Builder’s Corner

Dec 12

Active House USA Construction Update – December 2012

Thanks to the unseasonably warm weather, construction is nearing completion at Active House USA. Each day brings us closer to making this dream home a reality for the Smith family.

Here are a few photos showing our progress so far with various rooms and elements of the home.

Active House USA Exterior

Architect Jeff Day and designer Kristen Zivic worked diligently to design a home that blends seamlessly with the century old homes in the neighborhood. The American craftsman style home avoids a modern, or futuristic, aesthetic but has some of the most futuristic materials and systems available on the market today.

The expansive front porch is nearing completion, and features Hardie board siding and CastleStone veneer columns.

Active House USA Dining Room

The dining room in Active House USA features a wall of Loewen Windows to take advantage of the natural light provided by the rising sun during breakfast and day lighting throughout the day to illuminate the space.

Skylights and beams in Active House USA

Like the central stairwell, the master bedroom of Active House USA features Velux skylights to bring in natural daylight and improve energy efficiency.

As we move towards the finish line, Hibbs Homes and Verdatek Solutions are planning to team up with our building partners once again for a final open house in early 2013. We’ll keep you posted as dates and times for those tours!

Sep 12

How We are Building Active House USA for The Future

A view of the garage that will include a solar power electric car charger, a compress natural gas fueling station, as well as finished space for the homeowners to enjoy.

One of the most frustrating things about technology is how quickly it can become outdated. With computers, tablets and phones we’ve almost come to expect that once we actually break down and buy one the next week will mark the release of the latest and greatest. One thing everyone can agree on though is that we don’t want a home that becomes quickly outdated.

One of the goals we set for Active House USA was to make sure that the home that we build for the Smith family is one that will be able to continue to grow in value over time, easily adapt to future technologies, and be at the top of the line for years to come. And there are a few ways we have designed the systems and building to meet this challenge.

Built to 2020 Codes
Every three years the building codes change, and it takes a knowledgeable team to build a home that can push beyond that expiration date and build a home that exceeds codes far enough into the future. The approach we have taken to integrating our systems and the technologies we have used look to the future and we expect the home to continue to meet and exceed building codes until at least 2020.

Planning for Future Technology
While the technologies and systems we have in the home are advanced enough that we expect them to not become mainstream and written into code for quite some time, we do know that as time goes by there are amazing advances in technology that we just can’t foresee. That is why we have roughed in for systems and laid conduit and piping that will allow the family to easily update and adapt as technology advances without major renovations or expenses.

Built with Cutting Edge Technology
The advantage to assembling a team that is on the forefront of the technology in their field is that we have been able to build Active House USA with cutting edge technology that is at the forefront of sustainability, energy efficiency, and performance. One example of this are the energy stations we are designing for in the garage. We are installing a solar power car charging station, as well as a working with partner Laclede Gas compressed natural gas fueling outfit in the garage. Not only are these two natural energy technologies future thinking, but they also expand the energy efficiency of Active House USA beyond the confines of its four walls.

The future proof building methods we are employing in Active House USA will be discussed during the panel, The Critical Path to 2020, at the 2012 EEBA Excellence in Building Conference and Expo this week in Arizona. Active House project manager, Matt Belcher of Verdatek Solutions, will be one of the speakers on the panel along with Rick Schwolsky of EcoHome Magazine, Sam Rashkin from the Department of Energy, Mark LaLiberte of LaLiberte Online, and Brad Oberg from IBACOS.

We are proud to be building a house that will be just as high tech and equitable when the Smith’s daughter goes to college as the day she moves in!

Jun 12

Groundbreaking Marks the Official Start to Active House USA Construction!

Active House USA officially construction with a fun groundbreaking ceremony on May 2, 2012. The event drew a large crowd of neighbors, trade partners, and local media outlets. A few important project partners also made it, including Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch, and two key Active House Alliance members, Henrik Norlander and Mikkel Olsen, who made the trip all the way from Denmark, by way of the National Green Building Conference in Nashville.

Hibbs Homes and Verdatek Solutions, St Louis’s leading green homebuilders, planned the event in cooperation with Laclede Gas. (You can see a full list of project partners who have signed on to support this important project by visiting

“I am both thrilled and honored to be involved with this project.  Hibbs Homes has been building high-performance sustainable homes for several years in the St. Louis area, but the Active House raises the bar for me, my staff, and my trade partners,” said Kim Hibbs, owner and general contractor of Hibbs Homes and the builder for Active House USA. “We look forward to the challenge and delivering a truly unique home to our client.”

Homeowners, David and Thuy Smith, expect to take occupancy of the home in the fall, and during their first year in the home The University of Missouri Columbia Center for Sustainable Energy will monitor and document energy consumption and indoor air quality – an effort which will also be one of the first of it’s kind to officially document and prove out the benefits of green home building using these criteria.

If you missed the fun, you can watch a quick video from the day’s festivities, or browse through our photo gallery!

Apr 12

Bringing Down the House: Demo Makes Way for Active House USA

We have reached a very exciting and important milestone in the construction of Active House USA-this week we completed demolition of the structure on the lot where this fall Active House USA will stand. This Active House prototype is unique in that it is being built as an infill project in historic Webster Groves, just steps from downtown shopping and restaurants.

In preparation for construction the Smith family purchased a lot with a home that was in very poor condition was not a good candidate for renovation, which made it ideal for infill building. We asked Habitat for Humanity to come in and salvage what they could from the interior and they were able to take some door frames and a few other items. After we removed additional debris from the home we were set for demolition-and the homeowner got to do the honors of taking the pieces of the home down.

The entire home demolished within an hour, and the debris from demolition and as some of the trees on the property that were dying were cleared and gathered ready to be removed and make way for next week’s groundbreaking ceremony. You can check out some more images from the demolition by heading over to Hibbs Homes’ Active House album on Facebook.

And things are just starting to get exciting: Hibbs Homes, Verdatek Solutions, the Active House Alliance as well as the homeowners and local officials will be on hand for the first official turn of the dirt on Wednesday, May 2 at 10am. With construction starting the plan is to have the home certified, monitoring set up, and the homeowners moved in this fall.

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.