Active House was born out of a VELUX demonstration project called Model Home 2020. Back in 2009, VELUX set out to demonstrate that homes could meet the European 2020 energy targets and still incorporate elements of comfort that can be overlooked when all the focus is on energy. Typical families were chosen to live in the demonstration houses in several countries and they were monitored for quantitative and qualitative performance. This was a major project with amazing results. The results were so confounding that soon academic, government and industry representatives became very interested, started talking and eventually formed the Active House Alliance. The Active House Standard evolved from the real life experiences of the occupants and the measured performances of the demonstration homes. In fact, Active House has proven you can design, measure and deliver comfort. Builders and architects CAN do this.

My family had the pleasure of living in Active House Centennial Park for 6 months. Our objective was a little different from the other test families, as we did not represent a typical family. We were chosen as the test family by the builder, Great Gulf, to give feedback on the house and share the experience publically in part because of my knowledge of high performance housing, in part because of my relationship as a project partner and in part because my kids would look cute on the marketing side of it.

It was a great experience indeed. Since we have moved out, I have had the opportunity to discuss the project with both Canadian and European industry members. We have had a great response about sharing our experience from both technical in-the-know industry representatives as well as many who are not engaged in the high performance housing conversation. The wider message of including comfort has resonated with so many people, staying true to the roots of Active House’s origins of working with typical families.

Speaking at Enerquaity Forum
Speaking at Enerquaity Forum

There are several standards or labels that a house can be built to in Canada and its performance will exceed our minimum building code requirements. I have come to look at these programs as different marketing campaigns. Each focuses on different performance metrics but the value propositions are very similar. I have seen this put supporters of different programs at odds as there is a fear that competition will confuse consumers. This is unfortunate since our end goal is the same. I hope that Active House will be able to collaborate with CHBA’s Net Zero, Passive House and other leaders. In Italy, Passive House is working closely with Active House! Active House can may also help close the performance gap, which is the difference between what the computer predicted performance and the actual measured performance of the house. This is largely due to occupant behaviour, that uncontrollable variable. When we get this wrong and the gap is large, it discredits out efforts. Bringing comfort into the spotlight can reduce this gap as we better account for people opening windows and adjusting the HVAC. So, we may get better predictions, more comfortable results and a more interesting story to tell. I think this will help us inspire more Canadians to learn and invest in high performance homes. And in the end, isn’t that what us energy geeks want?

The Canadian home building industry has more than 40 years of experience in building and learning from demonstration houses. This valuable industry contribution has led to decades of improving the quality, durability and energy efficiency of Canadian homes. These efforts have also influenced a lot advanced building standards around the world. We should be proud. We’re now narrowing in on super high-performance homes and there is a renewed passion in Canada. There is also an emerging sentiment on the need to unlock a better way to better promote these homes. We are not isolated in this challenge; the home building industries of many countries around the world are pursuing this as well. This is why Active House has gained so much attention around the world, including Canada. Active House can help frame the conversation about comfort, more importantly, that comfort can be measured and that comfort can be designed for and improved upon giving us a better platform to sell comfort as a substantiated benefit of a high performance house. Being able to quantify comfort may be the next step in the evolution of designing and promoting high-performance houses, perhaps even the missing piece of the puzzle for mass acceptance. The experience of my family in Great Gulf’s Active House Centennial Park certainly supports this theory. Design for comfort first and then figure out the energy efficiency.

I am proud to have been part of this project and to have had a chance to contribute to the ongoing evolution of high performance housing in Canada. A special thanks to my family for going on this adventure with me, Great Gulf and VELUX for enabling and believing that we could do something special and to everyone else that made this happen – you know who you are!