My shift in thinking about how to promote high performance housing started from seeing a presentation a few years ago. The presenter and resident of the house went off script to talk about his wife’s experience. It was emotional, it was powerful and I was inspired. I have quoted that presentation many times since. He made one reference about his wife not needing to wear slippers; that summed it up for me. This was the moment where I fully appreciated that the key to successfully promoting a high performance house was the experience in the house and particularly comfort. When the design and marketing for high performance housing only focuses on energy, it lacks that emotional connection. The presenter’s wife was more comfortable due to a good thermal environment, one of the key elements of comfort under the Active House standard. If the presenter above were presenting on an Active House, the emotional experience wouldn’t need to be off script. A good thermal environment is not simply having a comfortable air temperature. It also needs surfaces like floors, walls, and windows are close to that air temperature. This is why you don’t need your slippers and cardigan sweaters in an Active House. If a surface is cold or hot, we feel this and are uncomfortable. Consistent and comfortable temperatures are achieved with high performance windows, insulation, airtight construction to stop drafts and good HVAC systems (HVAC = heating, ventilation & air conditioning).

FLIR outside house[1]
Surface temperatures on front of house.
FLIR cold window[1]
Surface temperature inside window surface.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos taken with FLIR thermal camera for iPhone with an outside morning temperature of -10°C and a family room air temperature of 22°C.

 

Poppy playing by window[1]Quality windows increase the usable space of the house in the winter. When the inside window temperature is close to 21°C, you can sit closer to them and be comfortable. I can’t say this about my other house where you have to sit about a meter, or three feet, from the windows on really cold days. So, my smaller house in Dundas feels even smaller on cold days. But who in Active House benefits the most from this? My kids! They love daylight and often setup to play right beside a window. I benefit too. My desk is in the family room and under a big southwest facing window and I can comfortably work there on the really cold days without moving away from the window.

 

The summer was a little different. Most of the house was very comfortable, even on those super-hot 30°C+ days that Toronto had so many of this year. The only space of concern was the family room on hot sunny afternoons. That southwest facing high performance window could not block the heat gain of direct afternoon sun. I witnessed nearly 40°C surface temperatures on the back of the closed blind. This was uncomfortable and I had to move my desk away from that window on those days. How do you stop this? Well, if you’re European you can install an exterior blind, but most North Americans wouldn’t accept the aesthetic. If you’re patient, the house has two 4.5 meter tall trees out front, about 15’. But it’ll take some time for those trees to grow big enough to shade the house. The other option is to design with larger overhangs or reduce the size of west-facing windows – hard to do when the house is already built. And don’t tell anyone I suggested smaller windows.

FLIR close blind hot fam window[1]
Surface temperature on back of closed blind
FLIR open blind hot fam window[1]
Surface temperature inside window surface.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos taken with FLIR thermal camera for iPhone on a hot sunny afternoon.

Active House Centennial Park is a high performance house that has a great thermal environment. It is warm in the winter and Bethany and I don’t have to chase the kids around to wear slippers. They can go barefoot and we can relax about it. Excluding the family room for a couple hours on really hot days, the house performed amazingly well in the summer too. The added benefit is that the more comfortable house uses less energy to heat and cool than the less comfortable one. Seems like a win-win to me and I hope it inspires others to factor this into their home buying decisions. A high-performance house has a lot of value to promote that goes way beyond energy.