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A passive method for building homes in Nakusp

After deciding to build three condos, Molly Bell heard about the idea of making Passive Houses.
Dave Madden and Molly Bell stand outside one of the Passive House condominiums on the Nakusp waterfront. These will be the eighth, ninth, and tenth Passive House units in British Columbia. (Jillian Trainor/Arrow Lakes News)

Molly Bell moved to Nakusp two years ago looking for satisfactory seniors housing. When she didn’t find anything, she decided to build her own.

After purchasing property on the waterfront to build her home, she discovered the property was actually zoned multi-family or residential plus commercial, meaning she couldn’t build a single-family dwelling there.

After deciding to build three condominiums instead, she was introduced to the idea of making the condos Passive Houses.

A Passive House is a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint. It results in buildings that require little energy for space-heating or cooling. They promise an energy usage of 15 per cent compared to conventional construction.

“It’s three condos and then the coach house has a rental unit upstairs,” she said. “I’d like to combine that with a caretaker who gets a reduction in their rent for taking care of anything that needs to be done.”

The main level is about 900 square feet, while the upstairs part of the condo is about 500 square feet.

Everything is very open concept.

Any and all doorways are wheelchair accessible, and the showers are larger enough that a person can enter and exit in a wheelchair. All light switches are at a height that can be accessed from a wheelchair as well.

The homes each have a private patio, but they share a common garden. This garden faces Nakusp’s waterfront, with a magnificent view of Saddle Mountain.

At the time this article was written, all three homes were bare of furnishings. Construction on the condos is expected to be complete around mid-summer.

Once finished, these will be the eighth, ninth, and 10th Passive Houses in British Columbia.

While looking for an architect for the project, Bell became acquainted with Dave Madden, owner of Madden Timber Construction Inc. in Nakusp.

“We had mutual friends that told me what Molly was planning to build,” he said. “It was in the concept stage, and it seemed like something that I was interested in and had the skill set to take on.”

This is the first time Madden has built anything like this, who said the experience has been very educational.

Certain criteria must be met in order to be listed as a Passive House. Examples of this include the space-heating energy demand, which can’t exceed 15 kWh per square meter of net living space per year, and the total energy to be used for all domestic applications such as heating, hot water and domestic electricity must not exceed 60 kWh per square meter of treated floor area per year.

Madden and his crew briefly had the chance to experience firsthand what it would be like to live in a Passive House while working on the interior of the houses over the winter months.

“I didn’t know much about the certified Passifide House science before we started, and learning through that process and building it hands-on enlightened us to just how much energy savings can be achieved through really high building quality,” he said.

Throughout the building process, Bell has has nothing but praise for the employees of Madden Timber Construction Inc.

“Dave has been absolutely amazing through the whole thing,” she said. “His whole crew is just top notch. All the work is really high quality, I’m really happy with everything.”

Along with employing a local contractor to do the job, Bell has also hired as many local painters, electricians, carpenters, plumbers and more for the job. Even local material is used when possible. All the flooring, exterior siding, kitchen cupboards, and interior doors are manufactured from local wood.

Bell and Madden have also done their best to combine what is aesthetically pleasing with what is functional and required by law.

While building the Passive Houses has been an enjoyable experience, there have been challenges along the way, though thankfully nothing insurmountable. It’s mainly been not being able to get certain equipment at a certain time, or dealing with things beyond anyone’s control.

Bell plans on living in one of the houses, and selling the other two. While there has been interest from those who would like to purchase one of the homes, Bell is holding back from showing the houses for now until they are a little bit more complete.

She and Madden look forward to when the Passive Houses are ready for occupancy.

“It’s been a really good experience, bigger than I thought, but I think that’s pretty standard for lots of projects,” Bell concluded. “There’s always a few bumps and lumps, but I’m happy with what’s happened, it’s been great.”

A view of the Passive House condominiums from the waterfront. Along with a view of the water, homeowners will be treated to a fabulous view of Saddle Mountain. (Jillian Trainor/Arrow Lakes News)
A view of the Passive House condominiums from the waterfront. Along with a view of the water, homeowners will be treated to a fabulous view of Saddle Mountain. (Jillian Trainor/Arrow Lakes News)
A closeup view of the patios for the new Passive House condominiums in Nakusp. While the gardens are common, each patio is private. (Jillian Trainor/Arrow Lakes News)