Solar FlexHouse™

The photo shows the model that Nicholas Varias Architect used to develop his design for FlexHousing™ in 1994.  The Solar Flexhouse™ is its 2010 upgrade.

The Solar Flexhouse™ will enable people to purchase and keep their home, rather than move when family or economic conditions change.
  Each unit will be able to accommodate one or two independent dwellings, in other words, it will function as a single-family home or as a duplex.

Furthermore, the units are offered in three sizes, one, two and three storeys, to suit a variety of needs and budgets.

The design of the stacked storage rooms will create the space for a future elevator, to make all floors barrier free. All this unique flexibility, presently not available on the housing market, will facilitate stable residencies, and create safe and caring neighbourhoods.

The Solar Flexhouse™ requires less natural resources and energy than conventional housing. It brings solar energy and a high-tech look, appropriate for the twenty-first century.  Furthermore, the ecological footprint of the house will be reduced by a green roof, which will return to nature a large portion of the original green space taken away by the building.

Complemented by an optional greenhouse, the green roof will be an outdoor oasis for leisure, pets, or to grow organic fruits and vegetables; a most attractive selling feature for the environmentally conscientious home buyer.
The layout creates an independent one-bedroom in-law suite and/or home office on the ground floor. The flat roof, complemented by a greenhouse, will provide a private outdoor space to be used for relaxation and gardening.

All interior partitions will be non-load bearing and may be relocated as desired. All floors are designed to be accessible to wheelchair users and they may be easily connected by an optional elevator installed in the stacked storage rooms located on each level.

The Solar Flexhouse™ may be expanded from an initial one storey 728 sq ft unit, to 1456 sq ft two storeys, or to 2096 sq ft three storeys, with minimum disruptions to the occupants.
  This is achieved by designing the flat roof as a future floor, and by using state-of-the-art steel framing technology.   The staircase to access the roof, the sunroom and the green roof assembly, are all features that can be added later.

The building will be very energy efficient, with built-in passive solar heating achieved with thermal mass and a rooftop sunroom, with distribution ducts running through the open floor space. The surplus heat will be stored in the concrete floors and will be supplemented by the radiant floor heating generated through a geo-thermal system.  This combination of renewable energy sources will provide comfortable and efficient heating and cooling.

Photovoltaic solar panels will be installed on the roof and walls to generate electricity.  They can be installed with optimum orientation on the flat roof.  The surplus electricity will be stored in batteries, or in a tank, as hydrogen obtained from water through hydrolysis.  The oxygen, which will also be produced in this process, will improve the interior air quality.  On cloudy days, a small generator could be used to burn hydrogen for back up heat and to produce electricity and pure water.

The owner will also have the option of producing extra electricity for sale into the grid.  Cost effective and technologically advanced building materials and systems could be used to create adaptable, comfortable and healthy housing.

The use of open web joists and T-bar ceiling would allow for easy installation and future modification of the mechanical and electrical systems.  A “smart house” computer control system could also be easily installed anytime through the walls & floors open space.

Following is a summary of the social, health and economic benefits:
  • Allows for multi-generational family living
  • Making home ownership more affordable
  • It can grow in time
  • Offers neighbourly security and assistance
  • Facilitates home care for seniors
  • Provides adaptability of the living space
  • It is ideal for people who need two residences, such as snow birds
  • Provides a private outdoor space on the roof
  • Has comfortable radiant floor heating, ideal for seniors
  • Eliminates most allergens from interior finishes
  • Strengthens community neighbourhood spirit
  • Potential rental income
  • Ground floor may have a separate office for home business
  • Low maintenance requirements
  • Potential electricity generation
  • Growing fruits and vegetables on the roof
  • Reduced insurance premiums due to non-combustible construction
  • Saving on CMHC mortgage insurance
  • Reduced moving costs
  • Longer building life span
  • Higher resale value

Discussion on Market Trends

The residential market is thirsty for housing that would meet the immediate and long term needs of a growing number of consumers: new home buyers, empty nesters, snow birds, people with special needs, ethnic groups with extended family traditions, etc. First home buyers will have the choice of starting with a small unit and enlarge it later, or partnering and buying a larger unit.

