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Suburban house to demonstrate net-zero energy usage


September 14, 2012

The front and west side of completed Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility that will b...

The front and west side of completed Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility that will be used to test various high-efficiency and alternative energy systems, materials and designs (Photo: NIST)

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The opening of a suburban house doesn’t usually warrant a ribbon-cutting ceremony, but a new house constructed in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is special. Built for the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the typical-looking suburban home is designed to provide researchers with a place to test various high-efficiency and alternative energy systems, materials and designs. As a result, the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF), as it is known, is expected, over the course of a year, to generate as much energy as a family of four living in it would consume in that period.

Built to U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum standards using almost entirely U.S.-made materials and equipment, the NZERTF is a two-story, four-bedroom, three-bath facility that incorporates energy-efficient construction and appliances, as well as solar water heating and solar photovoltaic systems for energy generation.

No people will actually be allowed to enter the house during its first year of operation, which is intended to demonstrate net-zero energy usage. However, lights will turn on and off at specified times and hot water and appliances will be run. Small devices will also emit heat and humidity to replicate conditions if humans were present.

Weather permitting, the solar PV systems will be used to power the house’s lighting and appliances, with excess energy fed back into the local utility grid via a smart electric meter. At times when the energy from the solar PV systems doesn’t meet the demands of the house, electricity will be drawn from the grid. However, it is expected that this will be more than offset over the course of the year by the energy fed into the grid on sunny days.

The facility was opened this week and NIST researchers will make data from the net-zero experiment available online to allow researchers and the public to track its progress.

“Results from this lab will show if net-zero home design and technologies are ready for a neighborhood near you,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. “It will also allow development of new design standards and test methods for emerging energy-efficient technologies and, we hope, speed their adoption.”

Source: NIST

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick

I'm sure the test will show the house to have net-zero energy usage. But I greatly doubt that the energy consumption model includes 5 computers and 3 TVs on 24/7, an average of the refrigerator door being opened every fifteen minutes, and external doors left open.

14th September, 2012 @ 07:44 am PDT

So a year from when the data begins the news will possibly say this home created more than it consumed and will boast statistics.The home doesn't have people in it going in and out leaving doors open or having long nights up with people doing people things and party's or having visitors much less. So I can't value the data as realistic when it is available, CAN YOU?

Bryce Guenther
14th September, 2012 @ 09:31 am PDT

DIY- why spend my tax money.

Also check out the Energy savings on renovations to the Empire State Building.

14th September, 2012 @ 10:40 am PDT

You guys comment and complain like you don't know why this is so important. It will take a lot of scientific testing to see how it works. A controlled test is important. What are you doing on a technology page? Your obviously lost?

The Hoff
14th September, 2012 @ 03:05 pm PDT

@Bryce Guenther, @Kwazai:

So you think a scientific approach to the matter is a waste of time and tax money? Better to do whatever we do without any underlying, systematic research where different measures can be compared as fairly as possible? The people at NIST are no more scientifically credible than DIYers?

".. (it) will be used to test *various* high-efficiency and alternative energy systems, materials and designs".

Next time you have a cold may I recommend a frog's tongue poultice?

14th September, 2012 @ 03:23 pm PDT

The statistics derived are completely valid and very useful. The article stresses that testing is about the HOUSE and not people who live in it. My own house, for about 5 months of the year, produces 95% or more of its own power. On a daily basis it can produce 200% or more. This figure is a combination of how much power (in kWh) the house produces and how much I consume. Eg if I'm away for the day and the house is closed down, it can produce up to 240%, while if I'm home and the air conditioner is running the same amount of energy produced might be only 85% of that consumed.

This test eliminates the human variable(s) and gives said useful information.

14th September, 2012 @ 06:07 pm PDT

First off the solar cells were most likely made in China, the wasted potential of all those flat surfaces instead they use only the front porch? Some one did not think this out very well it should seem.

John Joshua Sweet
14th September, 2012 @ 10:56 pm PDT

There is this idea that that every house should be a power producer.

Should every household make its own food?

Build its own car?

There will never be economies of scale in power production if it is broken up into small non-robust parts.

I like the idea of it, but I think economically it does not make sense.
15th September, 2012 @ 06:46 am PDT


"First off the solar cells were most likely made in China, the wasted potential of all those flat surfaces instead they use only the front porch?"

Only the front porch??? If you look at the rather large roof on top of the main house it appears to be covered in Photovoltaic panels, hence all the wiring shown in the photos. The "porch" only has solar hot water collectors, and there's a limit to how much hot water can be used domestically during the day.


"Should every household make its own food?"

And why not? The human race has been doing that for thousands of years. Yours is probably the first generation which doesn't realise (or has forgotten) that it can be done.

"Build its own car?"

Why have a car? A bicycle or electric tricycle covers the vast majority of transport needs (as opposed to wants). Solar powered is even better.

"There will never be economies of scale in power production if it is broken up into small non-robust parts.

I like the idea of it, but I think economically it does not make sense."

This is why our photovoltaic panels are being made in China. The world is already on the verge of forgetting that over-concern about "economics" (ie getting things as cheaply as possible, regardless of the cost - to somebody else) is what led to the Global Financial Crisis. A little more concern for the environment and individual self-sufficiency would have meant much less pain in the long run.

15th September, 2012 @ 06:57 pm PDT

This sounds interesting but why does it need to be made with american parts? Does an Uncle Sam robot live there? Not even meals in this country are All American. Our food comes from all over the world. Passive Home technology is 20 years old and can already be built to be energy neutral. German windows and doors are amazing and really save a lot of energy. The Passive Home HVAC systems make it possible to build a family home without a home furnace. Why are these people unwilling to use the best available? Lets embrace what already exists and already works- Isn't that what the science would support?

Carlos Grados
15th September, 2012 @ 08:14 pm PDT

@ John Sweet - Psssst. Little secret buddy - one hell of a lot of even 'brand name' panels are made in china. I sell A grade panels that are flash tested here in Australia and are just as good as if they had been made in Germany or the US or Japan.

@ Slowburn, why the stupid energy impost? Who watches TV 24/7? Who watches 3 x TV's 24/7? Why 5 computers on 24/7? I operate a home office and have teenage kids - none of my computers are on 24/7. The only things in my house that are never turned off are the fax machine (and it powers down to draw bugger all), the cordless phone/answering machine and the refrigerator. Everything else gets turned off - preferably at the wall when not in use. When you are paying 25c per Kwhr - these things are just commonsense. When we were paying a fraction of that cost as kids, my parents drummed into us the opportunity cost of power wastage. It's not rocket science.

Marc 1
16th September, 2012 @ 07:25 pm PDT

Thanks for post, two ear ago we build house on solar heating tubes.

This shema

But this only 50% of all nessesary energy

Юрий Иванов
22nd January, 2013 @ 12:42 pm PST
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