A concept that originated in Denmark—the Active House—has been unveiled in Etobicoke by Great Gulf, in this case the world's first to be certified as such. Active Houses focus on sustainability, energy efficiency, and the overall health and well-being of their residents by incorporating a number of innovative design elements into the building's exterior and interior.
Great Gulf is a founding member of the global Active House Alliance, which formed in Brussels in 2010. The developer is also one of the founding members of Active House Alliance Canada, and the first to champion the concept on Canadian soil. "Active House shows the power we can achieve with home technology," Christopher Wein, President of Great Gulf, declared at the event. "It's incredible that we're seeing this type of innovation and futurism here in Toronto. Sometimes we think innovation happens in all sorts of other exotic places in the world, but it's really cities like Toronto and companies like Great Gulf and all the partners involved that make innovation possible."
Located near Centennial Park, Custead Court is lined with new homes developed by Great Gulf. But the Active House—with its superkül-designed black brick and clean lines—makes a distinct impression. Stepping inside, it's clear that this is a living space that embodies the three key principles of Active House: comfort, energy, and environment. Expansive triple-pane windows, accompanied by numerous VELUX skylights, facilitate natural ventilation, daylight and thermal comfort. The open concept kitchen, living and dining areas ensure easy movement between spaces. A double-height space serves as the home's atrium, connecting the ground floor with the second level above. A unique C-shaped courtyard, with an enclosed space soaring the full height of the building, is viewable from the interior living areas.
The Active House implements multiple home automation features, including a Powerwall system developed by Tesla. Located in the unfinished basement, the two lithium-ion batteries that comprise the system allow for energy management and reduction of electricity consumption during peak times. The Powerwall can also be used as an emergency backup in power outages. A Rogers Smart Home Monitoring System equips the house with WiFi thermostats, wireless lighting controls, motion and alarm systems, and a sensor that detects water leaks. The VELUX skylights are opened and closed via touchscreen remote. During harsh weather conditions, the skylights will close automatically.
"Almost ten years ago, a group of designers, architects, house builders, building component manufacturers, and researchers from different universities got together to find a better way to reduce CO2 emissions to counter global warming," said Michael Rasmussen, Chair Advisory Committee, Active House at the Friday event. "Concepts such as the Active House show us we can make significant reductions to our carbon footprint and reach our goal of sustainability without compromising design, economics or quality," said Denmark's Ambassador to Canada Niels Boel Abrahamsen, who was also in attendance. VELUX Canada President and CEO Nels Moxness, Great Gulf Lowrise Division President and COO Tad Putyra, Ward 3 Councillor Stephen Holyday, Ambassador Abrahamsen, Christopher Wein, Michael Rasmussen, and Great Gulf Project Manager Shaun Joffe officially unveiled the Active House plaque on Friday.
The home was built using Great Gulf's H+me Technology system, which utilizes a "built twice, assembled once" approach. The house is constructed in a virtual 3D world, allowing designers, engineers and builders to examine every facet of the building before assembly begins. The manufacturing facility then receives the construction instructions, where the roof, wall and floor components are built as integrated panels. The system results in a quick construction process, virtually free of errors, that yields a house with stronger structural integrity.
To understand how the Active House lifestyle impacts well-being and comfort, Russell Ibbotson, Technical Manager for Building Industry at VELUX Canada, is moving into the home with his wife and three children for six months. "People want to know how to build a house like this, but after living in it and being able to experience it, we'll have a much better understanding of how it functions that will resonate with a wider audience," said Ibbotson.
During the six-month test period, the family will document the energy-efficient features and conduct several scientific experiments using sensors that measure daylight, reflectance, temperature, moisture, and carbon dioxide. The objective is to understand how the indoor climate—keeping in mind the ability of natural daylight to boost concentration and mood—is affecting their physical and mental well-being. Their observations will be chronicled through social media, a blog and short videos.
Active House Centennial Park is the second Active House in Canada—but the first to be registered by the global alliance—after Great Gulf developed a property outside St. Catharines in Thorold, Ontario. The builder hopes to scale up this new model of efficient housing by developing an entire community of Active Houses in the future. As consumers increasingly demand environmentally friendly appliances and open concept, light-filled spaces that foster livability, the Active House concept should only grow in prominence in Canada and around the world.
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