Aktivhaus Takes Glamorous Off-Grid Living to the Next Level
The launch of a new type of off-grid living is erasing those old visions of log cabins and lumberjacks. German designer and engineer
Werner Sobek has come up with the idea of Aktivhaus. The term Aktivhaus (“Active House”) is defined by a home, alone or in a network of other active houses, that generates more energy than it requires. According to CNN, the Aktivhaus is positioning itself as the next step in sustainable living and architecture, thanks to a sophisticated energy concept and a self-learning building control system.
Take a Look Inside the Aktivhaus
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The current Aktivhaus prototype in Stuttgart, Germany—nicknamed B10—is powered by photovoltaic thermal panels on its roof, which generate electricity that creates heat as a byproduct. Its components are fully recyclable and take only a day to assemble. The fact that the modules can be stacked suggests they could be suited for big cities, according to CNN.
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Sobek first started developing the Aktivhaus concept in 2000, when the design community was forced to consider fossil fuels, global warming and population growth. “(Design) is not about more efficiency. We need effectiveness,” he told CNN. “We need another approach. So I said, ‘What’s the most radical goal we can define?’” In this case, it was a house that produced no emissions or waste and derived no energy from fossil fuels. Sobek refers to those three tenets as the Triple Zero standard.
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Sobek has designed eco-friendly buildings in the past (most notably the four-story R128 in 2000). He told CNN it was “the first residential building beyond the mud hut that was completely recyclable.”
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B10 is the first Aktivhaus to generate enough energy to also fuel surrounding buildings. Sobek calls this the “sisterhood principle.” B10 is currently powering the neighborhood Weissenhof Museum, designed by Le Corbusier in 1927, with its surplus.
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The most intriguing element about B10 is it’s connected to local weather stations, according to CNN, so that it can adjust its energy usage based on the forecast.“The house knows how much energy is produced under which weather conditions and how much energy it will need under each weather condition, which allows the house to predict the balances, and the overflows of energy in the coming days.”
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The inclusion of an underground ice storage tank also cuts down on energy needs by removing the need for traditional heating and air conditioning systems. “In summer, the ice is used to cool the house. By melting, it absorbs heat energy,” Sobek told CNN. “In winter, it gradually freezes. Each time a chunk of water turns into ice, a certain amount of heat energy is released, which is then used to heat the house via a heat pump.”The house only draws on its energy reserves when direct sunlight can’t be counted on. “Batteries are still expensive and not as effective as we’d like them to be, however we need electricity in the night hours when we have no sun,” Sobek says. “We try to reduce the consumption of electric energy over the night hours as much as possible.”That’s why the refrigerator runs especially cold during the daytime before automatically switching off after dark, so that the contents don’t spoil overnight. It turns on again when the sun rises.
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Even though the current prototype was imagined for high-density cities, Sobek told CNN he hopes to bring the concept to all regions. This year, prototypes will be built in southern Argentina and Patagonia. In 2016, we will see the Aktivhaus debut in Siberia and Turkey.It will soon be possible for people to order their own custom Aktivhaus. In the next two months, Sobek and a group of industrial partners will start selling the concept to consumers. “People will buy a house like you buy a car. You’re invited to a certain place, you have a catalog, you have an electronic order, and then we design the house,” he says.
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A standard model costs $3,500 per square meter, but Sobek tells CNN prices can exceed $12,000 per square meter for more luxurious models.“The technology means the houses—the skeletons and the muscles—are always the same, but the comfort and luxury on the inside is adjustable to certain regions or tastes, or environment specifications.”