Architecture & Design

Mar 17

Three Years Later: Life in Active House USA

On the eve of Earth Day, the owners of one of North America’s most energy-efficient homes share their experience living in this unique home.

active-house-usa-2013-green-home-builder-st-louisThree years ago, hundreds of people lined up to view a one of a kind home built in Webster Groves. The home, built by Hibbs Homes  and designed by Jeff Day & Associates Architects was the very first Active House built in the United States. The Active House Alliance, a Dutch nonprofit organization that works with sustainable builders around the world, connected with St. Louis custom home builder Hibbs Homes to create a prototype house that would be used to bolster green home building standards worldwide.

This one-of-a-kind home provided data that was used to support the development of a newly crafted green home building standard known as the Active House Alliance standards. Traditionally green building standards concern themselves with the materials and building processes, but Active House standards are the first of its kind in that they evaluate and design with a concentration on what happens in the home after the homeowners take residence.


Oct 12

New Interior Renderings of Active House USA

We just came off a big weekend at Active House USA with a big, two day open house for all of our friends, neighbors, and industry peers! When all was said and done, we had 600 people come through the doors to take a look behind the walls and experience first-hand all of the systems and innovative technologies that will be sealed behind the walls once the interior finishes go in place. The Active House crew couldn’t be more happy to have had the chance to share such a cool project with so many people!

We plan to have a final open house to showcase the finished product when we complete construction, but, in the meantime, the Smith’s interior designer, Kristen Zivic from Lusso at Home, has shared with us a some cool sneak rendering of what the finished interiors will look like when we get there. Check out this awesome sneak peek of what the homeowners will be coming home to when they move into this very special home!


Sep 12

Active House USA AIA Architect’s Seminar

Calling all architects interesting in green building!

You are formally invited to attend a special educational event at Active House US. Join fellow architects and building professionals to earn some credit and learn about some of the elements of the Active House project, followed by a tour of the home where you’ll get a look at it everything going on behind the drywall.

Velux America, Webster Window and Door, and Active House USA will be hosting an AIA seminar on Friday, October 12 at the Webster Window and Door store located at 55 Lincoln Ave Webster Groves, Mo 63119.

Here’s what we have on the schedule:

8:00am-8:30am – Networking amongst your architectural peers (Continental breakfast provided)

9:00am-10:00am – Loewen Window AIA presentation “Shades of Green”: Sustainability in the Window and Door Industry” which will help you understand the relevance of windows and doors in Energy efficient housing. (1.5 learning unit)

10:00am-11:00am – VELUX AIA solar seminar which will speak about global energy challenges, understanding solar energy, solar water heating market, solar water heating system designs, overcoming design challenges, and balancing aesthetics and efficiency. (1 learning unit)

11:30am-2pm Walk to the open house tour of the Active House located at 215 S Gray Ave Webster Groves, Mo 63119. (BBQ and drinks provided by Laclede Gas Co)

To sign up for this informative day of events, please contact the following members of the Active House:

VELUX America, Inc: Mike Chance, 704-975-0886
Webster Window and Door: Robert Sylvia, 314-699-9872

We look forward to having you, but space is limited so please sign up early!

Apr 12

Active House USA’s First Images

With demolition set to take place this week and groundbreaking next, Active House USA may not quite be ready for it’s closeup, but there are some early images that architect Jeff Day has recently made available that could almost be mistaken for a spread in a home decorating catalog they looks so good…and realistic!

Looking at the renderings you can see the simulated sunlight, and how industry leading day lighting plans and windows from Velux have been utilized and maximized in the design in order to use the natural energy and brightness of the sun in the home. And in the exterior shots you can see how the home really does look like a classic, American home despite all of the modern the technology and state of the art building techniques that have gone into it.

After demolition of the home on the current lot concludes this week, groundbreaking for Active House USA is set for May 2, and Hibbs Homes and Verdatek Solutions plan to have construction wrapped this fall!

Apr 12

The Effects of Solar Orientation on Active House USA’s Design


Active House USA Rendering

A rendering of Active House USA shows the skylights, windows, and tunnels being used to take advantage of the Solar Orientation of the home.

Active House USA is bursting that futuristic bubble that many people associate with green home design, but aside from the traditional sensibilities that are immediately apparent when you look at the home there are some very important design features that are being built in that boost the sustainability, energy efficiency, and indoor air quality of the home. One of those key design features is the solar orientation of the home.

Solar orientation refers to orienting the design of the house in relation to the natural path of the sun. And for Active House USA it is a key to successful site planning in terms of the performance of the home.

Whether you are building  or remodeling a new home or an entire development, if you can take advantage of passive solar heating and cooling you have tapped into something truly amazing: free energy. (Well they have not figured out how to tax sunshine yet, anyway).

There is nothing you can do to a home (or any building, for that matter) that has more effect for less investment than plan to take advantage of this free energy source. A well-designed and properly oriented house capitalizes on solar heat gain in winter and deflects unwanted heat in summer. This simple consideration can save a healthy percentage of a house’s energy use—and at no extra cost for the entire life of that building. In summer, if you have oriented the house properly and are able to take advantage of shade trees and overhangs, (shading the windows and walls) the air conditioner can more effectively cool air that is approximately 20° cooler that it would be otherwise.

Proper solar orientation can also provide glare-free natural light throughout the house, especially when you factor in contemporary design techniques like light colored surfaces, glass partitions, and traditional transoms. While you want to limit Northern facing glazing because of cold temperature considerations, incorporating a balance of daylight from the North usually results in a more constant softer natural light. And vertical light, which will be incorporated into Active House USA using Velux sun tunnels and skylights), is even more effective as it provides a higher percentage of light with less glare.

The Active House USA prototype home is taking daylighting and solar orientation one step further by using daylight in our energy calculations. Engineers with Active House Network in Denmark are working with Jeff Day, our Project Architect, to maximize the effectiveness of the lighting in his design. Jeff has created an open and airy interior layout as a result that will maximize daylight throughout the house as much as possible.

The sum of all of this planning is that it reduces the need to use artificial lighting, lowering utility usage and costs. And using less artificial lighting also lowers the amount of heat generated in the house, which, in turn, further decreases the demand for air conditioning in summer.

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.