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Exterior of off-grid house on Manitoulin Island

When the owners of this glorious home visited friends on Lake Huron’s Manitoulin Island nearly two decades ago, they had no way of knowing it would lead them to custom build an off-grid home to enjoy during retirement.

The couple, both professional artists, were so captivated by the island that they quickly purchased the property after that initial visit. They used the land strictly for camping for many years and at some point, upgraded to a bunkie they built themselves. Eventually thoughts turned to having a simple indoor space with running water.

Manitoulin Island off-grid house with timber facade

Nearing retirement, the couple recruited a Toronto-based firm, Solares Architecture, widely recognized for their eco-conscious designs. The initial plan for a structure to simply cover basic cooking and showering developed into something bigger – but not much bigger. In the end, the Manitoulin homestead compresses into a well-designed and efficient 140sqm/1,500 feet lakefront property. It is small, but just right in size!

This small footprint, off-grid island home includes one bedroom, living area, kitchen and a den that doubles as a guest room. It’s well-crafted design and lofty ceilings allow for a serene and spacious home, flooded in natural light.

Timber rowboat in front of off-grid timber house
Entry way of timber clad eco off-grid hom

In reality, the choice to go off grid was made for them since the remote location doesn’t have access to gas or electric services. Solar panels located on the south-west facing portion of the roof funnel energy into battery storage. Supplemental power is provided by a propane generator. Supervising architect Christine Lolley explains, “It’s tough to fully survive on solar in Canada. When people say off-grid, they really mean off the hydro grid. You’re pretty much always on the fossil-fuel grid in this country.”

Island off-grid home with timber facade

The owners find continual artistic inspiration from the abundance of natural light provided by the many high-efficiency windows, and from watching the play of light and shadows inside the space as days and seasons progress. Having a connection to nature was the driving design principle for this home and the expansive glazed windows and doors allow them to always feel just one step away from the serene lakeside.

Timber bookshelf in off-grid home with timber flooring
High level windows in lounge room of off-grid home

Steel sheet metal was chosen for the roofing material, for its durability and ability to be recycled at its end of life. The color choice for the roofing also works to reflect heat during hotter months, since the home relies on passive cooling techniques rather than resource-hungry air conditioning. Rainwater barrels are used to harvest rainwater for use inside the home.

The exterior of the home is clad in natural pine, which is designed to weather over time and was sourced from a local mill. Most materials were purchased locally, with the exception of the specialty, high-performance windows that came from Toronto.

Exterior of off-grid island home at dusk

Inside, the airtight and highly insulated building envelope maximises the efficiency of the propane boiler used for in-floor heating, supplemented by a wood-burning stove. It doesn’t get hot on Manitoulin Island, and the owners wanted to feel the summer, with all its sounds and breezes though wide-open sliding doors and windows – so there is no air conditioning. I can’t imagine a better way to experience a connection to the season!

Related project: You might also like to read about Barn Gallery House, which is another energy efficient island retreat. Check it out here

Woman walking through lounge room with art on walls of off grid house
Entryway of sustainable off-grid home

Sustainability specs:
– Off-grid for electricity – solar panels feed into batteries which provide for all electrical requirements
– Propane generator provides any required additional power
– Highly efficient windows provide thermal insulation and ample natural light
– Rainwater is harvested
– Light roof color to reflect heat
– Metal roof sheeting can be recycled at the end of its use
– Locally sourced pine cladding, left untreated to weather over time
– Locally sourced materials were prioritised
– Passively cooled

Pine timber cladding off-grid home
Solares Architecture Manitoulin Island off-grid house Floor-plan
From the architect:

The construction of this home is very simple. There is a typical frost wall with 4-foot-deep foundations brought higher by two more feet due to the wet nature of the site. Essentially, the foundation wall is six feet high in total. The walls are stick-framed with three inches of EPS SilveRboard insulation on the outside, covered in natural pine cladding from a local supplier. On top is a no-maintenance, long lasting metal roof. The roof structure is comprised of two halves that together create the high clerestory in the Great Room, bringing the bright, lofty feel to the home.

Images courtesy of Solares Architecture. Photography by Nanne Springer

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