Architects in ChargeAndre D’Elia, Meg Graham
Project ArchitectWendy Wisbrun
General ContractorGreat Gulf
Text description provided by the architects. The Thorold Active House is designed to push the boundaries of green Canadian residential development, by meeting the current Active House standards: ensuring high energy efficiency, a comfortable and healthy indoor environment, and an uplifting space filled with an abundance of natural light and air.
The Active House is a Danish metric that emphasizes energy efficiency, low environmental impact, and superior indoor environmental quality. Located in a residential development in Southern Ontario, the house – built by Great Gulf, one of Canada’s largest home builders - aims to shift the expectations of the single-family home away from traditional design and ‘luxury’ finishes, neither of which contributes to human or environmental health.
The qualitative aspects of the house are guided by natural daylight and ventilation and how they can fundamentally change the feeling of a house. Unusual for a builder home, the Thorold Active House has an open cross-axial plan with a series of operable roof skylights and windows that suffuse the house with sufficient daylight that little to no artificial lighting is needed during the day. The skylights and windows are equally designed to provide natural ventilation. A full width deck at the rear of the house reinforces a visually seamless transition from the indoors-out, and encourages the occupants to keep the sliding glass deck doors open.
Using the existing local design guidelines of a traditional gabled roof design and adapting them for the House yielded a multi-functional design that was the basis for an open plan, an abundance of interior daylight, and a house of superior environmental performance. The proportions and massing of the House are derived from the design guidelines ensuring that House sits naturally beside its more traditional neighbors.
The thermal environment of the house was designed to optimize comfort and efficiency using zoned heating, HRVs and a high efficiency furnace. The design maximizes solar heat gain in the winter through south facing glazing. Overhangs and operable shades help keep the house cool in the summer. A heavily insulated building envelope and a home automation system integrates motorized shades, lighting controls, skylights and windows with the heating/cooling system to help ensure that the house operates as efficiently as possible.
A cistern and rain water collection system was installed to reduce the use of municipal water in the garden and to flush the toilets. A solar domestic hot water system and drain water heat recovery further contribute to reducing the house’s environmental impact.
From the outset the house was designed as a prefabricated panelized wood structure, to both reduce construction waste and the length of onsite construction. Wall, floor and roof panels were factory built, flat packed and brought by truck to the site. The entire framing of the house was erected in just a few days.
Great Gulf, as one of the country’s largest home builders, is simultaneously concerned with being an innovative, forward-thinking company, and a company that competes effectively within the residential market. This project was a leap of faith, in a market that has not to date shown any particular interest in sustainability. It was also very much a learning process, one that has galvanized around achieving design and process efficiency so that the company can move forward building the next version of the house, which is slated to begin design in February 2014.
The Thorold Active House is a watershed in Canadian residential development, one that simultaneously pushes the boundaries of sustainable and modern design for the thousands of new homes built in this country every year.