Invisible family helps government test net zero energy house

Matthew Grocoff

October 23, 2012

By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert

In: Heating and CoolingAppliancesGreen Living

It looks like a regular home. But don't try to bring this family of four a "welcome to the neighborhood" casserole any time soon. They have all the same appliances as a common household. They use heating and air conditioning just like the rest of us. There's plenty of hot water for everyone. The washer and dryer are used regularly.

net zero energy house

What makes this family so elusive? . . . They are invisible.

The house and its incorporeal inhabitants are creations of the U.S. Government, specifically the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). What looks like an ordinary home is actually a lab on the campus of NIST in Gaithersburg MD. The goal is to demonstrate that a net-zero energy house -- one that produces as much energy as it consumes over the course of a year -- can fit into any neighborhood.

Using a computer controlled environment to simulate a typical family of four, the NIST Net Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) hopes to add to the growing body of evidence that an attractive, comfortable home can achieve net zero energy and eliminate its energy bills forever.

At regular intervals, computers turn on and off the showers, lights, appliances, air conditioners and more. It looks like a poltergeist but is intended to mimic the behavior of a typical American family of four. While the home is a research experiment, it is far from futuristic science fiction fantasy. It employs only existing off-the-shelf technology that any family can purchase now - Including you.

The home received the U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum rating -- the highest standard for sustainable structures.

Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher hopes the results will show that net zero energy could soon be coming to your neighborhood. "It will also allow development of new design standards and test methods for emerging energy-efficient technologies and, we hope, speed their adoption."

The walls and roof have double the insulation of a typical home. Solar panels on the roof turn energy from the sun into electricity. Solar water heaters make sure that everyone has a hot shower. Geothermal uses the stable year-round temperature of the ground to provide the most efficient and most comfortable heating and cooling system available today.

The hope with this extraordinary real-world experiment is to use this data to create sensible energy codes. These new building standards will ensure that all new homes will be able to produce all the healthy, clean and free energy that a family will need.

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