Inspiration #3 – Walter’s Super-insulated House

Dave the father-in-law  is a retired electrician–that’s how he knows how to install his own solar panels. Way back before my daughter was born (2005?) Dave was hired by his friend, Walter, to wire Walter’s very interesting new house in West Vancouver.

Nice thick walls make for nice deep window-sills
Nice thick walls make for nice deep window-sills

I was looking for a little extra money and Dave suggested I help Walter with some general labour on the construction site. I got a ride with Dave, met Walter and was deeply impressed.

I’m sure I worked on other stuff, but I remember removing nails and screws from wood so that it could be used again. It took some time but I am amazed that most construction sites just throw lumber in the landfill.

Walter is the first person I met who set out to build a house that used the least amount of energy and water possible. He was not interested in simply doing better than the British Columbia Building Code, he wanted to do as much as possible.

What a radical idea!

Other than looking a little boxier than normal, the house looked quite unremarkable. What blew me away was how the walls were constructed. From foundation to roof, they were Insulated Concrete Form. You fit styrofoam blocks together like lego and then pour concrete in the gap in the middle. It’s fast, easy and creates an incredible insulation factor.

Plumbing and re-bar go in before the concrete is poured.
Plumbing and re-bar go in before the concrete is poured.

Walter used a local company called Quad-Lock Concrete Building Solutions for the ICF work. On their web-site, they describe who could benefit from this approach:

I stole this image from this American company
I stole this image from this American company

Ideal Applications

  • Exterior walls or entire building shells for any climate & use: residential, commercial, multi-family, education & worship facilities, hospitality
  • Basements
  • Green Building: Net-Zero, LEED, Passive House
  • Disaster Resistant Buildings in Hurricane, Tornado, and Flood prone areas

You may notice that “heritage houses” are not listed there, but “basements” are. Remember when a contractor said, “if you’re pouring concrete, you may as well pour more concrete”? Well, “if we’re pouring a whole new basement room, we may as well use ICF”, I thought.

Walter’s house inspired me to think of retaining rainwater to use in toilets and watering the garden, solar heating, ground-source heating, air-to-air heat exchange, using solar panels to charge your electric car, using your hybrid car as an emergency generator for your house, and the list goes on.

All of these ideas involve higher than normal up-front costs, but provide extreme long-term savings.

To get the complete story on Walter’s house, check out the article he wrote for the American Society for Quality (ASQ) in 2010.

He notes that the house was built without government grants. I promise to tell you about our experience with grants when we insulated Hammond Forever House.

As the urgency to act on climate change grows, Walter and his family represent just a few of the everyday people who have decided not to wait for leadership from governments or industry, but are taking significant steps themselves.

With more and more people like them, it becomes more and more obvious which of our elected leaders are lagging behind the people who elected them.

Published by

James Rowley

James lives in Maple Ridge, BC, Canada with his amazing partner, Leanne Koehn, and their two amazing kids in their beautiful house. He studied Science and English Literature at the University of British Columbia where he met Leanne. He also studied acting for a while at Studio 58 in Vancouver. He works as a teacher of English and curriculum writer for new Canadians.

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