The Hilliard Passive House



Completion date


The Hilliard Passive House

Project Type Custom House
Client Private
Neighbourhood Fisher Heights
Concept Contemporary Sustainable Design (Passive House & Net Zero)
Contractor TBD

The client hired ARCA-VERDE to develop a healthy residence for an environmentally aware family.  The husband is an avid gardener and stressed the importance of increasing the house area to provide for their two young boys without expanding the footprint on the site, both physically and environmentally.   In addition, the client felt responsible for their neighbours to ensure the project aligned with the neighbourhood context (project height and size).


Situated mid-block in one of Ottawa’s mature neighbourhoods (Fisher Heights), it will prove the above questions are not impossible to answer.  This little-known pocket beside the experimental farm is well situated with vehicular access to downtown, close to public transit and ample green space.  The property offers a north-south orientation and a west-facing frontage.  To use passive design principles, the concentration of the placement of the living area is along the north property line.  This location and inclusion of windows on the south facade of the higher volume invite winter sun, natural light, and infiltration of summer prevailing winds. However, the large overhang is essential to block out the summer sun. The site zoning easily supports the project, which ARCA-VERDE and the client intend to do so with as small a footprint (house size) as possible.



ARCA-VERDE needs to arrange the house so it will not appear significant.  The form and sloping roofline reduce the structure’s presence on the street.  The service space in the low volume resembles the neighbouring bungalow structures. The result is an expression that is elegant and unimposing.

The house is composed of two main volumes linked together. The design extension balances toward the front and back property lines to minimize the impact on the backyard gardens. Moving closer to the front property line is appropriate as both flanking neighbours are closer to the street.  What results is a rational functional layout.  Service space and formal entry are separated in the low volume along the street.  In addition, the garage is located away from the formal entry placing the vehicle in the service area of the house.  The Hilliard Passive House is an essential project for ARCA-VERDE as it expresses our approach to custom houses.  That is a residence developed with as little an environmental footprint as possible, expressing the architectural possibilities, and, most importantly, developed from a client-centred approach.


The Hilliard Passive House achieves the intended expansive interior views through an open concept plan, allowing maximum penetration of natural light and offering few obstacles for natural ventilation.


It is an ARCA-VERDE desire that all technology within a house has little to no presence.  This can be difficult with sustainable ideals but achieved by allowing the architecture to be the first response.  Rather than relying on technology or equipment to heat, cool and ventilate the building shape, interior configuration and window placement are all needed.  The Hilliard Passive House shape promotes natural ventilation with low windows that allow air to enter the house and rise to the higher windows on the opposite side.  It utilizes wind to create negative pressure in the house, effectively ventilating passively.  The created east-west orientation of the large volume allows the winter sun to heat the interior, almost eliminating any need for supplemental mechanical heat. Also inherent is adequate natural light in all rooms, providing a bigger interior feel.

Age in Place and Functional Description

The floor plan of the Hilliard Passive House is developed with three zones.  These zones serve as private, semi-private and public separations. The first is the formal front section with the office, dining, living and kitchen rooms.  The second zone is the second storey of the large volume. The third zone is the ancillary zone or service zone beside the garage. The first zone contains a large dining room to host 8-10 people comfortably.  Access to the office is off the front entry and intended to allow the client to work from home with clients arriving in the day.  The kitchen at the centre of the house is designed to be the heart of the home. The husband and wife love to cook and desire a layout that offers sightlines to each room from the kitchen.  The second floor also overlooks the kitchen area reinforcing this desire.  A feature of the kitchen, and quickly becoming an ARCA-VERDE signature, is a washroom, pantry and recycle centre hidden behind kitchen cabinets.  The den flanking the dining area is a formal area with conversational seating or a nice place to read the morning paper (the client’s daily activity).

The functional layout intends to be void of formal circulation.  Overlapping functions foster a creative and friendly environment without bolstering the house size.

ARCA-VERDE has considered every detail in The Hilliard Passive House. The placement of functions and arrangement of space creates an economy of space.  Designing with the environment in mind makes a home with a low environmental impact and a bright interior and reconnects occupants with the exterior environment.   It will connect an inhabitant with their living consciousness.  In the most basic of explanations, ARCA-VERDE turned each of the project’s challenges into an opportunity to develop something of merit.

Material and Design Features

  • Salvaged metal siding
  • Scorched Wood (black)
  • Triple pane windows
  • Super-insulated roof, walls and floor
  • Geothermal Heating
  • Cistern water collection off mono-sloped roofs
  • A return on Carbon Investment of 12-14 years