Eco House Agent, United Kingdom

Active House Principles - Eco Homes by Velux: ModelHome2020

‘one experiment is better than a thousand expert views’
- Villum Kann Rasmussen,

As a part of the above philosophy and company strategy window manufacturer VELUX and partners launched a project, consisting of 6 prototype eco buildings and houses to be built between 2009 and 2011 in different locations accross Europe. All buildings are based on the ‘Active House Principles’ developed by the VELUX group. The principles basically consist of: energy efficient designs, a high degree of liveability, and minimized impacts to the environment. The experiments appear as an attractive ongoing attempt to contribute to the sustainable construction industry, by even somehow challenging the PassivHaus standards.

The plan is to open the dwellings to the public after their completion, followed by a 12 month period where they will be occupied by families, while qualitative and quantitative testing and monitoring are performed on them. After this period, they will be sold below market price. So far, the projects Home for Life and Green Lighthouse in Denmark, Sunlighthouse in Austria, and LichtAktiv Haus in Germany, have already been built and are in the testing and monitoring stages, while the CarbonLight Homes in the UK and the Maison Air et Lumière in France are currently under construction. All projects have been designed and built in collaboration with local authorities and professionals of each country, framing them in different European contexts of law, climate, material availability, and social-cultural-architectural realities.

Most of the widely spread green technologies can be seen throughout the different experimental projects: photovoltaic solar cells, hot water solar collectors, low electric consumption appliances, high performance insulation, double glazing of windows, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, heat pumps, use of eco-friendly materials, rain water harvesting systems, south face shading, etc., all of them combined in highly efficient designs. But what makes the projects stand out, is the proposed ‘Active Façade’. The façade and roof windows respond to the environment’s daily or seasonal conditions and to the occupants’ needs. Windows, exterior shutters and interior blinds face all directions and are programmed through intelligent controls, sensors and timers, being automatically opened to let in daylight and warmth during the day, being closed to block the sun or keep the warmth during the night, and so providing natural ventilation at regular intervals. Such automation of the active façade races to become an excellent energy saver; and in the case of the Home for Life project, where a family already resided for one year, rooms with natural ventilation provided excellent indoor climate. A proof of this is the recognition the project recently received in the Green Good Design Awards 2010.

Furthermore, the maximisation of the window area, and automation of this ‘living envelope’, not only provide heating and ventilation benefits, but there are several others which might be in the users interest: when building is empty it simulates occupation for security purposes, it provides plenty of daylight in northern countries where its lack triggers illnesses, or even the early opening of windows might as well work as an alarm clock for the drowsy ones!

For the common citizen looking to build green or retrofit under a tight budget, the cost of adopting such an ‘active façade’ might present a restraint, but its well worth a look at. With the massification of such appliances, costs are continuously going down and high tech is becoming more accesible, while long term warranties are commonly offered with these products.

Perhaps the most noticeable new proposal of the ‘Active Principles’, is that ventilation should not only be mechanically generated as suggested by the PassivHaus standard, but it should also be alternated with the opening of windows, causing a natural indoor stack effect. Here, an automatised ‘living envelope’ maximises window area for daylight, heating and ventilation purposes.

Whether Passive House and PassivHaus mean the same, whether the Active approach is actually challenging the PassivHaus mechanically ventilated highly sealed buildings, whether going ‘Active’ is healthier or more practical for the occupants than going ‘Passiv’, will remain to be matters of discussion. In a world where Passiv and Active are not only ideologies, but also trademarks, it’s hard to reach consensus. But, whatever the trend -Passive House, PassivHaus or Active House- the ultimate common goal remains the same: to keep our overall energy consumption and carbon footprint at the lowest possible levels, while providing living comfort in buildings. The PassivHaus standard has already proven its benefits; if the Active House approach goes a step further and makes an even bigger contribution to developing livable eco homes, then it will have been an “experiment” worth taking!

Author Ignacio Buron

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