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Sustainable homes that care about the homeowner

What makes a good home?

According to Great Gulf Homes, it is a house that is good for the environment, has a good indoor climate for its occupants, and is as comfortable as possible for homeowners.

With homeowners and the environment in mind, Great Gulf President Chris Wein has launched an active house in Toronto’s Centennial Park. An active house is a home that is not only sustainable, but strives to to benefit the people who live in the house as much as possible. In order to study this active house and its benefits for homeowners, a pilot project has been launched that will allow a family to live in a sustainable house for six months to assess how comfortable it is for the average family. The house will then be sold afterwards. The home is a part of Active House Alliance, a worldwide movement based out of Brussels that Great Gulf became involved with several years ago.

Great Gulf active house. Provided by Great Gulf Homes.
Great Gulf active house. Provided by Great Gulf Homes.

“This is the first fully-certified active house in the world. It is a different formula from LEED. LEED doesn’t focus on the quality of life for people who live in the house,” Wein says. “That is why [an] active house is so rare. From a LEED perspective, the standards our houses meet are as just high.”

The new family living in Great Gulf’s active house includes dad and engineer Russell Ibbotson, mom Bethany Foster, and three girls, Eleanor, Lucy and Poppy ranging in age from one and a half to six years old. Wein was looking for a regular middle class family and the Ibbotsons fit the bill.

“We wanted someone who could understanding building science and how to measure air quality and energy efficiency and so on. Russell works in the area of envelope energy, windows and skylights,” Wein says. “We want as much feedback from the kids as Russell.”

The Ibbotson’s oldest daughter, Lucy, also happens to be autistic. Wein saw this to be a benefit in the analysis of the pilot project.

“We didn’t want to get the Beaver Cleaver family. We want a family that has to deal with challenges and school. Looking at this family, including that they have different challenges with their children helps with their review of the house,” Wein says, “The quality of life for a child … is that much more important. This child can give us feedback on how this house performs for her. We are very keen to see how their reviews in testing go.”

Active homes focus strongly on quality of life as well as sustainable building, and the pilot project will look at a series of metrics to assess whether those standards are met. The family will discuss and measure air quality, energy efficiency, sound transmission, energy usage, indoor climate, access to natural light, flexibility of the home, livability, and mood and happiness in the space.

Great Gulf brings its top game to the sustainable design of the house as well. The construction of the house includes triple glazed windows, which helps avoidance of heat loss and heat gain. The house also has Huber zip walls, which have waterproof sheeting and insulation built into the sheeting itself. These materials make the house more energy efficient. The interior of the house has low flow plumbing and energy star appliances. One of the most exciting environmental elements is the Tesla power wall. The power wall has built-in batteries that allow the house to run off the grid in peak times.

Another key element to the sustainable homes is the cost effectiveness. Environmental housing often comes under fire for being too expensive. Wein has a different approach to sustainable housing that not only makes it affordable, but also allows its residents to reduce their carbon footprint.

“The active houses are competitive in their neighbourhood. We built other traditional houses beside it. The price of the house is similar to the houses around them,” Wein says. “The houses on either side are bigger and have a larger footprint, but inside the house you don’t feel the difference because of the open-concept design.”

Great Gulf is focused on designing sustainable homes that use small spaces well. Wein hopes to build more active houses, and even wants to extend the design concept to different types of homes.

“Use every square inch of space to make it more affordable. Every time I build a new one, [the goal] is to build smaller and smaller. I would also like to apply it to apartment condominium complexes,” Wein says. “It is an exciting time to be a developer because there are forces coming that are juxtaposing at the same time. People want to live in large cities now [instead of] suburban style homes. Climate change is a real thing, and subdivisions and office towers contribute heavily. It is our responsibility as leaders in the industry to reduce the impact of carbon and urbanization has on the planet.”

Wein is dedicated to building green and believes that if you aren’t developing sustainable homes, you aren’t one of the best. Building active homes sets a new bar for sustainable building in Toronto, and by emphasizing quality of life as well as environmental factors, Great Gulf is truly creating dream homes.