The Active House, Yet Another Green Building Standard, Comes to North America

Active house exterior
©. Activehouse USA

© Activehouse USA

This website has devoted a lot of pixels to the Passive House, or Passivhaus as it is known outside of America. It is a great system if you are in the insulation business, but not if you make conventional windows or skylights. So welcome to the Active House, sponsored by VELUX, the big skylight manufacturer. It's a new building standard that promotes energy saving, healthy indoor conditions with lots of fresh air and you guessed it, lots of natural light and ventilation from lots of windows and skylights.


© VeluxThe certification is " based on a balanced and holistic approach to building design and performance".

ENERGY- Contributes positively to the energy balance of the building
An Active House is energy efficient and all energy needed is supplied by renewable energy sources integrated in the building or from the nearby collective energy system and electricity grid.
INDOOR CLIMATE - Creates a healthier and more comfortable life for the occupantsAn Active House creates healthier and more comfortable indoor conditions for the occupants and the building ensures generous supply of daylight and fresh air. Materials used have a positive impact on comfort and indoor climate.
ENVIRONMENT - Has a positive impact on the environmentAn Active House interacts positively with the environment by means of an optimised relationship with the local context, focused use of resources, and on its overall environmental impact throughout its life cycle.

© Activehouse USA

The first Active House in the USA just opened and it gets a lot of things right; for most people, this is going to be a very attractive option for green certification. Where most Active Houses built in Europe are striking modern designs, the Active House USA, designed by Jeff Day and Associates Architects, is traditional, to blend " harmoniously with the historic homes in the surrounding area so it has all the charm but outperforms them by far."

It does not outperform a Passive House; the highest rating of Active House uses 30 kWh/m2, twice the Passive House standard. But the Active House measures a lot of things that the Passive House doesn't, such as light and view, indoor air quality, natural ventilation and daylighting, all of which can be improved by, you guessed it, more opening windows and skylights. It also does measure noise transmission, fresh water consumption, life cycle of materials and environmental loadings. Just like a Passive House, siting and solar orientation with proper shading is critical.


© Activehouse USA

This is a very healthy house, and the rooms are bright and airy. It takes great advantage of natural cross-ventilation and natural lighting in every room. I can see it being a very popular way of building, and it is a lot healthier and energy efficient than conventional homes.


© Activehouse USA

However I find it hard not to be a little cynical. The walls are only R25 and the roof R45, barely above building code in northern parts of the country. The windows are Loewen high performance argon filled and with the right solar coating to reduce heat gain, but there are a LOT of them; I wonder what the real average R rating of an entire wall is with that many openings. They call it a Net Zero Energy house because of the solar panels on the roof, and then hype the use of natural gas as "a clean, low cost, domestic energy source, and provides an opportunity to broaden energy resources for the customer." So it is not really energy neutral and greenwashes gas.

green lighthouse

© Activehouse network

When you look at the active houses built to date, you see a lot of lovely homes, and a whole lot of skylights and windows. I can't help but wonder if there is something wrong with this picture, that the Active House has a certain bias towards a certain building product.

europe activehouse

© Velux