The Solar Flexhouse™ could be of particular interest to seniors and to those who care for them.  Each unit can fluctuate between a single family home and a duplex; this allows for independent living.

Thanks to its sustainability and reduced footprint on the land, The Solar Flexhouse™ could also appeal to the environmentally conscious home buyer, not satisfied with the wasteful conventional housing presently available.

Aging population 
An increasing number of elderly people seek more convenient forms of housing, with less space and maintenance and where they can get outside help more easily. Many home owners sell their houses and move into apartments or "trendy" one storey condos. Then, as they become less self-reliant, most move to some form of senior housing that is suitable to their income. Moving is stressful, especially for seniors, but for many it is the only alternative available at the present. The Solar Flexhouse™ offers an ideal home for snow birds.  They can fly south in the winter without leaving their house vacant.

Changes in family lifestyles 
As the older generation ages, there is a trend to live with adult children, rather than in nursing homes. The grandparents become part of a larger family; they are cared for and contribute to the wellbeing of all, especially the grandchildren. They can provide free, high quality child care in families where both, or the single parent(s) works.

Accommodating people with disabilities
There is growing awareness for the needs of the physically and mentally challenged. The last few years have brought new building code regulations, active contribution from numerous organizations and broader acceptance by the general public. There is a trend towards integrating people with disabilities into the community. The Solar Flexhouse™ offers a unique solution for making the entire home barrier free, through its stacked storage space which can accommodate an elevator with minimum disruptions and cost. 

Increasing number of self-employed 

Due to the present "downsizing revolution", the army of small entrepreneurs is growing steadily. To keep overhead costs low, many new self-employed are obliged to use part of their homes to run their businesses.  This is a return to the times when many houses, especially on Main Street, had a shop at the ground floor with flats above.  

The economic factor

A growing number of people are searching for more affordable housing and new sources of income. The affordability of the Solar Flexhouse™ is achieved in two ways: firstly, the purchaser can start with an initial smaller and lower priced unit and expand it later; secondly, the home itself can become a source of revenues.  Also, due to financial restraints, more families are forced to pull back together. Young adults who cannot find work have to live with their parents; parents who could not save for retirement have to live with their children.  The rising cost of energy and long-term maintenance is becoming another determinant factor in selecting a home.  The Solar Flexhouse™ will have much lower maintenance costs.  This is due to the highest energy conservation standards available on the market.  And finally, being virtually non-combustible, the Solar Flexhouse™ will secure lower long term insurance premiums, over a longer lifespan than conventional housing.

The social factor 

Many social problems, such as crime, juvenile delinquency, child abuse, vandalism, neglect, etc., can be alleviated by creating integrated communities. Staying in one place for a long time creates a sense of belonging and caring. Home ownership strengthens urban communities and can be made affordable with new innovative forms of housing.  


Urban & consumer renewal 

There is a growing acceptance today of the fact that society cannot afford to let urban sprawl continue. The environmental, economic and social costs are becoming more and more evident. New planning ideas and concepts that focus on better management of resources, especially land and infrastructure, are gaining ground. Infill and higher density residential developments work towards preserving the natural environment and farm land and also revitalizing downtowns. Compact, two/three storey dwelling units can compete effectively with conventional houses. The Solar Flexhouse™ is ideal for creating economically sustainable residential communities.

Environmental awareness

The number of people who are environmentally conscious is growing rapidly.  The trend in home buyers’ expectations is towards sustainable housing.  By reducing the need for energy and natural resources, The Solar Flexhouse™ will meet and exceed these expectations.

