The Waterfall Home in Telc
We’re often left breathless when presented with the accomplishments of modern architecture, even in an old historical town, where the modern structure breathes a new life into the city, without interfering with its original character. The house in question stands over a waterfall on concrete pillars.
Apart for the romantic surroundings, where many people would doubt the possibility of building a home, the structure itself achieves ecological and low-energy standards. The happy owner and architect of the building is Jiri Ondracek. His bold creation certainly earns him a place as a nominee in the finale of the 2016 E.ON Energy Globe Awards, where energy saving and environmentally friendly innovations do not go unnoticed.
We decided to travel to Telc, in the Czech Republic, to see how the house fits with its surroundings and what’s it like to live there.
Why have you decided to build a passive house?
I first saw this type of building when I lived in Australia. The houses there are often built on pillars and most of the year is spent on an outside terrace. I wanted to build a house that would be both modern and ecological. Even though the city of Telc is a historical town and my building might not exactly fit in.
Do you think your home goes unappreciated by the local residents?
I suppose so. The younger generation doesn’t mind, but the older populace is repulsed by the whole ordeal. When I started the construction, everyone looked at me as if I was mad. But then they realized that this just might be the future of living. Passive homes are a great thing and a lot of people are starting to think so.
The building feels very untraditional. What’s the layout?
I spent a lot of time preparing and came to a conclusion that the only way I can achieve everything I want from the house, it has to be a passive one. So I came up with the idea of building on top of the pillars. That way I can still build underneath, as well as on the roof, where I’m planning to expand in the future. Right now we have a living room, a kitchen, a dining room, a bedroom, two children’s rooms and two bathrooms. All in all, it’s about 90 m2 plus 30 m2 for the terrace, which is accessible from every room. From the kitchen you can enter a small balcony from which you get a nice look at the clock on the local church tower.
How does your home save energy?
As far as electricity is concerned, I’m planning to put solar panels on the roof. I already have them ready, just need to attach them. Heating works thanks to the large passive glass surface area, which lets in a lot of warmth. The house is oriented to the south, so the moment sun reaches in, everything is heated. I also have a fireplace which is used for heating up utility water. Optionally I can direct it into radiators. 4 hours of heating gives us 2 days worth of hot showers.
How often do you have to use the stove?
While many people heat from fall to spring, it’s unnecessary here. During winter I use it about once every 3 days. You don’t even have to heat when it’s -20 degrees outside. Sun takes care of that really well. It’s much worse when it’s around 0 outside and it’s cloudy, then you have to start a fire. I use wood. In a year I go through about 1 cubic meter. I don’t fear winter but I am rather curious about warm summer days.
Is there a way to protect your home from direct sun?
I do have an air conditioning unit that can cool things down a bit. When the sun is higher, it’s blocked by a small roof over the terrace.
How much did the construction cost and how long did it take?
About 2 and a half million Czech koruna, but I built it myself. Otherwise it would be more expensive, I think. If I didn’t have my friends, I would never have finished it. The Passive house center also helped me quite a bit. I started the construction three years ago. If I had a company do it, they could pull it off in a month. I mostly wanted to see what it is like to build your own passive house, to get an idea how the construction goes. Plus it’s nice to know, as an architect, that everything proceeds according to plan.
Did you run into any problems during the construction?
I had a whole lot more problems on paper, rather than with the actual building. The local conservationists had a hard time allowing the construction but on the other hand the folks in the building authority were very friendly and professional. And if I ever ran into trouble, there was a friend who helped me build the whole thing. It’s very pleasant to work with wood. I wouldn’t want a brick house, I don’t like that. This way it was a lot of fun. We used about 30 000 screws and 20 000 nails.
Aren’t you bothered by cars that drive on the bridge nearby? What about tourists?
When I shut my windows, I can’t hear anything, plus the terrace faces the other side, so I am not aware of any commotion. From time to time there is an occasional tourist who snaps a picture of the house though.
Have any of your clients shown interest in a house like yours?
Yes, I have worked on a few passive houses. I’m currently building one over a lake. It’s almost finished. Then there are others being planned.
Why have you signed up for the Energy Globe Awards?
I’ve been in a competition regarding passive houses before and when I was offered to take part in the E.ON Energy Globe Awards, I figured it wasn’t a bad idea.
What do you think is the future for passive houses?
Well, I tell myself that the way a house looks, you can figure how the person who lives in it thinks.
Why would we waste heat when we don’t have to heat at all? Plus it’s amazing when you manage to fit the house into the environment.