Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility is a High Tech Robotic Green Dinosaur

NIST/Public Domain
They just cut the ribbon at the Net Zero Energy Residential Test Facility in Gaithersburg, Maryland. It is a test bed to demostrate net-zero-energy capability. According to EcoHome:

“We want to demonstrate that energy efficiency does not need to be at odds with a typical suburban neighborhood,” said NIST director and Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology Patrick Gallagher at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We think that by demonstrating that it’s possible to have the home design you want, with the energy efficiency you want, we’ll help speed the adoption of energy-efficient technologies and net-zero homes.”

NIST/Public Domain

It is designed by Betsy Pettit of Building Science Corporation, who are among the best in the business; BSC's Joseph Lstiburek and John Straube have been quoted in TreeHugger numerous times. There are a lot of really good things going on in this house, low tech stuff like advanced framing, cross ventilation in every room, sprinklers, heat recovery, properly designed overhangs over windows, a ton of insulation. There's green gizmo stuff like advanced controls, photovoltaics, solar thermal, ground source heat pumps with three different kinds of heat exchangers and more. Every architect and builder in North America should be studying the details; they are so thorough and complete, and nobody knows how to design a wall like these guys. (PDF here)

NIST/Public Domain

It even has a robotic family living in it. According to the Washington Post,

Scientists will track what happens with a simulated family of four. "To simulate the family, the showers, toilets, lights and appliances will actually be turned on and off by computers . . . located in the detached garage," says A. Hunter Fanney, chief of the building environment division. "The computers will send signals to every device in the home to control its operation. In the case of water [used in the showers, faucets and toilets], the computer will actually open and close the water valves to extract the correct amount of hot and cold water."

Little people-simulator heaters will lie in for real people in the bedrooms at night. Really.There is only one problem; As the NIST director noted,

We want to demonstrate that energy efficiency does not need to be at odds with a typical suburban neighborhood.

NIST/Public Domain

But as Jim Kunstler has noted, the typical suburban neighborhood is "the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world." This house is 2,709 square feet above grade. It's 86 feet wide. That's not even a typical suburban neighborhood any more; that's sprawl for the 1%. It is fundamentally designed for the automobile; the walkway even goes to the garage before it goes to the front door. This house is a demonstration project of every thing we have to STOP doing in the design of our houses.

To the left are related links to research that demonstrates conclusively that where you live matters to your energy consumption than what you live in; that all in, the greenest house in the tract suburb still performs worse than another in a denser, transit oriented community. Being Net Zero is meaningless if you can't even walk to the curb, let alone the mailbox or the grocery store.

What we have here is a high tech robotic dinosaur.

Tags: Architects | Energy Efficiency | Green Building