The Engaged Resident: Supporting Sustainable Behaviour

A sustainable house is not only a green building. It is a living experience that encourages people to use fewer resources more effectively. To that end, an in-home information system developed by SFU School of Interactive Art and Technology researchers, VerTech Solutions and Embedded Automation helps residents track and manage energy use.

The Adaptive Living Interface System (ALIS) integrates energy consciousness and device control into daily routines of the resident using touch screens embedded throughout the house. ALIS was designed and built by the research group Human-Centred Systems for Sustainable Living at SFU, led by professors Lyn Bartram and Rob Woodbury. 

Research funding was provided by the national GRAND Network of Centres of Excellence and MITACS Accelerate BC. Pulse Energy™ software within ALIS provides real-time performance feedback about the home’s energy use. Social networking and personal milestone tools support the West House resident in sustainable community living. Beyond the traditional computer interface, ALIS incorporates informative art elements like the dynamic kitchen backsplash, whose illuminated display subtly changes with water, electricity and gas use.

ALIS runs on a Web-backbone; the West House resident can see and control how the house is doing from any Web browser anywhere. And because the interface is also available on an iPhone™, the West House resident can carry the house in a pocket. Embedded Automation and VerTech Solutions built the Energy Management System: the control and monitoring systems that underpin the house information systems.  Nokia Canada provided a grant to develop ALIS on a Symbian smartphone platform.

It Takes a Village to Make a House

West House is the product of an extraordinary collaboration involving academic researchers, planners, designers, architects, builders, engineers, computer scientists, and policy makers. It began as the brainchild of two SFU professors, Lyn Bartram and Rob Woodbury, and David Ramslie, the Sustainable Development Program Manager of the City of Vancouver.

Fresh off their experience building the interactive systems for North House, the 4th place finisher at the 2009 International Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC, Bartram and Woodbury contacted Ramslie to see if there was interest in showcasing sustainable home in Vancouver.

An expert in sustainable buildings and a board member of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council, Ramslie was enthusiastic about the research. However, he pointed out, the Vancouver region boasts a richness of green capital, technology and building expertise and industry. Why not build a new house, he proposed to Bartram and Woodbury, who loved the idea.

The Sustainable Laneway House project began in December, 2009. BC Hydro Power Smart joined SFU and the City of Vancouver in championing the project. A host of industrial partners joined the effort by providing expertise, materials and labour, including Smallworks Studio and Laneway Housing, Fortin Terasen Gas, Embedded Automation, Day4 Energy, VerTech Solutions, MSR Innovations and Pulse Energy.

The house was showcased at the Yaletown LiveCity site during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic games to over 66,000 people and subsequently moved to its current semi-permanent site. Durante Kreuk Landscape Architects Ltd., Moscone Bros. Landscaping, Yardworks Organic Soil, and Surrey Cedar developed a sustainable plan for the surrounding grounds. 

The resulting project demonstrates that the sustainable home of the future is not so far away. In the next few years we expect that this exciting partnership between SFU, the City of Vancouver, and our industrial partners will blaze new territory in how to advance sustainable homes.