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  • Writer's pictureLily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag


birdhouse in nature

When you imagine an eco-friendly, green, and sustainable house, what images come to mind? You may picture a house built with logs, clay, and reed. Or you may picture something that is hippie, alternative, and futuristic.

You may picture something like this...

collage of alternative houses

If the above images come to mind, you may not be wrong per se. Some houses that fit the above description certainly look like this. But let's remember that we are trying to build a modern house in an urban metropolitan city, not in the remote outskirts. So the reality of the house's setting is already much different.

When we first learned about Passive House as a building standard, we heard about mandatory overhangs for shading, large windows on the south side for sun exposure, but tiny or non-existent on the north side. There was a notion that the Passive House requirements were so rigorous that it would be impossible to build a house that would look "normal". Yet, we wanted a modern and timeless looking house. So how can this possibly fit together?

Believe it or not, these types of energy-efficient, eco-friendly, and sustainable homes can be built to any style, really.

Below is a collection of single-family homes built in a similar climate as our house in Toronto. All of these houses are either Passive Houses, EnerPHit, or Net Zero Energy, so they all fall into the same category as our new house build does.

Let's go and see what these houses really look like!

Scandinavian Style

First up is this classic Scandinavian style house in Wisconsin. The architecture features clean lines, short overhangs, and a steep A-frame gable. We like the metal roof with the standing seams and the red color accents.

Scandinavian house energy-efficient

Modern Minnesota

Next, we have this modern house in Minnesota. The design is quite strong and mixes textures and colors of stone, siding, and glass. We think this is a beautiful home.

Modern house energy-efficient

Ranch Style

Now we go to something totally different. This is an eclectic ranch style home built in Connecticut. This house has got plenty of character. It's definitely an advantage for long-term living comfort if you have the property space to build a single floor home without stairs.

Ranch energy-efficient

Farmhouse Style

To demonstrate yet another style, let's check out this farmhouse in New York. The overhangs in the front are nicely integrated with the front porch. This is such a classic, timeless country house that really would not stand out to be super energy-efficient just by looking at it.

Farmhouse energy-efficient

Classic City Brick

On we go to a classic brick city home in Pittsburgh. It is a retrofit, which goes to show that you can work with existing structures and still have a sustainable home. This building style is also quite common in our neighborhood.

classic city brick energy-efficient

Rustic Rural

The next house is a rustic rural style combination of two buildings in Pennsylvania. This property is built in the same building style predominant in this area. This is a great example of taking something local and incorporating it into a new build. We like the clean lines and the use of the sloped property creating different levels.

rural house  energy-efficient


Right off the waterfront sits this coastal home in Maine. For us, this screams summer holidays with the family at the cottage. This house has much more to it than a summer cottage, of course, and would be a fantastic place to live year-round.

costal house  energy-efficient


Next up is this Victorian home in Minnesota. Other than the solar panels on the garage, you would not even suspect this to be a sustainable house. And it goes to show that you can still have all the design features your heart desires, like those ornate windows.

victorian house  energy-efficient


For our next house, we are looking at the first Passive House in Chicago. Again, we see a compact building style that is very common for energy-efficient homes. This home's exterior stands out for the mix in siding materials, both texturally and in color.

standard house  energy-efficient

West Coast

Further west is this family home in Vancouver. It's built in a modern west coast style with a mix of contrasting siding materials. This home has lots of style yet a very classic house shape, which is very cool.

west coast house energy-efficient

Modern Chicago

Finally, let's look at this modern city home in Chicago. The compact and almost boxy building style optimizes the use of space available on the property. And there is plenty of style here again with the mix of materials and colors on the exterior. This house comes closest to the shape of the home we are in the process of building as well.

city house energy-efficient

The style is up to you...

All these houses truly show that you don't need to sacrifice style when building a sustainable detached family home. Quite the contrary, modern building materials and construction methods allow many of these houses to make strong architectural design statements. It really comes down to the homeowner, builder, and architect to put the desired character on a home.

Our style...

For our own two-story city home, we are aiming for a modern design. The building structure will be compact with clean lines and few architectural features for contrast. We have chosen timeless materials like brick exterior and grey window frames. This has resulted in our design being dubbed the "modern manor". Below are the latest renderings for the front and rear. To see how it turns out, keep following us through the construction process into 2021.

front elevation modern city house
Rear elevation modern city house

All credits for Passive House project and photos shown in this post go to:

All of these sites are massively valuable resources to do any research into energy-efficient housing topics, so we highly recommend checking them out yourself.

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