Windows are wonderful things, bringing light and air into a home. But even the very best of them are not very energy efficient compared to a well-insulated wall, and green building concepts like the Passive House tend to make windows smaller and eliminate skylights. That's a problem if you are a window or skylight manufacturer, and probably why Velux, the huge Danish skylight manufacturer, developed the Active House concept. I described it earlier as "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."
In Europe, Active Houses have striking modern designs, often with a ridiculous number of windows and skylights. The first Active House in North America was, of course, a traditional design "to fit in", with an entire catalogue of windows, french doors and skylights stuck on it.
The latest Active House, and the first in Canada, goes in a different direction. Designed by TreeHugger favorite superkül , It's almost restrained in its use of windows, and has only 14 skylights. The architect describes it:
superkül’s design strategy considered the environmental impact of the entire lifecycle of the home from concept to performance as well as its impact on its users. the house is oriented with the long roof slope and major glazing facing south to maximize the efficiency of the solar hot-water system and passive solar gain. The multitude of skylights and windows create naturally light-filled spaces and minimize the need for artificial light.
Two intersecting axes guide the open plan of the interior to maximize cross breezes. By removing visual barriers between living spaces, the open plan also creates the impression of a larger home. to promote the comfort of the residents, superkül ensured that each room featured exterior views without compromising privacy. the patio that aligns with the width of the living room reinforces the visually seamless extension of the interior spaces.
The house is built by Great Gulf, a major Canadian developer, and the shell of the house is a panelized prefab system from Brockport Home Systems, seen previously on TreeHugger here. They claim that "this innovative construction method not only reduces material waste, energy usage, and risks of onsite accidents during the construction process but also improves the accuracy and quality of construction."
There is also a long list of green gizmos, from dual heat recovery ventilators to rainwater collection cisterns and solar thermal hot water. A Somphy Smart House system controls the automated blinds. The Active House specification says that "All energy needed is supplied by renewable energy sources integrated in the building or from the nearby collective energy system and electricity grid", which is, I think, deliberately vague; Here, they purchase landfill gas and renewable electricity from Bullfrog Power. (TreeHugger here and here). Of course if the house is sold there is no guarantee that the owner will do the same.
It's easy to be cynical about the Active House concept, and to call it nothing more than a way to justify the use of a whole lot of windows and skylights. However, energy use isn't the only thing that matters in green building; health and comfort are important. Natural light and ventilation are wonderful things to have. Done properly, in the hands of talented architects like superkül, It strikes a very attractive balance.