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Prototype Net-Zero Energy Home Being Tested

Net-zero energy home under construction (National Institute of Standards and Technology)

Net-zero energy home under construction (National Institute of Standards and Technology)

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, unveiled this week a two-story suburban-style home to demonstrate that a family of four can generate as much energy as it uses in a year. The year-long pilot is expected to improve testing methods for residential energy efficiency and develop cost-effective design standards for energy-efficient homes.

The two-story house is built for a typical family of four living in suburbia. While the facility make look like other houses, this one is built to U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum standards, the highest standard for sustainable structures. The four-bedroom, three-bath home is built with commercially-available materials, energy-efficient appliances, and energy-generating technologies such as solar water heating and photovoltaic systems.

The home, built on the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland, will not have real people living in it, but instead will simulate the activities of a family of four living in an energy-efficient home. Computer software and mechanical controls will turn on and off lighting at specified times, run hot water and appliances, and small installed devices will emit heat and humidity just as people would.

A solar photovoltaic system will generate electricity to power lights and appliances when weather permits, with excess energy sent back to the power grid by a smart electric meter. The home will also have solar hot water and geothermal energy systems. The house will draw energy from the grid on days it cannot generate enough on its own, but it is expected to produce enough energy on its own to make up for purchased energy, resulting in net-zero energy usage.

The home was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — a.k.a. 2009 stimulus bill — and was built almost entirely with U.S.-made materials and equipment. NIST researchers plan to make data available from the net-zero project online.

The following video gives a tour of the NIST facility.

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