Photos: James Bombales

A diverse group of industry professionals from around the world including architects, academics and builders gathered at Toronto’s Evergreen Brickworks recently for the seventh Active House Symposium. This year was the first time the symposium was held outside of Europe and was hosted by the Alliance’s Canadian national branch including founding member Great Gulf. The event featured a series of interactive talks, presentations, panel discussions, and networking opportunities with like-minded professionals interested in a balanced and holistic approach to buildings, home design and performance.


The Active House approach to design emphasizes three core principles — comfort, energy consumption and environmental impact. The symposium provided an outlet for industry professionals to discuss and exchange ideas surrounding healthy and sustainable living environments that benefit homeowners without having a negative impact on the climate.

“The Active House principles have been applied for over 10 years to many building types including multi-family residential buildings, offices, schools, and in both new construction and retrofits,” says Tad Putyra, Active House Chairman and President of Lowrise at Great Gulf.


Featured speakers included Kristian Lars Ahlmark, Partner and Design Director at Copenhagen-based Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects, who described his firm’s approach to building liveable cities through smart designs that contribute to their surroundings, landscape and the human community.


Delegates from China — where Active House is gaining popularity — included Jishou Zhong, Deputy Chief Architect of the China Architecture Design & Research Group, and Chenglin Guo, Chief Architect of VELUX China. The pair discussed the activeness of buildings, how they can adjust to the needs of occupants, and shared examples of buildings in China that were built with Active House principles in mind.


Indoor air quality and daylight were important topics of discussion, highlighted by a panel consisting of Alex Lukachko, Senior Building Science Specialist and Principle at the RDH Building Science Office in Toronto, Sandra Dedesko, Sustainability Consultant at RWDI, and Vinay Venkatraman, Founder and CEO of Leapcraft.


People in urban areas spend 90 percent of their time indoors, whether it be at the office or in their homes, stressing the importance of indoor air quality and its implications on our health. Air pollutants include fungi, biological waste, gaseous pollutants, and particulates that emanate from common household materials such as vinyl surfaces, carpeting, paint and scented candles. In fact, indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outside air and a lack of daylight can lead to health issues, fatigue and depression.


The two-day symposium wrapped up with an interview with Velux engineer Russel Ibbotson and his wife Bethany Foster. For six months in 2016, the family of five (now six) were the occupants of the world’s first certified Active House, located in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. The state-of-the-art home was built by Great Gulf and designed to deliver energy efficiency, low environmental impact, optimized climate control, natural light and improved ventilation — all to ensure maximum comfort and well-being for its occupants.

“I believe in Active House because it’s expanding the conversation on what a high performance house is,” says Ibbotson. “It’s not just focusing on energy but bringing the conversation towards the environment and the indoor environment — the comfort of the space.”


Photo courtesy of Great Gulf

Designed by Toronto-based architectural firm superkül, the home boasts an open-concept floorplan to increase airflow and includes open stair risers and glass guardrails to reduce visual barriers. The strategic use of oversized windows and skylights allows for an abundance of natural daylight, reducing the need for artificial lighting, while the installation of an innovative Energy Recovery Ventilation unit ensures fresh air circulation is maximized throughout the house.


“One of my favourite things about Active House is its connectivity, not just to the outdoors through the large windows and the side courtyard with the birch tree, but also to be connected to the people in the space,” says Foster. “Being able to see or hear where the girls are at all times gives them more freedom in their play and allows me to be more productive.”

To learn more about the Great Gulf Active House visit

For more information on the Active House Alliance visit

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