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In early January, we moved back from Active House Centennial Park in Toronto to our 1880s Victorian house in the picturesque town of Dundas. The weekend we moved was -15°C. I of course took out the thermal camera to see how our old character filled house performed with a little cold weather. Well, it didn’t do so well. The inside surface of the exterior walls were 15°C and the inside of the windows were closer to 10°C with a 21°C ambient air temperature. In the Active House the difference between wall, window and air temperature was only 2-3°C. So, the slippers came out and we unpacked some sweaters for everyone. Getting ready for bed that first night, we noticed the how much static the girls’ hair was producing. The house was dry, 28% relative humidity dry. That’s refill-your-water-glass-in-the-middle-of-the-night dry. By day 2 we were unpacking moisturizer to relieve itchy dry skin and looking in the basement for the humidifier.  The house doesn’t have a mechanical ventilation system, but gets fresh air whenever the wind blows since it’s pretty leaky. That dries the indoor air in the winter, as cold outdoor air is very dry. The furnace also runs a lot more with the lack of insulation which also dries the air. The house is great for drying wet mittens, but isn’t as comfortable as I had remembered.

Dundas semis
Our house is the one with the light grey roof and skylight.

I was surprised that most of the time the indoor air quality was pretty good without mechanical ventilation. But with a leaky old house and the furnace running so much, it seems to distribute the fresh air to some extent, but not always. We have had a couple times since we’ve been back where the CO2 climbed up pretty high, indicating poor air quality. I have to assume it wasn’t very windy during those times. As you can tell, I brought a lot of the measuring equipment home with me, to Bethany’s annoyance as she thought she had escaped my frequent updates.

When it warmed up and rained later in the week, I noticed the humidity rose surprisingly quick in the house. This old house is connected to nature in all the wrong ways. It reacts to the outdoor weather conditions in a way that can be very much felt inside. At least it keeps the rain out. Active House Centennial Park maintained a comfortable temperature, humidity and air quality much better due to its quality construction, insulation and mechanical equipment. Given the choice, I’d prefer the connection to the outdoors that was so enjoyed while we lived in an Active House, that is the daylight and views. I also noticed our old house was better connected to the sounds of outdoors. If we’re quiet, we can hear the street traffic, which mostly means after the kids are sleeping. I am glad we’re not on a flight path here though, I’d duck every time a plane went over.

Our 6-month adventure in Active House Centennial Park flew by faster than the airplanes on route to Pearson Airport. Even with 15 years of promoting products that contribute to the performance of houses, living in an Active House and making a point of measuring, monitoring and observing how we felt was an amazing experience and education. I feel I have gained a deeper understanding of the benefits of living in a well-designed high performance house. I sincerely hope that sharing our experience has influenced and inspired people to seek out better homes. Great Gulf has done a great job and it sounds like this is just one piece of a larger movement that Great Gulf is positioned to lead. I certainly feel changed by this experience; in fact, so much so, that we are doing an Active House inspired renovation on our old Dundas house and I plan to share the experience in my next blog.