The Active House project near St. Louis (shown here in a rendering) will be the first of its kind in the U.S. and Canada.
The Active House project near St. Louis (shown here in a rendering) will be the first of its kind in the U.S. and Canada.

Focused on a healthy indoor climate with superior energy efficiency and a minimum impact on environmental resources, the first Active House in North America is now under construction near St. Louis. The 2,500-square-foot home in Webster Groves, Mo., will also meet or exceed four North American sustainable building certifications: the National Green Building Standard, Energy Star, EPA Indoor airPLUS, and Building America Builders Challenge.

The Active House concept emphasizes three key sustainability factors: balanced and efficient energy consumption; healthy indoor air; and the use of durable, local, and recycled-content materials. Designed to specifications finalized last year by the Active House Alliance, the home will serve as a prototype to help further develop Active House guidelines for North American climate and environmental needs.

The three-bedroom SIPS-built house will be oriented to control and maximize the sun’s warmth. Other sustainable measures will include a poured foundation with insulated walls, a 98% efficient gas furnace, no- or low-VOC materials and finishes, triple-glazed windows, and an ERV for optimal air circulation.

Over the next few months, EcoHome will follow the Active House project from start to finish through first-person accounts from the project team and in-progress videos from the construction site that will provide practical, expert details on the construction of this one-of-a-kind house.

Here is the project team’s first report, filed soon after construction got under way after months of planning and preparation:

At its core, the construction planning and design phase of Active House USA has been equal parts art and science. Before putting nail to board or even committing the plans to paper we became productive pessimists, thinking through every worst-case scenario we could imagine, all the while trying to find innovative ways to use materials and integrate systems. The ability to think outside the box, sharpened from our years as custom builders, served us well during the preconstruction phase of the Active House USA prototype home.

When the Belgium-based Active House Alliance first approached Matt Belcher of St. Louis-based Verdatek Solutions about building a prototype home in the United States there was no question that he would build it in St. Louis even though many projects of this caliber tend to be located on the coasts. The mixed climate zone of the St. Louis area is ideal for a project like this because it requires us to address both heat and humidity challenges of the summer and frosty conditions of the winter.

The ultra-insulated SIPS house is currently under construction in Webster Groves, Mo.
The ultra-insulated SIPS house is currently under construction in Webster Groves, Mo.

Belcher immediately reached out to Kim Hibbs of Hibbs Homes to partner with on the project because of his reputation for building high-performance homes in St. Louis. The team then approached Jeff Day, a leading green architect in the area, and once the perfect family was found for this custom home, we began demolition and broke ground on the project this spring.
Our holistic approach to systems and design incorporates many top-of-the-line products and industry-leading green building innovations. For example, the home will be built using SIPs paneling for the roofing and walls, solar water heating, and utilizing solar energy that feeds and pulls from the main grid at net-zero efficiency. The home will be automated to read humidity, temperature, and external conditions in order to signal automated skylights to open and close to moderate the indoor air comfort. The home is projected to beat code well through 2020, with a future-proofed design that includes roughing in car-charging systems and a compressed natural gas line to the garage that the homeowners can complete and use for fueling their vehicles in the future.

It’s important to note that during design and planning our team faced a different type of challenge than any other Active House around the world: The home is located in a historic neighborhood filled with century-old homes, so Jeff took great care to design a house that complements and blends seamlessly with the surrounding neighborhood while also meeting all of the Active House specifications. In the coming weeks you will see his design take shape as construction progresses.