Great Gulf Active House

Thorold, Ontario

Built in a new suburb outside of St. Catharines, this sustainable home sets a new precedent in Canadian residential development. The house was designed for Great Gulf, one of Canada’s largest home builders, to meet the construction metrics outlined by the European Active House program. The program promotes a holistic approach to home design, marrying environmental responsibility and energy efficiency with the need to design spaces that contribute positively to the health and well-being of its occupants.

The design strategy considered the environmental impact of the entire life cycle of the home from concept to performance. The house is oriented with the long roof slope and major glazing facing south, maximizing the efficiency of the solar hot-water system and passive solar gain. Two intersecting axes guide the open plan of the interior to promote cross breezes, and the multitude of skylights and windows create naturally light-filled spaces which minimize the need for artificial light. An exterior deck that aligns with the width of the living room reinforces the visually seamless extension of the interior spaces.

Fully integrated systems optimize the natural lighting and air quality. Natural ventilation is encouraged by a dual-zone HVAC system connected to a Somfy Tahoma Smart House system that uses sensors to automate the windows, blinds and 14 skylights to open and close in response to the interior temperature and air quality while two heat-recovery ventilation (HRV ) units supply the house with fresh air. A greywater heat-recovery unit captures heat from showers and baths and preheats incoming cold water. A cistern and rainwater collection system reduces the need for municipal water up to an estimated 35% and lessens the load on the municipal waste water system. The house is run on 100% renewable source energy.

The exterior walls, roof and floor systems were prefabricated in Toronto at Brockport Home Systems, expediting the process such that framing was completed in one week. Adopting a prefab model also reduced material waste, energy use, and the risk of onsite accidents during the construction process while improving the accuracy and quality of typical suburban construction.

For a detailed list of the home’s sustainable features and performance specifications, and to learn more about Active House please visit

photo: © Fotograf Torben Eskerod