'Active' House Blends the Old with New in Energy Efficiency; First- Of-Its-Kind Design Takes Advantage of Sun, Shade and Wind

By Bryant, Tim | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 8, 2013 | Go to article overview

'Active' House Blends the Old with New in Energy Efficiency; First- Of-Its-Kind Design Takes Advantage of Sun, Shade and Wind


Bryant, Tim, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


WEBSTER GROVES David and Thuy Smiths new house at 215 Gray Avenue blends well with its neighbors, some more than a century old.

From its clapboard siding and stone-trimmed foundation to its wraparound porch with tapered Craftsman-style columns, the Smiths house appears at home, so to speak.

But behind the old-time appearance is the latest in residential energy efficiency and low maintenance. Going green was the Smiths goal when they decided in 2011 to leave their 1940s bungalow in Brentwood.

What they are getting in Webster Groves is the first active house in North America, according to those involved in the project as well as specialty trade magazines.

Active construction combines energy efficiency, healthy indoor air and designs that take advantage of sun, shade and breezes. To compare, active house techniques are similar to those in LEED houses in the United States.

An open house is scheduled for today to give builders, real estate brokers and mortgage lenders a chance to inspect the Smiths innovative house. A public open house is set for Saturday.

The Smiths and their daughter, Cameron, 6, plan to move in next month.

In his design for the house, architect Jeff Day of St. Louis included numerous skylights to brighten the interior and, when open, to provide ventilation. The broad porch something common before air- conditioning shades first-floor rooms and protects part of the homes fiber cement siding.

The durable siding is attached to the homes structural insulated panels. That, in builder talk, is a term for energy-efficient exterior walls. SIPs, as theyre called, have a foam insulation core thats sandwiched between sheets of high-strength oriented strand board.

The use of SIPs remains rare in St. Louis, but Matt Belcher, a specialist in green construction, said they have advantages over traditional building methods. One is quick construction because SIPs arrive at building sites ready for use. Belcher, manager of the Smith project, said the homes walls went up in a week. InsulSpan, of Blissfield, Mich., provided custom-made SIPs shipped by truck to Gray Avenue.

Belcher works with Velux Group, a Danish manufacturer of skylights and solar panels that helped form the Active House Alliance in 2010 in Copenhagen.

The group has promoted construction in Europe of about two dozen active houses, many of starkly modern design.

Kim Hibbs, whose Hibbs Homes, of Chesterfield, is building the Smiths house, said last year when the Post-Dispatch first reported plans for the project that active construction is a Danish version of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) construction without the detailed documentation of efficiencies required for LEED certification. …

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