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Smith residence

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Smith residence

The First Active House in USA

St. Louis Missouri



Smith residence

The First Active House in USA

St. Louis Missouri


Smith residence

The First Active House in USA

The first Active House prototype home in the USA is being built in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Such pioneering opportunities usually go to the larger markets on both coasts – but our location in the center of the country is ideal as, according to the International Building Code, it provides the most suitable conditions for such a house.

Climate zones to the north or south have extended periods of colder and dryer, and warmer and more humid conditions respectively. But the primary target zone for this prototype has both extremes and demands a broader spectrum of specifications for durability, efficient design, construction, development and retrofitting potential.

When the Smith family moved into the First Active House in the USA, it was the beginning of something new as well as a return to the past. David Smith grew up near the Active House site in Webster Groves, MO and even has fond memories of playing wiffleball, a variant of baseball for confined areas, in the yard just across the street from where the house is being built. When David and his wife Thuy decided they wanted to build a new home, they called on Jeff Day of Jeff Day and Associates, a St. Louis architecture firm they had worked with in the past, to help them begin their journey.

It was Day who proposed to the Smiths that they build an Active House, as he had been discussing this project with home builder Kim Hibbs of Hibbs Homes, and project manager Matt Belcher of Verdatek Solutions. The Active House project was looking for the right family, and after talking with Day, Hibbs and Belcher, the Smiths thought this type of home would be interesting to build and was the right fit for them as well.

The Smiths worked closely with interior designer Kristen Zivic of Lusso at Home and decided on a plan that embraces the character and traditional architecture of the surrounding neigborhood, and yet incorporates the innovative technologies and techniques that represent the best in sustainable and green building around the world. David Smith (CPA and owner of accounting firm Smith Patrick), Thuy (a stay-at-home mother) and their daughter Cameron moved into their new home mid 2013. They could not be happier with all of the benefits that come with building and living in an Active House.

"I always say that our first impression when we moved into the house, was an excellent air environment. One of the nicest aspects about this house was the incredible amount of daylight, which we get into this house. Rarely, do we turn on lights in the house during the day." says David Smiths, father of the family who lives in the Active House. "The really important thing with any project is certainly to build a home which fits the community, fits the neighborhood. And I think our group here did a fantastic job - designers, builders and everybody working together. All in all, the community has loved it and certainly we got a lot of attention. Oftentimes now, when people ask me where I live, I would just refer to it as the Active House. They know where it is."

The Active House Prototype Home

The Active House concept is based on the idea that comfortable and healthy living conditions are compatible with sustainable and energy efficient construction.

Active House is a holistic specification, meaning it takes into account everything involved with a house − the resources used to construct a building, its impact in terms of energy and water consumption, occupant comfort and even such external parameters as storm water run-off. Several prototype homes have been built around Europe, and one in Russia, using the Active House principles, which were proclaimed in Brussels in April 2010. These geographical areas have provided a wealth of experience and knowledge of durable construction in harsh climatic conditions and planning for dense concentrations of population. This experience also includes dealing with scarcity of materials and managing the impact of those population densities on existing and future resources. These issues, combined with an ever-increasing demand for energy, created an opportunity to merge that knowledge and experience to address these issues, while promoting better comfort and health for building occupants.

In the United States, the resource efficiency in today’s American green standards (like Green Globes) stems from post-war construction and the limited amount of natural resources such as timber, due to deforestation. The continued growth in demand for energy efficient developments, buildings, new homes and retrofitting of the 128 million existing homes that account for the bulk of the nation’s residential energy consumption, means that innovative concepts capable of addressing this energy efficiency are crucial. Sound business planning, including risk management, is also essential to be able to operate and compete in the rapidly evolving construction market.


Buildings that give more than they take

Active House is a vision of buildings that create healthier and more comfortable lives for their occupants without impacting negatively on the climate – moving us towards a cleaner, healthier and safer world.

The Active House vision defines highly ambitious long-term goals for the future building stock. The purpose of the vision is to unite interested parties based on a balanced and holistic approach to building design and performance, and to facilitate cooperation on such activities as building projects, product development, research initiatives and performance targets that can move us further towards the vision.

The Active House principles propose a target framework for how to design and renovate buildings that contribute positively to human health and well-being by focusing on the indoor and outdoor environment and the use of renewable energy. An Active House is evaluated on the basis of the interaction between energy consumption, indoor climate conditions and impact on the environment.

The Active House key principles are as follows:



  • a building that provides an indoor climate that promotes health, comfort and sense of well-being
  • a building that ensures good indoor air quality, satisfactory thermal climate and appropriate visual and acoustical comfort
  • a building that provides an indoor climate that is easy for occupants to control and at the same time encourages responsible environmental behaviour.




  • a building that is energy efficient and easy to operate
  • a building that substantially exceeds the statutory minimum in terms of energy efficiency
  • a building that exploits a variety of energy sources integrated in the overall design. 


  • a building that exerts the minimum impact on environmental and cultural resources
  • a building that avoids ecological damage
  • a building that is constructed of materials that can be recycled.

