The world’s first certified Active House

Last week I introduced the Active House concept, a new vision for sustainable housing. The ideas have been around for a few years, but it was only recently formalised into a certification scheme. Houses that meet the right criteria can now be labelled with the stamp on the left, and this is the first house to be certified.

Called Active House Centennial Park, you’ll find it in suburban Toronto, Canada. It was built by developer Great Gulf as a demonstration project. It’s highly efficient, and designed to maximise the use of natural light and ventilation.

Active Houses try to combine three main priorities – environment, energy and comfort. On the environmental side, the house has been built with sustainable materials in mind. Almost 90% of the building could be recycled if you were take it all apart again. Water saving features were included that mean residents are likely to use half as much water as their neighbours.

On the energy side of the equation, the house is well insulated within an air tight building envelope, the result of constructing it out of prefabricated panels that can be assembled and tested off site to guarantee a tight fit. Heating comes from a heap pump and a gas fireplace in the living room. One thing it lacks is its own energy generation, with it’s 100% renewable energy supplied by an external partner. It is in Toronto, but I’d have thought it would still be worth putting solar panels on the roof.

The comfort of residents is taken into account through an advanced smart home system that maintains an even thermal environment all year round. Indoor air quality is high, thanks to a heat recovery ventilation system in the winter and automatic skylights in the summer. Large windows, skylights and light tunnels bring lots of natural light into the house, though of course this does reduce energy efficiency.

As it’s the world’s first certified Active House, this particular building is well studied. There’s a briefing on how it works here, or you can take a video tour. The company that built it also invited an engineer’s family to live in it for six months and document how they found it, and test whether the house performed as expected. You can read about their experiences here.

I don’t think the Active House is the final word on sustainable architecture, but it’s a useful branding exercise that could potentially make greener homes more attractive. If we are to reduce CO2 emissions from housing, then eco-homes have to appeal to everyone, not just those with a particular interest. We need to pair good and affordable architecture with good marketing, so that people want and ask for better homes. That’s especially true in Britain, where the market is dominated by a handful of big housebuilding companies who haven’t shown much leadership on sustainability. If ordinary people don’t demand them, they won’t get built. So I’ll be keeping an eye on the Active House marque, and there are a couple more projects I’d like to tell you about another time.


  1. I think you are right to highlight market dominance by a few giants who aren’t committed to sustainability. Have you considered featuring community land trusts (e.g. and their work encouraging community self-build? I think this ought to be a key enabler for greater sustainability, and all other kind of social goods. I should declare an interest – I’m part of a sustainable building cooperative. But I do think it’s something of general interest.

  2. Fascinating! I suspect when this concept is marketed wisely [word of mouth seems to do wonders], these babies will get snapped up. I don’t think I’m the only one that is attracted to new and different. Many more I’m sure. Sustainability is such an attractive word. I know when I hear it, I think of two other words…hope and future!!!

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