August 29, 2011

A House for All Seasons

Architect Carsten Jensen is passionate about sustainability and modern prefabrication – and is putting both into practice with his line of environmentally conscious houses.


The house Carsten Jensen shares with his partner Donna Millen is not what you expect to find in Qualicum Beach. Spare, and assertively modern, it is utterly unlike the more conventional styles that line the streets of this small Vancouver Island town. What sets this home apart, however, is more than its striking, contemporary design. This prefabricated house is super energy-efficient, harvesting enough energy to reduce consumption to about a quarter of that used in a normal house. It has received the highest EnerGuide rating in Central Vancouver Island.

“It is probably the most advanced sustainable house built in this area to date,” says Jensen, of Carsten Jensen Architect Inc. and Jenesys Buildings Corp., which is building prefab houses across Canada. The Qualicum Beach home, a design called the E Cube, is an environmentally responsible house in classic modern style. E Cube is one

“There is a huge advantage to prefabrication.Using prefab can ratchet up the quality, making it much more sustainable and reducing the energy and waste.”
– Carsten Jensen

of a series of Jenesys designs using prefab systems that can be customized and adapted to fit different topography, views, or other requirements. This E Cube has 2,200-square-feet of living space with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and two cedar decks. A green roof is covered with 10 different types of sedums that change colour through the seasons. Because it needs no watering, the roof happily takes care of itself, while also protecting the roofing membranes and helping to insulate the house.

Thermal solar collectors preheat domestic hot water and photovoltaic solar collectors provide electricity. Rainwater is harvested in underground tanks. Adding to the environmentally sustainable products is a high-performance building envelope with super-insulated walls and roof and exterior sunscreens. The house is decorated in restful shades of grey, with maple flooring, in-floor heating and fir doors. The kitchen cabinets and bedroom wardrobe system are the only parts of the house that are imported – from Sweden via Ikea. “Ikea is good looking and well made and a really good price,” Jensen explains. “Because of that reasonable price we were able to put more money into the countertops and appliances.”

Floor-to-ceiling windows on the main floor as well as high, small windows bring in an extensive amount of light. The double-glazed low- E windows guard against heat loss in the winter and exclude outside noise. “You feel so protected with all that insulation,” says Millen. “There is a constant base temperature and excellent sound insulation. It gives you a sense [the house] is actively working on your behalf when the sun is out in the summer and you are producing energy, and when it rains water is being collected for the garden. “It is a house for all seasons,” she says. The E Cube designs range from a compact 500-700 square feet up to about 2,200 square feet.

Jenesys flatpak prefab houses are manufactured on the Lower Mainland using local materials, and then trucked to the site for assembly. The company does not assemble the houses but will help clients find a suitable contractor in their area. Jensen is seriously committed both to high performance prefabrication and to the extensive use of environmentally sustainable products. “I am a strong proponent of prefab,” he says. “I believe that prefab and sustainability are integrally related and I am very aggressive about the sustainability part. “There is a huge advantage to prefabrication,” he continues. “Using prefab can ratchet up the quality, making it much more sustainable and reducing the energy and waste.”

The extra cost involved in building a prefab, sustainable house –about an additional $10 per square foot – comes from the superior quality of the energy-efficient materials used and will be regained in about seven years through savings in energy bills, Jensen explains. After that, the house will start paying a return on this investment. Jensen is an award-winning architect and the founder of Jenesys Buildings Corp., with offices in Qualicum Beach and Ontario.

For more information log on to Telephone 250-752-0292, email

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