Active House is an initiative supported by the VELUX Group


Active House Radar evaluation


An Active House is the result of efforts to actively integrate the three main principles of comfort, energy and environment in the design of a building and in the finished building.

The Active House Radar shows the level of ambition of a building in each of these three main principles, each of which are further sub-divided into three parameters. For each of these parameters, the level of ambition is indicated by four levels ranging from 1 to 4, where 1 is the highest level and 4 the lowest. As long as the parameters in each principle are better than or equal to the lowest level of ambition, the building is an Active House. The Active House Radar has a dual function.

Upon completion of the building, it is a tool for displaying the ambition reached with the building and the calculated values. When the building is inhabited, the Radar can also be a useful tool for monitoring, evaluating and improving the building.

The Smith residence - The first Active House in USA, St. Louis performs as presented on the diagram above.

The house has a good performance in the parameters regarding the indoor environment, though it also receives low scores regarding energy and environment. A main reason for the poor score in energy and environment is that the house is built with the great respect to the American building tradition, which is much different from modern European energy optimized buildings. The use of air condition and gas as primary energy source has a negative impact on the performance, even though these are common technologies in dwellings in USA.



A healthy life feels good

The Active House specifications state that good indoor climate should also be compatible with energy efficiency. And the first Active House in the USA shows how that can be achieved.

A great indoor climate is easily recognisable − it feels good. But to obtain it, several factors must be taken into consideration. The Smith residence uses a number of technologies to create an indoor climate that is pleasant and easy to regulate.

Active use of daylight and fresh air not only ensures a comfortable home, it also has a number of positive effects on our senses, concentration and health. High levels of daylight exposure and a well ventilated environment boost our immune system and make it harder for bacteria to survive. Access to daylight also energizes us and enable us to experience the change of weather and surroundings.

Natural ventilation

Buildings with poor ventilation can be the cause of a range of disorders and discomforts for residents. Natural ventilation can help prevent such disorders. Active House makes use of air flow inside the building, so humidity and particles are led actively out of the house, which will consequently always feel fresh and inviting.

“The natural ventilation control system in the Smith residence is an excellent technology,” says Professor Robert Reed. “Natural ventilation is preferred to air conditioning any time the weather is acceptable. However, in much of the USA our weather is too hot and humid during the summer to use natural ventilation extensively.”

In the Smith residence, natural ventilation is combined with air conditioning and heating for ultimate comfort.




Living in daylight

Generous amounts of daylight create a light and pleasant atmosphere in the house. The orientation and design of the house make it possible to utilize daylight more actively. The energy requirement for basic lighting in large parts  of the house is minimized by effective use of daylight.

The Smith residence was designed with a view to optimal daylight conditions. “This is one of the biggest differences between the high-performance homes we've built to date and the Active House,” says home builder Kim Hibbs of Hibbs Homes. “The more we've learned about the approach, the more we endorse and embrace the emphasis on daylighting.”

Apart from creating a pleasant indoor environment, natural daylight is good for the economy too. It helps save on electricity costs because less artificial lighting is required. Another proponent of making active use of daylight in buildings is Associate Research Professor Dr. Robert Reeds, PhD, of the University of Missouri. As a specialist in energy efficiency, especially in Midwest climate conditions, he advocates that home builders should apply concepts of construction that are complimentary to the topography of a site: existing trees and the orientation of the sun. Simple considerations that can, in conjunction with new technologies, make a big difference in the costs of building and maintaining a home. Professor Reed welcomes the way natural daylight can enhance the life of a house’s residents. “Buildings with daylighting have a much more attractive appearance internally, and are also more visually appealing from the exterior,” says Professor Reed.

Daylight factor

The daylighting performance of the house has been specified using the daylight factor (DF) as indicator.

The daylight factor is a common and easy-to-use parameter for the amount of daylight in a room. It expresses the percentage of daylight available inside, on a work plane, compared to the amount of daylight available outside the building under known overcast sky conditions. The higher the DF, the more daylight is available in the room. Rooms with an average DF of 2% or more are considered daylit. A room with an average DF of above 5% will appear strongly daylit.

The daylight factor analysis was carried out using computer simulations made by the VELUX Daylight Visualizer 2, a software tool dedicated to daylighting design and analysis. For more details and to download, visit http://viz.velux.com. The figures on the right show the daylight factor level on the second floor and the impact of the installed skylights.



Staircase with VELUX Skylights

  Second floor with VELUX Skylights

Energy balance

To measure the energy balance in a building using the advantages of daylight and energy from the sun, it is important to calculate the total energy framework. This means not only looking at how much heat is lost through the windows and skylights, but also including the contribution to the heating of the house in winter.

The term energy balance is used to describe the energy characteristics of a window and skylights – the balance between solar gain and heat loss. The energy balance is calculated as the sum of usable solar gain through the window during the heating season minus any heat loss. Energy balance is a more accurate way of describing the energy characteristics of a windowthan just the U-value, as the energy balance includes both U-value and g-value to provide a more complete picture.