When the NIST Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility was opened almost two years ago, I called it a High tech robotic green dinosaur. I wondered how an 86 foot wide house on a vast lot was actually "typical" American housing.
...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.
Now the results are in from its first full year of testing and everyone is calling it a huge success. It was not only net-zero, but it is net-positive, with 491 surplus Kilowatt hours of juice left over. And that is after a cold winter where for 38 days the solar panels were covered with snow and ice. Should I eat my words of two years ago? No, I will double down.
According to the video, the house was designed to "meet all the needs and creature comforts of a typical family of four." It is designed to "blend in nicely in a new suburban subdivision" The trouble is, what is a typical family of four? Who was this designed for?
A quick check of the census data for Maryland, in fact the #1 ranked state, shows a median household income of $ 69,272; the maximum qualifying mortgage amount at today's interest rates is $ 301,183. This house cost about $800K to build; that includes a premium for all the green goodness of about $162,700. That does not include the cost of land. Tell me how typical is that.
When this house was built I complained that "this house is a demonstration project of every thing we have to STOP doing in the design of our houses." I also seriously wonder about that robot Cleaver family; how much time is Beaver spending on video games, how long is Wally in the robotic showers, how many robotic Domino pizzas did June order for dinner after a hard day at the office?. How did they determine what these robots actually do? Are they as typical of America as this house is, which is easily in the 1% income bracket?
Some good has come out of this charade. Hunter Fanney of NIST says in the press release:
From here on in, our job will be to develop tests and measurements that will help to improve the energy efficiency of the nation's housing stock and support the development and adoption of cost-effective, net-zero energy designs and technologies, construction methods and building codes.
Mechanical engineer Mark Davis points out what the biggest deal about the house is:
The most important difference between this home and a Maryland code-compliant home is the improvement in the thermal envelope—the insulation and air barrier, says NIST mechanical engineer Mark Davis. By nearly eliminating the unintended air infiltration and doubling the insulation level in the walls and roof, the heating and cooling load was decreased dramatically.
So they have spent all this money and time to figure out that the biggest bang for your buck comes from building the thermal envelope properly. The geniuses at the Building Science Corporation could have told them that two years ago.