Solar System

An eco-friendly home in beautiful B.C.’s southern interior shows you can have it all.

Henry David Thoreau once asked the rhetorical question: “What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
When Carolyn Beck decided to build an environmentally-friendly home on a half-acre property on Kootenay Lake (just a four-minute drive from downtown Nelson, in B.C.’s southern interior), she channeled the advice of another environmentally-conscious woman, anthropologist Margaret Mead, who wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Beck wasn’t out to save the world when she moved from Kelowna (and previously Alberta) to live near her grown son in this region of the Selkirk Mountains that offers so much of what she loves: hiking, biking, kayaking, boating, and skiing. But when she found the perfect property on which to build the home of her dreams, she jumped at the opportunity to construct one that would incorporate as many green elements into the house as possible.
There were two homes on the property when she bought it in 2009 – a dome house from the 1960s and an old cottage from the 1930s that had been added to a few times – so she and her son tore down the dome and had a two-bedroom house built. Beck lived in it while a larger, 2,800-square-foot lake house was built with views of the lake and mountains and 75 feet of sandy beachfront. The smaller house is now a guest house with 1,200 square feet of living space and a magnificent view of Kootenay Lake.
The owner of a graphic design business – Beck Designs – Carolyn Beck also has a grown daughter and a Jack Russell named Riggs. The empty-nester, as she calls herself, currently lives with Riggs in the two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom home that features a super-insulated super structure, timber frame throughout, solar electric and solar hot water systems, and high end finishes.
To turn her dream into a reality, Beck hired Joel Tanner, owner of SMPL Design Studio of Nelson, B.C. and Hamilton, Ontario, whose primary focus is environmentally-conscious home designs at an affordable price. The initials of the four-person company stand for Sustainable, Modern, Practical, and Liveable – and those were the features Beck was looking for in her home.
When Tanner stood on Beck’s property for the first time he told her exactly where and how he would situate the house to maximize the views and get maximum exposure for a ‘passive solar’ design. The head of the design studio, which has completed nearly 100 projects in the past few years, knew the importance of properly locating windows and doors as well as the positioning of the house and how it faces the sun in order to harness its natural energy for natural heating effects. His ‘active solar’ initiatives included installation of a solar hot water heater system on the roof of the garage. The solar hot water collector panel sends the sun-heated water back down to a hot water storage tank, and also feeds the in-floor radiant heating system. A solar electric system controls and directs some of the sun’s energy and turns it into electricity to help run the home. The solar panels are tied back into the grid.
Design of the home took place in the summer of 2010, and when construction was completed, Beck was able to move into her two-level home in February 2012. She praises the work of Tanner, calling him “creative, motivated, enthusiastic, and a key element in the home building process….He helped with the form and function of the house.” Beck says Tanner has a “vast resource of contacts and endless ideas” and at her request he sourced local materials whenever and wherever possible, as well as a local contractor and tradespeople.
The end result is an impressive dwelling that includes, on the main level, an attached garage of tinted glass windows, a modern kitchen with Energy Star-rated appliances, dining room, living room with a Don-Bar fireplace, mudroom, and half bathroom. On the lower level there is a guest room with cork floor and bamboo cupboards, media room, yoga room, an office (Beck works out of her home), master bedroom, slate-floored bathroom, and a walkout to a patio with a hot tub.
Beck is so proud of her eco-friendly home she has no trouble listing more than a dozen green features, including hard-wired LED indoor and outdoor lights, in-floor radiant heating, roof insulation that is a soy-based spray foam, natural granite countertops, grey water recycling where the shower water is used for flushing toilets and irrigation, water-saving taps and shower heads, a recycled glass bathroom sink in the powder room, a recycled quartz countertop in the master bedroom, and lots more items that are kind to the ecosystem, including reclaimed materials.
She is also proud of the work carried out by the local trades. “They were so creative,” she says. “They built on my ideas and worked with me as my vision evolved and the project progressed.” She adds: “I gave them challenges and they were the problem solvers. They all worked together so well.”
She names people like Dan Thompson, of Timberstone Contracting, who assembled the timber frames using timber from a mill in the Okanagan Valley and hand-cut by a local craftsman. In addition to the framing, Thompson also did the concrete work; interior and exterior stone by Glacier Mountain Stone; landscaping with large local rocks; and built a waterfall. Joel Tanner suggested a round-shaped wine cellar and it was Thompson’s idea to create the wine cellar in quarried stone and carry the theme to the hallway with a bar sink.
Loren Mazereeuw – who specializes in fine woodworking and who made the home’s black walnut staircase with recessed lights, along with benches, the double pedestal walnut dining room table to match the built-in cabinetry, and the round window in the stone hallway – also built the magnificent medieval-like wine cellar door, made from 120-year-old reclaimed oak from Montreal.
Nathan Smith, of Sunsmith Design, did all the metal work, interior handrails, deck railing, coat hooks, wine cellar hinges, decorative bridge railing, the loft handrails, and a branch headboard.
Beck says the fun part for her was decorating the home with paintings and artwork from various artists in the vicinity and province, and from collections in galleries and markets. She coordinated the paint colours, chose the tiles, the wood (including Douglas fir and black walnut), the stone, and counter top and fixtures.
When Beck, who loves to cook and entertain, is asked to name her favourite room, she replies: “It all works. I love the functionality of every room.” She adds: “It is the attention to detail and the creative flair of the designer and tradespeople that’s evident in every area of the house that makes this home so appealing.” Not to mention the ecological ‘greenery.’

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