Darren Quick: 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.”