How we renovated our home with energy-savings in mind

We’re a pretty regular family of four living in Ottawa; my partner, Monique, and our two kids, Hanna (13) and Nicole (10). Both Monique and I work and the girls are pretty active kids and we spend a lot of time running around to various fields and parks for soccer, cross-country skiing and the like. Life is busy — the way it is for lots of other families.

Monique and I have always been committed to keeping our environmental footprints as light as possible. We both work in areas related to the environment and we love the outdoors. But, we also love urban life and all that it offers. One of our main goals is to find ways to enjoy life fully without putting excessive demands on the environment for water, energy and raw materials.

The “not-so-big” philosophy

Our biggest efforts have been around energy efficiency, both around the home and in our transportation choices. We’re very concerned about climate change and its implications for our kids — not to mention the generations to come. So, as we renovated our 1928 two-and-a-half storey home over the past 12 years, we paid particular attention to making it as energy, and carbon, efficient as possible. A big part of this was bucking the trend toward blowing out the back of the house and adding a two-story addition. Instead, we followed the “not-so-big” philosophy of architect Sarah Susanka ( and kept to the original footprint as we renovated.

Susanka’s ideas helped us make small spaces feel big by opening up walls, creating nooks for people to sit in and using space in unconventional ways. One of our favourite parts of the reno is the “fireside corner” in our dining room. There’s actually no fireplace, but we built a false mantle into one corner and tiled under it with slate to give the look and feel of a fireplace. A couple of reupholstered club chairs from Monique’s grandparents tuck into the corner, creating a really inviting spot to survey the dining room and kitchen. The corner connects the spaces in an unusual way, but seems to work well.

 Overall, the results of applying Susanka’s thinking have really pleased us. And others seem to like them too: the house was included in a charity home tour a couple of years ago in the “”what can be done with small spaces”” category.

Energy savvy mudroom

Our latest project saw our front hall become our “mud-room” and a showpiece all at once with the installation of floor-to-ceiling custom walnut and zebrawood cabinetry. Zebrawood is “engineered veneer” made out of birch but practically indistinguishable from the real (and endangered) tropical rainforest wood. With these new cabinets, we have all the functionality of a mudroom without adding any additional footprint to the house. And the overall space feels warmer and more inviting to boot.

There’s much more that we doing in our daily lives to keep our footprints small. Leaving a lighter footprint and living a great life are absolutely compatible. Just making some minor –even enjoyable – tweaks to normal family life can do saving energy and carbon.

Image: iStockphoto/Max-9