International architect and planner Jiri Skopek has been involved in a myriad of international sustainable community activities. He has contributed to Toronto’s skyline and ran the Paris office of an elite architectural firm and is perhaps best known for developing Green Globes environmental assessment tools for new building design, sustainable interiors, building operation and management.
But when it came to the Muskoka cottage he and his wife and family enjoyed, the irony of living in “the shack,” as his wife Simone Skopek affectionately refers to the original cottage, was not lost on her. Simone shares Jiri's eco-consciousness, but “As the saying goes: The cobbler always wears the worst shoes,” she reflects. “I suppose the same applies to architects like Jiri.” It was time for a serious change and, as the old adage suggests, a new pair of shoes.
Jiri' parents had purchased the Muskoka cottage property in 1976 overlooking the shimmering waters of Clear Lake. For well over 40 years the rough-hewn, rustic shed, built of wooden crates, pallets and whatever else could be reclaimed and repurposed was been a wonderful retreat and gathering place for three generations of Skopeks.
In 2010, Jiri and Simone took over the place from Jiri's parents and for the next few years began to plan, design and, with the help of Ian Fotheringham, one of Jiri’s associates, ultimately execute their dream of constructing a beautifully efficient, eco-friendly building on the site. “To live up to our environmental credo, the new design called for preserving trees on the property and reuse of the existing foundation,” says Simone. The couple were determined to maintain what they could of the original construct, protect the trees and be as absolutely energy effective as possible.
General contractor Steve Potter of Rustic Woods helped them build an energy efficient and environmentally benign cottage. “All the lights are LED and the heating is provided by an air-source heat pump, in addition to a Blaze King wood stove,” Simone points out (stove sourced at The Fireplace Stop). R40 insulation, elevated with foam in the insulated crawl space, helps keep the cottage warm.
“A tankless, instantaneous hot water system services our on-demand needs and the project also includes a net metered M2 Solar Array with a Panasonic solar storage system,” she says.
Solar power supplies electricity for all lighting, refrigeration, sewage, the water supply and Internet. They are not only self-sufficient much of the time, they can also generate enough solar power to offer it back to the grid and earn credits against their utility account.
With good south orientation and a north view of the lake, the 1,560 square feet of living space is optimized by the spacious great room that incorporates the living, dining and kitchen areas, with large windows facing the lake and an open mezzanine, work and entertainment space on the upper level. There are plenty of work surfaces so that the couple and their three adult children and extended families can all enjoy the space.