WORDS & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN
It’s mid-May, Friday afternoon, and unseasonably hot outside. Just a couple hours remain until the end of the work week, and I’ve got plans for dinner with the family at Willibald. I can taste the weekend – along with Willibald’s magnificent menu of juicy IPAs and farm-to-table dishes – already. I’m at my last meeting of the day and should be excited to wrap things up. Yet I find myself not wanting to be anywhere but here – sunken into a comfortable white faux-leather chaise, bathed in natural light, enjoying this most wonderful open concept living space. The clean lines. Natural hardwood floors. Subtle matte finishes. Tall ceilings. So relaxing. Almost zen.
A touch to my right, the place’s open concept kitchen – featuring a massive granite island, glass dining table, modern light fixtures, and floor-to-ceiling windows – beckons. Behind me, the main staircase – all white and black with sleek glass railings – invites. And all around me, the home’s contemporary design features – its led lighting, in-ceiling sound system, electric fireplace, and more – nods. To me. As if granting permission for me to stay awhile. To take a load off. Get cozy. I feel completely at home here. I guess this is what an Activa build can do to a person.
‘We strive to build homes that our clients want to live in,’ Activa’s CAO, Geoff McMurdo, remarks – waking me from my blissed-out reverie. Mission accomplished, then. Geoff continues: ‘It’s always been our mission to craft singularly beautiful homes. This one is no exception.’ He can say that again. After all, this spacious abode is a particularly special Activa unit – serving as the company’s certified Net- Zero model home build in Activa’s sweeping Trussler West community in Kitchener. When I ask Geoff how easy it would be to replicate the fits and finishes of this model home in another Activa build (in case, for instance, I’m ever in the market for a shiny new place), he’s quick to answer: ‘All of our new homeowners are afforded the opportunity to design their homes from scratch with all sorts of fits and finishes – including all the nice amenities found in this place.’
Activa Marketing Manager Jessica Flanagan, who has joined Geoff and me at the model home, expounds: ‘We’ve built an award- winning design studio where every Activa new homeowner is encouraged to see, touch, feel, and experience the quality features the company has on offer. And we also pair new homeowners with a design specialist for one-on-one consultations to help with the oftentimes overwhelming process of designing their new living spaces.’ It wasn’t always this way. In fact, for much of Activa’s almost-forty- year history in the region, the company was known more for its land development than for its home building. This all changed less than a decade ago when Activa decided to try its hand at what it’s known for now.
And while Activa has a reputation for building high-quality, well-designed homes, what really sets it apart from others in the industry is its self-imposed mandate to build industry- leading energy efficient homes – en masse. ‘By the end of this year,’ Geoff remarks with pride, ‘we will have built two hundred Net Zero Ready homes in the region – placing us among the leaders in Canada for Net Zero Ready construction.’ He adds: ‘In fact, as it stands now, all Activa detached new builds are certified Net Zero Ready.’
While I’m familiar with the concept of Net Zero homes – that is, houses (like the one we’re in) that generate as much energy as they use – I’m less familiar with the term ‘Net Zero Ready.’ So I ask Geoff about it. He tells me that a Net Zero Ready home is built to the same exacting energy-efficient standards as a Net Zero home – minus the solar panels. We’re talking about ultra-efficient heating and cooling systems, as well as superbly-insulated walls, high performance windows, and more. Jessica chimes in: ‘Most larger homebuilders are still striving to build Energy Star certified homes, which are constructed to be about twenty percent more energy efficient than a typical home. We’ve done that. In fact, we are a former recipient of the Energy Star Builder of the Year award presented by Natural Resources Canada. Now we’ve moved quite a bit closer to Net Zero.’
Because Net Zero Ready homes are, as the name implies, ready for Net Zero, each Activa detached build is just a bundle of solar panels away from achieving this ultimate goal in environmentally-efficient homebuilding. ‘Some folks wonder why we don’t build all of our detached homes like this one – that is, Net Zero rather than Net Zero Ready. It’s actually for a good reason,’ Geoff tells me, ‘since government grants and loans for items such as solar panels usually come into effect only six months after closing.’ He explains further: ‘By letting our Activa homeowners choose whether they’d like to invest in panels after they’ve taken ownership of the home instead of having the panels included with the sale of a new home, we’re actually saving them money.’
What about this house, then? Why showcase a Net Zero home when the vast majority of Activa homes are Net Zero Ready? ‘Since we jumped into the home building game,’ Geoff tells me, ‘we’ve tended to push the envelope and we’re proud to be industry leaders. Even though the building code won’t mandate Net Zero Ready builds until 2030, we’re already there.’ He waves his arm around the space, adding: ‘A home like this one is an example of where we hope to be in the not-so-distant future.’
I push back in the white chaise, noticing (discreetly) that I’m almost late for dinner at Willibald. I could stay here all evening – and longer – happy to learn that there are regional builders committed to blazing trails in the industry. A number of them – including Activa – are featured in this issue: visionary leaders striving to pay particular attention to the environment, to the community, to personal comfort while keeping ahead of the game.