With nearly 5,000 sq ft of living space, 3,350 above ground, this heritage home in Canada is anything but old-school. Matt Gilgan, son of billionaire home builder Peter Gilgan, tackled this renovation with an eye for beauty, detail, and delightfully unexpected sustainable features.


As Dave LeBlanc writes for The Globe and Mail:

After finding Milton-based architect Tom Kolbasenko of Our Cool Blue, Mr. Gilgan set to work on “deconstructing” the non-heritage elements of the house to prepare it for its green reawakening. Unfortunately, the old foundation proved to be so poor, extra time and money was spent re-supporting the home on steel beams, which he sarcastically calls “a minor setback.” New parts of the home would have walls made of straw bale sealed with earthen plaster, which, he says, most people associate with hobbit-like structures in the country (a myth he wants to disprove), so Camel’s Back Construction near Peterborough was brought on board as well. The home would have a large passive-solar element, a geothermal system, radiant floors and plenty of recycled material. Open concept passive solar design, Straw bale insulation, 100 year zinc roof, Bauhaus windows, Valcucine recycled glass kitchen, Finnish soapstone fireplace/bake oven, geothermal radiant floor heating and cooling, Oakville red clay floor, earthen interior walls, rainwater harvesting, living roof terraces, reclaimed and local materials.

The massive soapstone fireplace, he says, was a joy to watch go together. Plates of stone were “stacked to make this weaving, three-dimensional maze” that directs heat on a long journey before delivering it to the chimney; this, he explains, traps most of the heat within the stone (to radiate for hours and warm the house) rather than wasting it. “Fireplaces are getting a bad rap in some circles,” he adds. “Usually, they’re wide open and you’re not capturing much of the heat – but this, it burns very efficiently and we’ve been using it on the cold, cold days and it’s amazing.”

It’s so amazing the home doesn’t need a conventional furnace. In addition, free solar energy is captured in the stone-clad walls of the tall, south-facing solarium. Standing on the home’s second floor floating bridge, Mr. Gilgan points to a series of air intakes that can, if needed, direct that free heat via fans to the middle of the home or, if that’s too warm, all the way down to the basement, or, in summer, eject it outside. Beneath the solarium underground is a large cistern that collects rainwater.


Historic foundation component Soy based spray foam

Insulated Roof Straw bale insulation for most exterior walls (not on historic facades)

Double framed, double insulated walls on historic facades

Semi-local natural stone thermal mass walls

Bauhaus Sapele windows

Valcucine glass kitchen

Tulikivi Thermal Mass Heater from Finland

Geothermal radiant floor heating and cooling system

Reclaimed beech barn board floors ceilings and walls

Reclaimed ash door frames

Reclaimed oak custom made doors

Earthen plaster interior walls and ceilings

Oakville red clay floor

Rainwater harvesting system 100 year zinc roof

Living roof terraces

3rd story terrace

2 stage composting station

Fully landscaped yard including combination of food bearing, native, and good pollinator plants, as well as four more formal vegetable garden beds

Baril waterwise “made in Montreal” faucets in the powder room and master ensuite

Restored pedestal sink from the original house

Restored clawfoot tub serves as a utility tub in the basement

Canadian cedar cold cellar

Local stone used in the landscaping

Firewood shed with living roof

Vintage and/or re-used chandeliers and fixtures

Custom made from construction scrap stair lighting

Herb/plant ledge in the kitchen

Passive solar design elements including solarium and open concept interior

Reclaimed material art wall

Reclaimed medical cabinets for the master ensuite vanities

Bamboo vessel sinks in the master ensuite

Hand selected in small batches from within walking distance Lake Ontario shore stone shower floor

Tadelakt(Moroccan hand polished earthen plaster technique) finish in the bathrooms and laundry

Custom made Tadelakt sink in the 2nd bathroom

Reclaimed fir from barn beams custom designed stairs, with custom brackets and glass guards

Re-used, vintage, and or/made from reclaimed materials furnishings and decor throughout

Fully renovated single car garage with attached storage shed

Antique cabinet for powder room vanity

Heat recovery drain

Recessed coffer to expose original 1870s joists

Reclaimed metal beds in the landscaping

Reclaimed concrete core sample balance wall

Learn more at Green Building Brain.