Image Credit: Torben Eskerod for Active House The entry hall in Active House, which is known as Activny Dom to its creator, Velux Group, a Denmark-based windows, solar, and building materials specialist. The 2,470-sq.-ft. house was built by a Russian developer for about $1 million and is intended as showcase for energy efficient homes. A large open area accommodates the living room and dining area on the first floor. The second floor of Active House, where all living quarters have southern exposure. No concrete slab here. Active House sits on a steel frame tied to these foundation piles. The piles support U-shaped steel beams, forming the foundation frame. A wooden foundation mat is bound to the foundation frame. Insulated with Isover, a French-made mineral wool, the house also is equipped with photovoltaic and solar hot water systems, and a geothermal heat pump.
Energy efficiency and other green building concepts are not brand new in Russia. The Passive House Institute Russia, the Russian Sustainable Building Council, and building science researchers all do business there. But energy conservation in general and energy efficient homes in particular have not gained serious traction.
Zagorodny Proekt, a major developer in the Moscow area, apparently decided that it could help highlight the advantages of green homes and, in the process, boost its own profile through a tried and true marketing device: the showcase home. The impetus for the project, though, actually came from Velux Group, a Danish-based specialist in window and solar power systems that has been promoting a green-home concept called Active House. Since 2008, a total of seven “experimental” Active House projects have taken root in Western Europe, the UK, and now Russia.
According to the Active House plan, most of these buildings were to be open to visitors for 12 months and monitored for performance. The plan also calls for them to be sold for below market value. The recently completed Active House in Russia – or Activny Dom, as Velux calls it – will be open to visitors for a total of six months before it is occupied by a “test family” for 12 months. Monitoring will continue throughout.
Above and beyond usual standards
Most of the Active House projects, including the one in Russia, incorporate Passivhaus concepts of insulation, airtightness, and optimal solar exposure, even if they aren’t aiming for Passivhaus certification. To bring its performance close to net zero energy, the showcase house also is equipped with a photovoltaic system, solar hot water (with Velux solar collectors), a geothermal heat pump, and a WindowMaster automated system that opens and closes Velux windows, and controls blinds and exterior awnings for shading, to regulate the interior climate.
At 2,470 sq. ft., the house cost about $1 million to build – well beyond what most people in the region can afford – and its renewable-energy systems, including the PV panels, are relative rarities in Russia. Zagorodny Proekt understands that the price is high and that the systems might seem exotic, but sees the project as both a research tool and a way to appeal to wealthy Russians who have traveled to Europe, where energy costs are far higher than in Russia and energy efficient homes are relatively common.— because even Russia is eventually going to have to reckon with rising energy costs.