Passive House and LEED Platinum certified, the Saltbox House is only the third certified passive building in Quebec. Built on the south side of Mont Gale in Bromont, the single-family house sits in a meadow, on the edge of the forest.
With its "L" shaped plan combining two types of roof slopes, the house borrows its vernacular silhouette from the architectural vocabulary of 17th century Saltbox-type rural buildings, still clearly visible in the Eastern Townships countryside.
The high-performance house, built with a double frame and south-facing orientation, offers exceptional living comfort to its inhabitants, whatever the season.
The Saltbox Passive House is a primary residence designed for a family of four and built on the south side of Mount Gale in Bromont, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. The 3,100 sq.ft. single-family home, built on three levels, is set in a meadow on the edge of the protected forest area of a 2.5 acres land.
The natural character of the site and the built heritage of the region led to a historic architectural language. With its "L" shaped layout, as well as the combination of two types of roof slopes, the house borrows its silhouette from the vocabulary of rural Saltbox buildings, which appeared in the New England colonies in the mid-17th century and are still prominent in the Eastern Townships countryside. With its gable roof on the main section, and a single-pitch roof on the lower section, this typology takes its name from boxes with lids in which salt was once kept on top of the fireplace, away from moisture.
The house plan is south-facing to promote passive solar heating and panoramic views of the valley. The three-story tiered construction, carved into the mountain, minimizes the retaining walls visible from the road. By building carving in the rear of the house and opting for a roof slope that follows that of the land, the house adapts gently to the topography of the site. Its presence remains discreet from the street, revealing its true program only to visitors who take the path to the entrance of the house. The third level with the garage that also serves as a workshop is only visible on the final approach.
Inside, the living spaces are generous and bright. Lit by three large openings that contribute to the passive heating of the building, the central double-height room is the true heart of the house. Its functions are organized around the central block which includes the mudroom, the kitchen, the pantry and the shower room. This white volume is topped by the home office mezzanine space on the second floor, which connects to the corridor leading to the bedrooms. To the north, the children's rooms are lit by narrow horizontal bands that frame the forest at the edge of the house, while limiting heat loss. The lateral exterior terrace is partially protected by pergolas which act as sunshades and passively regulate the interior temperature of the house.
In the context of the climate crisis, and since passive buildings are still little known in Quebec, we documented the design and construction process of the Saltbox house in a short web series for almost two years. It was the opportunity to demystify sustainable construction to the public and to share our personal experience with architecture and construction professionals, who will have to lead the obligatory but exciting transition towards a more environmentally friendly architecture. For our office, this initiative is part of our broader approach that aims at building truly sustainable architecture in a holistic way through all types of projects.
The Saltbox Passive House is authentic to the rural vernacular architecture of the Eastern Townships of Quebec and highly rigorous in its energy performance and material durability. These key principles are designed with sensibility and care for the residents and the environment without compromising on one or the other. The resulting architecture is minimalistic and aesthetically pleasing, yet highly technical in its pursuit of the highest standards of sustainability. As such the project is a great case study to show that a paradigm shift towards a greener, optimistic future is not only attainable today, but that new contemporary and innovative designs can take root into the reinterpretation of familiar historic typologies.
The location of the project in the rural landscape of Bromont led to a design inspired by the countryside. The idea is to tell a story with the typology and spatial organization of the house while being respectful to the New England heritage buildings. With simplicity and elegance, the volumetric qualities of the residence exist in perfect harmony with the irregular vales and plateaux of the region. Details are designed with a modern approach while maintaining the timeless character of the saltbox architecture.
The materials used are simple and durable: the retaining walls are built with excavation stone from the site, the cladding is made of pine with the entrance framed with charred cedar. The steal roof completes the exterior envelope and is discreet and timeless.
This rural house is an exemplary project as Passive House high-performance construction standards have been integrated in a holistic way from the first drafts. The single-family home received its LEED Platinum certification and Passive House certification from the American institute PHIUS, which makes it only the third certified house in Quebec.
Energy efficiency, comfort and durability principles have guided the design and the team of professionals. Design choices such as a highly insulated and airtight envelope, superior heat recovery from the mechanical ventilation system, and a building orientation and apertures design that maximizes solar radiation are not directly visible in the architecture but are essential to promote in the context of climate change. Design decisions were validated by energy modeling of the building, which informed the choice of double framing for the insulation of the above-ground walls and the choice of passive triple glazed windows. In addition to the PH standard, we also significantly reduced the carbon footprint of the building by carefully choosing materials, such as wood siding and cellulose thermal insulation. Therefore, the Saltbox Passive House demonstrates that it is possible to build ambitious designs with high energy standards at a reasonable budget.
Given Quebec’s extreme temperature changes, such a project was a unique challenge and promoting and demystifying the whole process for the public and professionals was a mandate in itself. This experience shows that a building can be aesthetically pleasing, in harmony with its environment and at the same time extremely efficient.