From a young age, Lorrie Rand knew she wanted to design houses. She has also felt a deep connection to nature. It was inherent – she comes from over 300 years of English descendants who farmed the same land in the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, one of the Atlantic Canada’s richest agricultural regions and an incredible patchwork quilt of fields, dykes, orchards and vineyards.
Fast forward to today and Lorrie is co-owner of Habit Studio, a successful architectural design practice specializing in sustainable whole home renovations and custom Passive Houses. She is a Certified Passive House Designer, serves on the board of directors at Passive Buildings Canada and is an instructor for Passive House Canada. What drew her to Passive House design? “Back in 2013 a client asked us to build a Passive House – I immediately equated that to passive solar but when I learned more, and how Passive House perfectly wraps up comfort, safety, and resiliency, I did not want to design any other house that was not Passive House!”
Lorrie is noticing that even in the past few years, the market is changing, and homeowners are now coming to her, asking to build their idyllic Passive House home. Why? “There are two big reasons – the first is energy performance – I find people have a climate conscience. Every single one of us knows we can personally lower our carbon footprint. Second, in Nova Scotia, the economic case makes sense here. We spend ridiculous amount of money on power and energy security is a real issue. More than 70% of Nova Scotians live within 20 kilometres of the coast – and frankly, with climate change, our coast will disappear. While our emissions are really a small drop in the bucket globally – we are going to see some pretty serious impacts sooner than later if we don’t make a change.”
Lorrie also knows that making Passive House projects affordable is key. “It’s not that it has to cost more. Some builders will just add 20% to their estimates. It’s maddening.”
“I find it’s critical to work closely with an experienced contractor – one who is really thoughtful and can look for savings during key stages of design. We ask questions like, ‘What is the most economical way to go and still meet the aesthetic? Then we can figure out solutions to cut costs. You both need to believe that each one is doing the best they can. There can be no power struggles. There’s huge motivation and we both want to be building the best buildings we can.” Incentives or rebates provided by government will also sweeten the deal, she notes. “Even small incentives motivate people and stimulate the market.”
Habit Studio currently has 15 Passive House projects currently under design, in construction, or completed. One project is Staycation House – a net-zero Passive House located on a lakefront property on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia. The owners wanted a home that would allow them to enjoy the peace and tranquility of the outdoors, and a design that would satisfy their zest for entertaining. Timbers, salvaged from a decommissioned sawmill belonging to a family friend, were repurposed to amplify the connection to the forest and provide texture to the materials palette inside and out.
What materials and design innovations does she see on the horizon for Passive House projects? Lorrie keeps hearing the desire to bring more nature in, where we can be more biophilic. “People have been stuck in their homes this past year. Your senses are screaming for green! Design with the emphasis on the connection between inside and outside living – it’s not frivolous, it’s important.”
Lorrie has also made a deliberate decision to support women in architecture. “My business partner Judy and I have worked together for a long time – we were also Moms with kids and working with home. So, when we decided to get a little studio together back in 2015 … and as we were hiring, it always felt right to support other women.”
“Architecture is an industry which historically has had a high percentage of male architects. Even though there would have been a 50-50 split at school, less than 20% of licensed architects are women – at least in Nova Scotia. We do work differently in the office. It was definitely intentional, but like a lot of things, we also don’t know how it’s going to evolve!”