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70A Hillside Dr. N., Toronto

Asking price: $4,125,000

Taxes: $10,407.20 (2024)

Lot size: 57 by 25 by 39 feet (irregular)

Listing agent: Carlo Pietracupa, HomeLife/Realty One Ltd.

The future of energy-efficient home building can be found on a residential street at the edge of Toronto’s Don Valley, according to its owner and builder.

In 2019, Dirk Lubker took his engineering knowledge and built his dream retirement home, sparing no expense to customize it with technologies typically limited to commercial buildings but which can be used to solve some of life’s annoyances.

“The house probably runs on half what a normal house does,” and it would do even better if there weren’t a few energy-draining special features, according to Mr. Lubker. “In the future, when people don’t have the money to waste any more on energy … that’s the way houses are going to be done. It’s completely done on computer – it’s completely automatic – I have it all on my iPad.”

Mr. Lubker’s company, Inviro Engineered Systems, specializes in hydronics, which is water-based heating technology that makes use of boilers and piping. “We do all the Walmart distribution centres, Canadian Tire stores coast to coast, we designed a lot of marijuana grow ops,” he said – though he stresses just for commercial producers, such as one-time industry titan (now cautionary tale) Canopy Growth.

Not only is 70A Hillside filled with in-floor hydronic heating, but so are its driveway and walkways, to provide automated snow and ice melting. That’s one of those features that makes the home less energy efficient, along with one more unusual place where there’s heating: “I do waste the energy a little bit because I heat the garage,” said Mr. Lubker.

There is forced-air ventilation in 70A, but only for cooling and air circulation. In a format not typical to Canadian homes, all the rooms have ductwork snugged up against the ceiling with long slotted vents to evenly distribute the cool air into rooms.

“The computer senses the outdoor temperature and reduces the water heat based on outdoor temperatures. And you can adjust the temperature at each individual thermostat,” said Mr. Lubker. “It’s now four years old, and initially there’s always bugs, but they are all gone now.”

But these customizations to the building’s mechanical infrastructure are just the beginnings of what makes this house atypical.

The house today

  • Home of the Week, 70A Hillside Dr., TorontoLukas Peters Photography

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Hillside Drive is north of the Danforth in the part of East York that hugs the Don Valley. There are no neighbours behind 70A unless you count deer and other critters who call the shores of the Don River home. Mr. Lubker split the lot of his old house at 70 Hillside to build this house, and the result is a compact land area that makes efficient use of its available outdoor space.

Up the heated driveway to the front door you’re greeted by a modern building that’s got stone facing on the lower floor and dark stucco on the upper second floor and half-floor third level. It gives the building a vaguely L-shape, and the three large rectangular windows running in a stack to the right of the front door reinforce that sense.

Inside, it’s clear what that stack of windows is for: A glass-enclosed elevator that travels from the basement to the top floor.

“I don’t like stairs; the dogs don’t like the stairs either,” Mr. Lubker said of his pair of Shih Tzu mixed pooches. He also doesn’t like confined spaces, and has a bad opinion of the typical mobility assisting residential elevator. “If you’re in a wheelchair, you’re so restricted in most houses. Who wants to sit in a closet elevator? It’s like being in a coffin,” he said. In his elevator, the upper floors have those front-facing windows and an open stairwell running next to the elevators so you can see inside and outside the whole ride.

On the main level, the dining room is across from the stairs and elevator, and the living room and kitchen are on the back half of the house. The living room has a black accent wall where the TV hangs, with the rest of the spaces in brilliant white or light grey.

The kitchen is ultra-modern, with custom Scavolini millwork that wraps around the corner of the dining room, conceals the main fridge but leaves a window for the large wine fridge. The hardware is brushed metal, rectangular, and has a sharpness like almost everything in this space. It’s almost a little sterile, down to the brilliant white countertops.

The most organic element on this level is the powder room, decorated with transparent leaves on a dark background.

The back wall is entirely windowed sliders, with floor-to-ceiling soft grey drapery that can be closed for privacy, and in the fenced backyard is a narrow space for outdoor cooking and running the dogs.

“Because we live close to the valley there are a lot of animals, so I put reinforcing bars around the entire perimeter every two inches,” said Mr. Lubker. This rebar barrier to digging extends two feet down, providing a secure barrier against all but the most determined miners.

The basement has another feature Mr. Lubker is fairly certain can’t be found any most residential homes: It’s hard to spot if you’re not looking for it, but there are two windows into a 30,000-litre freshwater aquarium.

“My wife and I spent four years sailing the Caribbean. We lived on a sailboat – living and cruising throughout that area,” said Mr. Lubker. When he built this home, he wanted to bring back some of that communion with the water. “We lived basically with the fish, it’s also a really nice effect. You can sit on the toilet and look on the aquarium,” said Mr. Lubker. Indeed, the downstairs bathroom’s nautical theme is currently completed by a full early 20th-century diving suit, complete with brass helmet.

The scale of the aquarium is difficult to grasp from the pictures and the two large windows into it: It runs along 18 feet along the outside wall of the house, it’s six feet wide from the windows to the exterior wall, and it’s 10 feet deep (the water would typically hit a maximum of eight feet. “The artwork was done by the guy that does Ripley’s Aquarium; there’s imitation rocks glued on to the walls,” said Mr. Lubker. To access it there’s an exterior “fish house,” and Mr. Lubker notes that the full-spectrum grow lights also means it could function as a terrarium for plants.

Power failures are not unknown in Toronto, and to keep this house’s automated life systems – for humans and fish – working he installed an overpowered back up generator that runs on natural gas: as long as it’s not struck by a meteor there won’t be any blackouts at 70A Hillside.

For all that effort, he’s never had fish in the aquarium: There was a leak in the early days he had to bring in a zoo terrarium specialist to fix, and he never got around to stocking it.

There’s also a full gym with mirrored walls next to the library which has the other window in the aquarium (initially designed to be Mr. Lubker’s office), and a darkened home theatre media room behind another door. The mechanical room that runs this fully automated house is down here too.

There are three bedrooms on the second level, one was until recently a stained-glass studio for Mr. Lubker’s wife, Teresa. The primary bedroom is done in more mixed grey tones with an ensuite bath with a huge glassed-in shower and separate soaker tub and a floating double vanity. In truth, the spaces evince an upscale hotel more than they do the typical messy living spaces of Toronto’s inner suburbs.

All the surfaces on every floor are tile, even the ones that look and may even feel like wood because of the underfloor warmth, another feature of Mr. Lubkin’s energy efficient hydronics.

The rooftop retreat

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Lukas Peters Photography

Mr. Lubkin overengineered this house to provide a sanctuary for he and his wife to age into, but as it turns out the space they want to spend the most time in as they near retirement is their seven-bedroom chalet in Blue Mountain.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the space they spend the most time in 70A is the rooftop terrace split between a glassed-in solarium and open air deck with its sweeping views of the Don Valley.

“It’s amazing at nighttime to see the sunset, you see the birds, you see a different part of Toronto; you’d never think for a second this is downtown,” he said.

This level serves the purpose of hosting the mechanical access for the elevator, which also travels to three-season solarium room that’s not fully winterized (though, as is typical of Mr. Lubker, he did rough in the piping to some day do that).

Artificial turf carpets the outdoor section, and a long retractable awning provides shade when the sun gets too high. The window wall accordians out of the way to make this space completely indoor-outdoor when the season is right. With the stocked bar and wine fridge, it’s a welcoming place to while away the afternoon.

“I was doing it for me – you’ll notice everything in there is over the top – and I wasn’t interested in saving any money,” Mr. Lubker said of a house that is definitely an engineer’s paradise.

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