30
Mar 12

Active House USA is Designed to Be an American Classic

Active House USA

Henrik Sorensen, Business Director for Esbensen A/S, Oslo, Norway Explains how the holistic design, construction and operation along with a focus on occupant comfort are evaluated for each Active House Prototype. Behind Sorenson you can see the Active House USA display at EcoBuild in London, England.

As a member of the Active House Alliance I was invited to attend the big EcoBuild World Conference last week in London, England. The Active House Network had a significant presence there and, in addition to attending Alliance meetings, I was invited to speak about the economics of investing in a high performance green home or building, and to do a presentation on the Active House USA Prototype project.

During the conference all of the Active House prototype homes were featured in a display at the Active House booth. I overheard a few comments that the Jeff Day designed Active House  USA home was “American looking” which I of course, took pride in. It is quite fascinating to look at the different designs of all the prototypes-some traditional like the USA Home and some ultra-modern. All are reflective of the architectural design of the country in which they are located, yet all function at the upper levels of building performance. (If you are interested in seeing just how different these homes look from one another you can see the prototypes on the Active House Alliance website.)

Our Active House USA story is somewhat unique as we are building an infill home in a well established area of Webster Groves, only two blocks from Webster’s downtown district. The Active House Specifications are meant to be a guide to achieve high performance goals for building durable homes, managing the resources it takes to build, and all with a sharp focus on energy efficiency to greatly reduce need for power and water use. For example, the Active House USA design incorporates natural light sources in our energy planning while adding to the comfort of living in the home.

While many of the Active House prototype homes has some freedom in how they were designed to achieve the goals of the Active House specification, Active House USA had the additional challenge of working within the well established architectural guidelines of Old Webster. In other words, we had to take a typical home design and make it an Active House!

The end result is that we are building a home that looks similar to the historical surrounding homes in this Midwest neighborhood, while outperforming them exponentially! And the significance of this challenge and achievement was not lost on the attendees at EcoBuild.

About Matt Belcher – Mr Belcher, owner of Verdatek Solutions, is an experienced builder/developer and nationally recognized consultant, educator and author on the business of green building and development. He served on the steering committee of the Canadian based Net Zero Energy Home Coalition to develop a North American Net Zero Energy Home Standard. He has advised the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development in the Development of the “Green Star” Green Building Standard in China. In 2008 Mr. Belcher testified to the U.S. House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee on Climate Benefits of Improved Building Energy Efficiency.


by Matt Belcher
14
Jan 12

The Story and Goals of Active House USA

Just about a year ago I was asked if I would be interested in taking part in the construction of a prototype home using a European “green building specification.” The location was to be determined, but would be somewhere in the USA.

I have been involved with building codes and code development, including serving on committees for developing energy and green codes, nearly all of my professional life. So, naturally, I was very interested. I was invited to attend a meeting last May in Charleston, SC with several key representatives from Active House including the current Committee Chair of the Active House Network, Mikkel Olsen, who is an engineer for our Active House USA project partner Velux in Copenhagen, Denmark.

After reviewing the Active House specifications and information regarding previous prototypes, I realized the large scope and potential of this project and immediately reached out to an old friend and green builder, Kim Hibbs of Hibbs Homes. I knew his attention to quality and efficient building process, including his attention to outstanding communications, were perfect for this opportunity.

I asked the group at our meeting in Charleston to consider letting us build the prototype in the St. Louis area due to our location in the center of the country. It seems that the larger markets on both coasts tend to end up with these opportunities, however, we are in an area that has an advantageous mixed climate zone, as determined by the International Building Code.

Where climate zones located to the North or South may focus on extended periods of colder and dryer or warmer and more humid conditions respectively, by placing the home in St Louis’s mixed climate this prototype will require focus on both extremes, which are inherent to this zone, and necessitate a broader focus for durablity, efficient design, construction, development and retrofitting.

Under normal circumstances, when you build a prototype of most anything you are doing so to test and even push new technology or materials, or both.

Active House is a specification for home design and construction that is currently being developed in Europe. It is a “holistic” specification; meaning it takes into account the resources it takes to construct a building, its impact in terms of energy & water consumption, occupant health and comfort, and even external effects such as storm water runoff.

There have been several prototype homes built around Europe, one was recently completed in Russia during the development of the current specification which was issued in Brussels, Belgium in April of 2010.

The Europeans have a wealth of knowledge in durable construction in harsh climatic conditions, and planning for concentrations and density of population. This experience includes dealing with scarcity of materials (the origin of resource efficiency in today’s green standards, such as Green Globes stem from post war construction and the limited amount of natural resources, such as timber, due to deforestation), along with managing the impact on existing and future resources as a result of those population densities. These issues, combined with the ever increasing demand for energy, created an opportunity to merge knowledge and experience to address resource efficiency while promoting better comfort and health for the building occupants.

Here in the United States a continually growing demand for energy efficient developments, buildings and homes-as well as increased requests for efficiency upgrades and retrofits in the 128 million existing homes, which are responsible for the bulk of the nation’s residential energy loss-necessitates that the construction industry is able to use innovative concepts capable of addressing energy efficiency challenges.

There are also many rapidly developing advancements in local and national building codes, industry technologies and process as a result of incorporation of high-performance standards such as the American National Standards Institute’s ANSI ICC-700 “The National Green Building Standard”, which is a reference standard for the Building Code, the Department of Energy’s Building America/Builder’s Challenge Program and E.P.A.’s Energy Star, Indoor Air and Water Sense Programs.

Incorporating this evolving criteria, implementing a systems-based approach to quality and performance testing into site development and design, and using quality building design and construction practices gives us the ability to identify components that will provide site and building performance competitive with traditional building counterparts. This will also result in a built environment that outperforms traditional buildings in energy efficiency, CO2 emissions, careful conservation of resources, environmental impact, maintenance costs and occupant, health, comfort and satisfaction.

When the opportunity to be a part of the team to construct an Active House prototype in the United States was presented to us, it was apparent that the goal of the Active House Specification and the “National Green Building Standard” were complimentary. Part of our mission with this prototype is to demonstrate how similar they are and create opportunities to expand the market familiarity and impact of both.

About Matt Belcher-Mr Belcher, owner of Verdatek Solutions, is an experienced builder/developer and nationally recognized consultant, educator and author on the business of green building and development. He served on the steering committee of the Canadian based Net Zero Energy Home Coalition to develop a North American Net Zero Energy Home Standard. He has advised the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development in the Development of the “Green Star” Green Building Standard in China. In 2008 Mr. Belcher testified to the U.S. House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee on Climate Benefits of Improved Building Energy Efficiency.


by Matt Belcher