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In Harmony with Nature: Econovation’s Passive House Triplex

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

In Southeastern Quebec, in the Eastern Townships, sits the small, quaint town of Sutton. Nestled near Mount Sutton, the area is known for skiing and its cottages. The population is just around 4,000, but the community balloons during summer and weekends with city folks from Montreal looking to get out of the city and enjoy the countryside.

Lured to the enclave from Montreal by his sister, builder Simon Gaudreault is working on a Passive House triplex with his company Econovation, which he founded with his partner Etienne Vigneron in 2019. The Harmony Sutton Triplex is the fourth project under the team’s belt, but the first to aim for LEED and PHIUS certification, partnering with consultant Stephen Magneron of Homesol Building Solutions to see the project through. Planning for the project began in 2018, while the build began in May of this year. The abode will house three generations of Gaudreaults, the first floor for Simon and his family, the second floor for his parents and his sister’s family occupying the third. Why certify now? “We really want to push our technique and ourselves as builders,” says Simon.

Rendering of the Harmony Sutton Triplex. Courtesy of Econovation.

The project plans to really make the most of the triplex effect. Because one side of any given unit is always in contact with another, it reduces overall contact with the outdoors, which in turn reduces the amount of insulation needed. “We are going for an R Value of 55, whereas most certified single-family homes would have about 30% more insulation.”

This level of insulation is inspired by Joe Lstiburek's Perfect Wall, a concept that has the rainwater control layer, the air control layer, the vapor control layer and the thermal control layer on the exterior of the structure. PHI Certified NZP fenestrations windows and doors will be used for the project and a Pentacare V12 HRV system from Minotair, which contains several operating modes such as air exchanger, heat pump and recirculation and also includes a heatless dehumidifier and HEPA filtration.

Currently work is being done on the outer envelope. Walls will be double framed with the load bearing structure placed inside the walls. From the outside 9.5in of insulation will be added, wrapping the entire structure with low carbon products like hemp fibre from the Quebec-based company, NatureFibres, which will account for 80% of the project's insulation. The material is also fireproof, water resistant, thermal, and acoustic insulating.

Occupancy is currently targeted for this November, although manufacturing delays due to Covid-19 have slowed the project down a bit. With a focus on working with low insulation, Econovation sees themselves as able to meet the demand for passive house with minimal resources. “We’ve seen amazing passive homes, ones that have gone all out, but that isn’t our clientele. Our clients are modest and are really looking for options that aren’t double the budget of a standard build, even if the long-term costs are less” says Simon.

The Harmony Sutton Triplex, currently under construction. Image courtesy of Econovation.

The Eastern Townships seems to be the perfect fit for the work Econovation is doing. Although the area has been traditionally viewed as cottage country, it's been drawing in a lot of year-round residents as of late, particularly people looking for a slower nature-based lifestyle, and that often means the environmentally conscious.

Simon and Etienne see themselves continuing this work in the area for years to come and hopefully inspiring the rest of Quebec to pursue both passive house and certification.