.
"It was kind of an experiment I guess," Ms. Chiam admits. "We'd built a Craftsman-style home a few years earlier and really loved the design process, but we felt that look wasn't really us any more. Our family was growing so we needed more space."
The large lot with an expansive backyard overlooking a ravine was just what the family was looking for and they wasted no time finding a buyer for the two-storey Victorian home that came with it. With the heritage property relocated to an acreage outside Calgary and the couple armed with design inspiration from architecture and design magazines, they could move forward with their modern vision.
"With this house we wanted to try to build something as environmentally conscious as possible and reduce our carbon footprint, especially as we were looking to build something bigger," Ms. Chiam says. "Ben really loves that west coast modern look and we also wanted a house that was really easy to maintain, so we decided to break the mould and go with concrete."
ICFs consist of interior and exterior rigid foam panels which lock together like Lego. Concrete is then poured inside creating a superinsulated, soundproof, resilient structure. In fact, ICF construction is so resilient that it's often used to create safe rooms within homes in tornado and hurricane prone areas.
"At that time it was pretty unusual to build a whole house using ICFs; mostly ICFs were, and still are, used for foundations with a traditional wood frame on top" says Mike Sczesny of Fuse Architecture, who built the home in collaboration with Serenity Contracting. "I had never designed with ICFs before but Ben and Natasha were keen to build the most sustainable home they could and they wanted to do that with concrete."
In the past seven years, Mr. Sczesny has seen an increasing interest in ICF construction in Alberta.
"I've built a few homes entirely with ICFs more recently and I think there's definitely more awareness of it as a material now. At the end of last year Alberta made some big changes to it's residential energy code which I'm sure will also have an impact," he says. "It costs a little more money, but you do save on construction time in the short term and energy bills in the long term, so the trade offs are there."
Though more expensive than traditional construction methods, ICF homes are proven to require up to 44 per cent less energy to heat and 32 per cent less energy to cool.
"Up front the cost of [ICF] was significant but we did see a reduction in our energy consumption," Ms. Chiam says. "We went with concrete floors with in-floor heating and we never needed air conditioning. The concrete house is 2,500 square feet on the main level which is 800 square feet bigger than our old wood-frame house and we were paying a little less for our energy bills there."
In addition to the home's modern aesthetic and energy efficiency, Ms. Chiam says its greatest appeal lies in its thoughtful design.
"The sun hits the different rooms at the optimal times of the day and there's so many big windows that you barely need to turn on the lights in summer," she says. "We get cross breezes through the house when it's hot out and we have this beautiful backyard for the kids to play in which is overlooked by the kitchen."
"It's just provided us with a sanctuary, really," she adds. "It's a sociable house where everyone congregates in the living spaces rather than the bedrooms and it's very private and quiet. It's a place you enjoy spending time and that's what we wanted."
Mr. Sczesny agrees, the house was a triumph.
"Since they put the house on the market a couple of months ago it's been getting some attention, for sure. I've had people call up and ask if I can design them their own version of it. It's a house people really love."
Sadly, Ms. Chiam's health now requires a change in their living layout and the family have recently undertaken another major construction project, their fourth in just 13 years, on a property just a few blocks away.
"I have rheumatoid arthritis and I've had multiple knee and hip replacements throughout my life," she explains. "That's why we built the house as a bungalow in the first place. And while it is a bungalow, it does have stairs from the drive under garage up to the main level. We realized that in the long term we really needed a true bungalow with no stairs at all."
Their new home is an culmination of all of their design and construction experience with lots of inspiration from architecture and design-website Houzz.
"It's a 1950s bungalow which we've renovated to add 1000 square feet and an attached garage onto the back," Ms. Chiam explains. "We love it because from the front you can't tell it's been renovated but when you step inside it's just not what you expect. It's been a really fun project to work on."
"We've taken a lot of what we loved about the modern house and incorporated it into this renovation," she adds, "we're even using the same builder, this is the third house we've built with him."
Ms. Chiam is currently recovering from her most recent hip replacement in their new home and says moving on was a good decision.
"Recovery definitely would have been a little harder for me in the old house because of the stairs. Plus this way we got to feed our need to keep building and renovating houses with our latest project," she says laughing, "what can I say, we're serial in-fillers."