Skip to content

By Joanna Clarke, Head of Design

If house-builders are going to adopt a new approach to house design in 2020, then I would whole-heartedly encourage them to consider an ‘Active’ one.

Highly sustainable, the Active Home presents a system which allows a building to generate and intuitively store and release energy, good news for developers looking to meet their net-zero targets. Two flagship test sites at the University of Swansea, the Active Classroom (2016) and the Active Office (2018), are demonstrating the potential of the approach in real time. Complemented by meticulous data collection, we are making a compelling evidence-based case for wide scale adoption of this design model.

The criteria to designing an active home

Leonardo da Vinci is quoted as having said, ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’, and I think it perfectly encapsulates how an Active Home operates. The principles are relatively straightforward and we, at the Active Building Centre, have identified six criteria which need to be considered within a home’s design to achieve Active status:

Passive design and building fabric

Designing for occupant comfort and low energy use, according to existing passive principles. This includes consideration of orientation and massing, fabric efficiency, natural daylight and natural ventilation. Fundamentally it’s an integrated engineering and architectural approach.

Energy efficient systems

Energy efficient and intelligently controlled systems minimising loads, including HVAC, lighting and electrical transportation. Built-in monitoring and standard naming schemas further underscore meaningful data capture which enables optimisation and refinement of predictive control strategies.

On-site renewable energy generation

Incorporation of renewable energy generation where appropriate. Selecting renewable technologies holistically, dependent on site conditions and building load profiles.

Energy storage

Electrical and thermal storage which mitigates peak demand, reducing requirements to oversize systems and enabling greater control.

Electric vehicle integration

Active Buildings should integrate electric vehicle (EV) changing capabilities where possible. As technology advances, bi-directional charging will allow EVs to deliver energy to buildings as required and vice-versa.

Intelligent management of micro-grid integration with national energy network

Active Buildings must be capable of managing their interaction with wider energy networks (e.g. through land shifting, predictive control methods and demand side response).

Reduce and renewable

Condensed, the above outlines the initial purpose of an Active Building, which is to reduce energy needed within a building through passive design, building fabric and the use of controllable, energy-efficient systems. Secondly, renewable energy generation must be considered as well as storage and the development of control systems which enable the intelligent integration of the building with the wider energy networks. The Active Classroom and Active Office have shown us the potential; we are now starting to realise it.

Excitingly, 2020 will see the launch of the first Active Home development which will give housebuilders a direct insight into the value of the system. These properties will hopefully represent an evolution in the way we design, creating buildings which are energy efficient and, to a degree, energy self-sufficient.