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Kemp Lake Oasis: A Labour of Love

For six years the dream home of Keary and Judy Conwright has been methodically moving toward reality. Today, the family has taken up residence in the striking and innovative home situated up the hill from the double-wide that housed them as the new house has taken shape.

Plans for the log and rammed earth structure began around the time Keary and Judy moved here from the Lower Mainland seven years ago. A total change was sought and that’s pretty much what they got in trading Surrey for rural Sooke. Keary still has his foot in some of the hubbub as he travels to Victoria for work, but overall he sees a net increase in peace and quiet on this side of Georgia Strait.

The home is nearing completion and was sufficiently ready on a recent weekend for the couple to open their doors to a group of invited guests.

With 2,000 square feet of area on two floors the abode is capable of welcoming a good crowd, particularly thanks to the open design of the main floor.

This is an attractive living space with Douglas fir logs and beams providing the skeleton and rammed earth walls sealing it all in.

The place has a traditional charm to it but the features are right up to date. Keary explained a process that uses evacuated-tube solar collectors on the roof to generate power for the heating and circulation of water in the main floor. The radiant warmth is soothing and efficient. The solar capability also contributes to the heating of domestic hot water.

Providing ample backup is a centrally located “contra-flow” heater - an eye-catching stone monument/fireplace. The unit draws fresh outdoor air from below floor level. This is a very quiet system. A nifty feature of the counter-flow concept is the secondary “re-combustion” chamber in which the energy of exhaust gases is retrieved. This makes for far cleaner air being released to the outdoors. The entire unit is encased in smooth rocks which can release radiant heat for as long as 20 hours after the fire has gone out.

The exterior, and several interior walls, are made using a “rammed earth” process exploiting the abundance of suitable material found right at the home site mixed with wood chips. The exterior walls are a foot thick and provide remarkable insular properties: warm in winter... cool in summer. The walls are also just a little bit porous – enough to allow a measurable amount of air to pass through – not enough to be noticed, but enough to prevent a stale closeness as may be found in buildings with more common plastic vapour barriers.

Topping off the many practical highlights of this residence is a good number of artistic touches that give it an added appeal. Those touches, namely Judy’s beautiful stained glass work, are easily noticed and appreciated.

“Keary’s mom gets credit for the designs,” she said, “and I put them together.”

This address is a testament to the energy and initiative of the Conwrights. Keary has been interested in innovative construction techniques and this has been his opportunity to put some of that passion into a tangible project. They’ve both done a lot of work and a few aspects are just now being completed, like the upstairs bathroom.

But in case you’re worried that this resourceful pair is about to suddenly have a surplus of idle time on its hands, don’t be... the landscaping is next.