Active House Centennial Park is an energy efficient house. Bethany and I agree that energy efficiency is important but in discussions over the last few months, it was hard to identify how it affected our actual day-to-day experience of the house. In search of identifying how energy was part of the experience, I found myself boring Bethany with technical explanations about the house features. When we did dig into it, the benefits of energy efficiency kept creeping into the other two principles of Active House, Comfort and Environment. An energy efficient house should have better thermal comfort if it uses less energy. They go hand in hand. Reducing energy also reduces the environmental impact of making electricity to be used in the house. Perhaps this is why energy is the focal point of most high efficiency building standards, it sort of captures some of the other elements. Energy is also a good metric because we can predict its use before people move in and the occupants get monthly feedback on energy use through their bills. As great as what energy can represent, to many it is just a monthly bill. And if it’s just a monthly bill, then there is a risk that choosing a high performance house becomes purely an economic decision. This could be what has limited the sale of high performance housing historically. And this is why I like Active House. It gives comfort and environment equal billing with energy, which better encompasses the value of high performance housing and allows for the decision to buy one to be based on more than just payback.

Poppy snow windowActive House Centennial Park has been built with better-than-code levels of insulation, windows and air tightness. This reduces the energy required for heating and cooling the home but it also makes the home more comfortable, see my thermal environment blog for more on that. The house has impressive mechanical and electrical rooms full of equipment that reduces, recovers, monitors and optimizes energy use. I have been stuck down there more than once on a tour explaining, discussing and even debating these various elements to my fellow techies. You won’t find Bethany in there admiring the equipment though. The house also has energy efficient appliances and lighting. Not that the lighting gets much use with all those skylights and windows. All of these upgrades improve the energy use of the home, but if they’re working right, you likely don’t notice much difference in the experience of the house.

bullfrog stickersEnergy is also closely related to the environment. The main types of energy we use in our homes in Canada are electricity and fossil fuels, typically natural gas if you have access. There can be environmental impacts from burning fossil fuels, having large hydro dams and using nuclear generation to produce electricity for the grid. Reducing the consumption of electricity can reduce emissions into the environment. Although Active House Centennial Park does not have onsite renewables, it pays a small premium to a secondary utility to ensure the electricity and natural gas used in the home is offset by renewable energy being put on the grid.

AH tesla[1]The house also does load shifting by utilizing a couple of Tesla Powerwall batteries. Load shifting is when low cost night electricity is stored in the battery for use during the more expensive peak load times during the day. There is a money saving potential, but speaking to my friend who works at Ontario Power Generation, that cheap electricity at night is also the greenest. Storing this less expensive and greener electricity to be used during peak times is a great idea. In fact, my friend tells me that if the grid had more storage capacity like this it would improve and simplify the management and planning of the grid. That’s pretty cool.

Energy is definitely key to the development of high performance housing. It is an important metric to be considered in designing, building and choosing appliances etc for the home. But on its own, it is rather boring. I expect energy efficiency in most products I consider purchasing, but I want more benefits than that. The Active House Alliance has very smartly chosen the principles of Active House to be Comfort, Environment and Energy. In my opinion, this provides the best marketing and sales potential for high performance housing I have seen around the world. I am super happy to see other programs copying, being influenced by or coming to the same conclusions as the Active House Alliance on how to promote high performance houses to a wider audience. The future is bright!