Toronto Star

Dawn of next-level living has arrived

Collaborat­ion, innovation are the building blocks for next-generation home


Imagine if your home went beyond providing shelter, and actually helped manage your well-being. A smart home with state-of-the-art inventions that provide renewable fresh air, an abundance of natural daylight (automatica­lly activated by skylights and blinds), and temperatur­es that respond to weather conditions.

It sounds pretty futuristic, but it’s already here — well, at least in one home: The Great Gulf Active House, located in Thorold, Ont.

This is far more than a model home showcasing some clever new technology. This smart home is the result of groundbrea­king collaborat­ion — part of a global movement toward innovative homebuildi­ng. It’s a positive new direction in how developers can work together to build better homes for generation­s to come.

The first of its kind in Canada, Great Gulf Active House is the work of homebuilde­r Great Gulf; 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.

For Active House Alliance members in Canada, the home in Thorold is a game-changer.

“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 a number of companies involved, engineers, a variety of specialist­s all in the building industry. And by way of networking and expertise we set out to design and build a better house.” Home of the future The 3,200-square-foot, two-storey brick-and-cedar home, located in Thorold’s Rolling Meadows subdivisio­n, uses a combinatio­n of high- and low-tech features that ramp up human comfort and well-being while maintainin­g a truly green stance.

Moxness believes that Canadian homes are well built but the concepts of daylight and fresh-air ventilatio­n are rarely key drivers in the design. That’s where the alliance starts.

“First of all we want to create a more dramatic design and in doing so, respect the need for energy use as adriver. But ultimately we’re focused on the occupants and their livability,” says Moxness, who points out that we spend 90 per cent of our lives inside houses — a stat that builders rarely consider.

At the Thorold site, environmen­tal mindfulnes­s began in design. To reduce energy usage, building waste and constructi­on time, designers opted for wood-frame “panelizati­on” — the process of using factorybui­lt wood panels for the frame that, in this case, took just a week to assemble on site.

The 14 app-automated skylights and 23 windows mean the house needs minimal artificial lighting during the day. (Design tests ensured that sunlight would touch every corner of the house — even windowless rooms are lit by numerous sun-tunnels.) Wireless radio technology shuts the open windows and turns on the air conditione­r if the outside temperatur­e rises above 25 C.

The blinds have pre-set settings that allow the homeowner to roll them down to reduce the sun’s heat and glare. Each of the three levels in the home has it’s own thermostat, which can be programmed based on where people are spending their time.

Intake air is automatica­lly activated by two heat-recovery ventilator­s, which boost HVAC performanc­e and continuall­y bring fresh air through the house, an innovation that Moxness feels is particular­ly important.

“We breathe 15 kilograms of air each day, but we don’t think about ventilatin­g our house like they would in Europe,” says Moxness. Research has found pollutants such as volatile organic chemicals (typically found in carpets and glue) exist in levels twoto five times higher indoors than out. “And even more so in Canada — especially in the wintertime when we lock ourselves up so tight.”

Thanks to its rainwater cistern, the Active House consumes about 35 per cent less fresh water than a similar sized house. And with renewable energy supplied by Bullfrog Power, the house achieves full self-sufficienc­y. Teamwork triumphs An ambitious project like the Great Gulf Active House requires a truly collective effort. “We want to build buildings of tomorrow, today,” says Tad Putyra, founder of H+ME Tech- nology, a division of Great Gulf. “But it’s hard to do it on your own.”

It’s also challengin­g to organize as a group since the housing industry is quite fragmented, says Putyra, with sophistica­ted companies that are highly specialize­d.

“The average builder is building hundreds of houses on a project-by-project basis, so it’s so hard to have an idea implemente­d and keep improving,” he says. “You have to expect the fact that prototypin­g anything comes with risks, so it’s all about learning lessons from your own mistakes and good experience­s, and learning from outside (sources) as well.”

Putyra’s team regularly works with Canadian firms and travels to Eu- rope to gather the latest industry technology. Recent trips abroad unearthed invaluable advancemen­ts in heating and cooling systems, in particular. “Europe seems to be way ahead (of North America) in terms of equipping houses with HVAC equipment. And the bonus: These systems are incredibly energy-efficient.”

For the alliance, the ultimate challenge may be scaling production. “We’ve accepted the fact that we have to get better at managing resources, at being more socially responsibl­e,” he admits. “Then, the questions are: How do we make it? How do we turn it into the benefit? How do we make it attractive to our clients, to our homeowners?” Abonus for the region While the pioneers consider how to scale their innovative projects, urban planners keen to curb sprawl in the Greater Toronto Area are hungry for new ideas to meet housing needs: The region is expected to keep growing by up to100,000 people each year.

A recent change to the Ontario Building Code allowing wood frames for buildings over four storeys should signal more mixed-use housing, experts say, that should open the door to new solutions.

So the time is right in the GTA for a vision of buildings that create healthier and more comfortabl­e lives for their residents without impacting negatively on the climate and environmen­t: A primary goal of the alliance.

“Expect to see more five- and 12storey midrise buildings, developmen­ts that feature a mixture of employment and retail as well as residentia­l uses, and smaller and more efficient condominiu­m suites,” said Bryan Tuckey, President of BILD, the associatio­n that represents the GTA land developmen­t and building industry. “Such innovation­s will help increase housing choice for newhome buyers while adding vibrancy and character to our cities and neighbourh­oods.”

The positive principles on display in Thorold are showing that the Active House can play an important role in future communitie­s, says Putyra, whose firm is currently at work on a second Active Home, this time in Etobicoke, with an eye to doing far more.

“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.”

“You have to expect the fact that prototypin­g anything comes with risks, so it’s all about learning lessons from your own mistakes and good experience­s.” TAD PUTYRA FOUNDER, H+ME TECHNOLOGY

 ?? PHOTOS COURTESY OF H+ME TECHNOLOGY ?? The Great Gulf Active House, located in Thorold, Ont., is a two-storey brick-and-cedar home that ramps up human comfort and well-being.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF H+ME TECHNOLOGY The Great Gulf Active House, located in Thorold, Ont., is a two-storey brick-and-cedar home that ramps up human comfort and well-being.
 ??  ?? The house can actually help manage your well-being with some state-of-the-art inventions.
The house can actually help manage your well-being with some state-of-the-art inventions.

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