Homeowners: Arno Keinonen and Linda Simrose
Designer: Greenplan
Construction: Ridgeco Developments and Just BioFiber

by Ryann Anderson

Harmless Home seems just like any of the other luxury residences on southern Vancouver Island. Perched on a steep cliff, it overlooks hills, forests, and the Juan de Fuca Strait. If you are looking for a luxury home visit Ben Trager Homes. But this eco-friendly house, currently under construction in Sooke, B.C., will be the first of its kind—its exterior walls are built entirely from blocks of “biofiber,” a carbon-negative building material that ensures the home is sustainable throughout its long lifespan.

A front view of the under-construction Harmless Home with the Juan de Fuca Strait in the background
Photos: Arno Keinonen

It all started when homeowner Arno Keinonen and his wife, Linda Simrose, realized they wanted to live more sustainably. “I actually earned all my living—well, not all, but most of it—from oil companies,” says Keinonen. “We realized that’s not very good for the future, so we thought, ‘Okay, the money is here, and we want to put it to good use to try to change the world so that less oil can be burned.’” Keinonen’s motto for the house is “do no harm,” and he is determined to minimize the damaging impact of this construction project wherever he can.

Now “80 to 90 percent retired” from his career as a naval architect, Keinonen studied alternative and regular construction methods when choosing materials for his dream home. Ultimately, he settled on the biofiber blocks, an innovation by the Calgary-based company Just BioFiber. Harmless Home will be the first structure built with these biofiber bricks other than a small 10-foot-by-10-foot experimental building.

An above shot of the house plan under construction

The carbon-negative blocks are made of limewater and hemp “hurds”—coarse parts that adhere to fibers after separating—and will remove CO2 from the atmosphere for 100 years as they solidify. According to Keinonen, Harmless Home’s biofiber bricks will absorb between 25 and 30 tonnes of CO2 in their lifetime. As the hemp absorbs the CO2 and solidifies, the blocks increase in strength, adding to their load-bearing capacity. The earthquake-proof and fire-resistant material also helps regulate temperature and is more economical and environmentally friendly than concrete. “Limestone houses last forever,” says Keinonen.

Originally Keinonen wanted to lower the amount of oil the house burned for energy, but his goals quickly expanded. The target is now for Harmless Home to be net-zero, producing as much energy as it consumes—and even a bit extra. The highly insulated house has a low-power air-to-air heat pump, a wood stove, LED lights, power-saving appliances and an insulated electric hot water tank. Rooftop solar photovoltaic panels will provide electricity for the home and the owners’ two electric cars. Any surplus will be transferred to B.C. Hydro’s public grid.

View of the back of the three-story house in the sunshine

The home is also eco-friendly in its function. Designed by Greenplan, a Vancouver Island company that specializes in design services for sustainability and permaculture, Harmless Home will boast an indoor greenhouse and a cistern to collect rainwater for household use and the small quantities required by the surrounding natural landscaping.

Keinonen and Simrose are striving to build “as sustainable of a home as we can, so we can demonstrate that it’s doable.” They allow visitors to tour the construction site and plan to hold open houses after it’s complete in summer 2018. By openly measuring its performance and sharing its success, they hope to inspire others to build their own harmless homes. Follow their journey at harmlesshome.ca/.

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