Competitive Edge

 In view of the survey and trends described above, there is a demonstrated growing demand for housing that combines the adaptability, accessibility and affordability of the Solar Flexhouse™ with healthy housing, energy conservation and low maintenance.  The Solar Flexhouse™ could offer such housing, presently not available on the market.  Most presently available forms of housing have been targeted for specific types of individuals and families based on age, mobility, income, and so on. Such housing makes it difficult to accommodate changing needs within the same home. Therefore, by providing a much-needed alternative, the Solar Flexhouse™ will have a competitive edge over the competition. 

FlexHousing™ History

FlexHousing means adaptability in time and space to create a "total family" home; the nucleus which grows and changes to accommodate a wide range of needs, across generations; a home which is also seed for neighbourhood community spirit.  FlexHousing helps people adapt their home to fit their requirements as they change in time, without having to move; this strengthens communities, lowers the need for new housing and reduces the consumption of energy and building materials.

The number of population grows and people’s needs change in time, due to age and life style.  This fuels the ever-growing demand for new housing.  FlexHousing™ offers people the possibility of adapting their home to fit their requirements as they change, and reduces the need to build new housing.  That’s why FlexHousing™ is an essential element of sustainable development, by reducing the need for new residential buildings.

The concept had been promoted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, starting with its design competition in 1996, in which Nicholas Varias was the national winner.  His achievement was announced in the House of Commons of Canada, on April 25, 1997: 

 “Mr. Joe Fontana (London East, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to recognize Mr. Nicholas Varias of London, Ontario as the national winner of Canada Mortgage and Housing's flexhousing design competition… Mr. Varias' winning design reflects CMHC's flexhousing principles of adaptability, accessibility and affordability...” 


Subsequently, a model unit was constructed in 1998, on the campus of the National Research Council in Ottawa, at the Canadian Centre for Housing Technology’s InfoCentre.

Article in the London Free Press

A Story of Love and Success

In 2015, Amanda Smart was a young teacher, hardworking, intelligent and open minded. She purchased a FlexSola type "A" unit and rented the ground floor to Darren Strong, who was on his way to becoming a lawyer. With the money from Darren's rent and the extra electricity generated by the solar panels, Amanda was able to carry the mortgage and make some additional investments, such as saving for retirement. Amanda and Darren became friends. They shared the rooftop garden and laundry, but also discovered they had many common interests, such as enjoying nature, star watching and karate. In 2016, they married. Darren finished his studies and opened his office downstairs. Many of his clients were physically challenged and his ground floor office was fully accessible to wheelchairs. Darren sold his car and because he worked at home, they both shared Amanda's Toyota.

A year later baby Justin came along and with him, a much-needed new laundry facility on the second floor. Amanda's mother moved in to look after the baby when his parents were working. Justin truly enjoyed spending his first years at home, being raised with loving care. As his parents needed extra room, they added an attic including a new bedroom overlooking their livingroom. They called it "our little paradise."
Six years later, in 2023, grandma became confined to a wheelchair. Rather than assigning her to a nursing home, Amanda and Darren decided she should stay with their small family. A lift was installed to allow grandma free access to all floors.

In 2035, grandma passed away and they all missed her very much. By this time, Darren had moved out from downstairs and was now sharing an office with his partner. Justin, now a teenager, moved downstairs into his own apartment. He enjoyed the freedom of coming home late without disturbing the rest of the family. Within 24 months, he left home for university and Amanda and Darren found themselves alone. As the house was now too big for them, they decided to rent the ground floor again. They could also use the money to help pay for Justin's tuition fees.

Justin brought his bride home in 2043. The newlyweds had no money and needed a place to stay. Like most parents, Amanda and Darren decided to help and let the young couple move into the ground floor apartment.  
In 2046, Justin and Alice had a baby. As they needed an extra bedroom, they moved to the second floor. The "little paradise" was large enough for the aging couple. They could also rent the ground floor again. Then, the grandparents moved downstairs and the growing young family could use the attic as well. "Why move," they reasoned, "when we can live in the same house and be independent at the same time?" And most important, they could all care for each other.

And the story of love and success goes on.