Family works with Somerset Construction to realize dream of sustainable, fossil-fuel-free home

Family works with Somerset Construction to realize dream of sustainable, fossil-fuel-free home

When Steven and Jenny Hitchinson were looking for a builder for their planned net-zero home, they looked no further than Somerset Construction.


First, they brought in Andy Thomson of Thomson Architecture Inc. to provide a design, then moved on to finding a construction partner to pull everything together and make their dream a reality.


“This is a daunting task for a homeowner and we initially struggled to find a contractor who possessed the skills and desire to take on new and unique project like this,” says Steven Hitchinson. “Through a referral and after initial conversations we knew that Graeme Sperber and his team at Somerset Construction were the perfect partners for this project as they were fundamentally excited to learn with us and apply their decades of building experience to something new.”

In 2020, the couple had purchased a property in Port Credit and, with Thomson’s design in hand, they approached Somerset, and the work began.


“When we bought the property with the intent to renovate to net zero, we quickly realized that the level of modifications required to mesh old and new while achieving maximum building performance was going to be more difficult and expensive than building from scratch,” says Hitchinson. “Andy Thomson possessed a deep understanding of building sciences and techniques to achieve our goals.”

Then Somerset entered the equation. Here are the basic design requirements that were presented by the Hitchinsons:


  • Eliminate the use of fossil fuels;
  • Maximize the free energy provided by the sun through passive heating and solar PV;
  • Build a smart and functional space;
  • And use low carbon materials and track the total embodied carbon to be offset in the future.


Sperber, President of Somerset Construction in North York, says the Hitchinson project has resulted in a magnificent, carbon neutral, net-zero and energy-efficient home.

“Through the process of building this home, we have learned some key things,” he says. “For example, it’s the attention to detail – the little things – that have a big impact.  The structural connections, the fastening details and the superstructure penetrations might be perceived as insignificant, however they go a long way in the thermal performance.


“Further, it’s understanding how the selection of materials, such as high-performance air barriers and connections, as well as insulating layers and material choices, go a long way in ensuring the success of a net-zero home.”

The attention to detail is remarkable. Somerset, as a smaller company, has built a reputation on quality service, with an ability to be nimble, responsive and personalized in its approach.


“This Port Credit project,” says Sperber, “is an example of how our business has expanded to include new homes and retrofit projects that could include high-efficiency, high-performing homes with a phased approach for net zero.”


The task was daunting. A list of key characteristics of the house points out the incredible attention to detail:

  1. Gas line was cut and won’t be reconnected;
  2. Design the roof to maximize solar PV:
    1. The roof pitch and size were specifically set based on the orientation of the house to maximize the size of the solar PV array (20kW) and, as result, the annual energy produced. The house would produce around 30,000 kWh/year.
    2. A standing seam metal roof would be installed to easily clip the solar PV system to the seams and avoid any penetrations within the roof membranes and assembly;
  3. Insulate everything:
    1. Insulation under the basement and garage floor slab.
    2. R42 exterior wall assembly made up of two layers of exterior three-inch rockwool comfortboard 110 and interior rockwool insulation between the studs.
    3. R70 roof with exterior sheathing completing covered in three-inch rockwool comfortboard to eliminate thermal bridging;
  4. Air tightness:
    1. A breathable air tightness membrane wraps the entire house from the basement slab to the peak of the roof. Extreme care was taken to ensure every window and penetration was properly sealed;
  5. Mechanical systems:
    1. Heating is provided by an air to water heat pump system that is distributed throughout the house.
    2. An energy recover ventilator continually monitors and provides fresh air into the house while helping to maintain humidity levels in both summer and winter.
    3. Cooling is provided by an independent ductless mini-split system and strategically located throughout the house;
  6. Taking advantage of passive solar:
    1. Large south-facing windows with a shading structure designed to maximize solar gains in the winter and minimize them during the summer;
  7. High performance windows:
    1. Triple pane, thermally broken windows, tilt-and-turn windows;
  8. Minimizing the amount of concrete used in the foundations:
    1. Concrete has a high carbon footprint, so the structural engineering team worked to provide eight-inch reinforced foundation walls versus the typical 10-inch to reduce the amount of concrete being used;
  9. Reduce thermal bridging:
    1. The traditional deck ledger was replaced by beam pockets incorporated into the foundation walls that allow the deck beams to run perpendicular to the house, allowing insulation to be maintained against the foundation walls.

“We pride ourselves on the connection and relationships we create with our clients – many of whom have come back for repeat business,” Sperber added. “Our goal is to exceed all our client expectations.”


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Established in 1999, Somerset Construction is a small-medium size wholly-owned Canadian company with a myriad of experience in the residential sector, commercial and light industry. Somerset specializes in complex projects working closely with the clients, architects, designers and engineers. Project management, construction management and general contracting are a few of Somerset’s strengths which allow its teams to execute projects on time and within budget.



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