The Great Gulf Active House
Can you imagine a house that provides even more than shelter – a home that can help take care of your health and wellbeing?
Well, we did. It’s called the Great Gulf Active House.
Located in Thorold, Ontario, it’s the first smart house of its kind in Canada. This isn’t merely a pretty model home showcasing clever gadgets. It’s the result of groundbreaking collaboration – part of a global movement toward innovative homebuilding.
The project brought together some incredibly talented partners. Along with H+ME Technology, we had superkül, a Toronto-based architecture firm, and the European-based Active House Alliance. The alliance, a Denmark-based collective – now comprising scientists, architects, engineers and building manufacturers in 50 countries – has a mission to explore ways to construct better, more sustainable homes.
“The idea of Active House is really to inspire people in terms of better quality design that has the inhabitants first in mind,” says Nels Moxness, a member of the Canadian branch of the Active House Alliance and president and CEO of Velux Canada, a skylight manufacturer.
There’s certainly no shortage of inspiration here.
The 3,200-square-foot, two storey brick and cedar building uses a combination of high- and low-tech features that ramp up comfort while maintaining a completely green stance. To reduce energy usage, building waste and construction time, designers opted for H+ME Technology’s wood-frame “panelization” – the process of using factory-built wood panels for the frame that, in this case, took just a week to assemble on site.
In this house, natural daylight rules. With 14 app-automated skylights and 23 windows, the house needs minimal artificial lighting during the day. And design tests ensured that sunlight would touch every corner of the house – even windowless rooms are lit by numerous sun-tunnels.
The blinds have settings that allow the homeowner to roll them down to reduce the sun’s heat and glare. A thermostat on each of the three floors can be programmed based on where people are spending their time.
The intake of air is automatically activated by two heat-recovery ventilators, which boost HVAC performance and continually bring fresh air through the house.
A heat-recovery unit captures heat from showers and baths and preheats incoming cold water, while a cistern and rainwater collection system reduces the need for municipal water by up to 35 percent. And with renewable energy supplied by Bullfrog Power, the house achieves full self-sufficiency.
The ambitious project was only possible with a massive collective effort. “We want to build buildings of tomorrow, today,” says Tad Putyra, founder of H+ME Technology, a division of Great Gulf. “We know we can’t do it alone. And you have to expect the fact that prototyping anything comes with risks. So it is all about learning lessons from your own mistakes and good experience.”
With eager collaborators, that day may come sooner than later.
The Active House can play an important role in future communities, says Putyra, whose team is currently at work on a second Active Home, this time in Etobicoke. “Having this platform is encouraging potential partners and suppliers to join us in our R&D process,” he says. “Not a week goes by that we aren’t getting inquiries about doing something together.”