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  What is a Zero Energy House?

  Whether it’s to save money, cut our dependence on foreign oil, or slow the effects of global warming, homeowners are increasingly interested in energy efficiency. The 1,630-square-foot, two-bedroom Zero Energy Idea House, which will be open for public and industry tours in spring 2009, is designed to show that smart choices can result in a home that minimizes energy use while maximizing comfort and style.

  The term “zero energy” doesn’t mean a house uses no energy – it means the house combines on-site power generation with efficiency measures so that it meets it own energy requirements. In the case of the Zero Energy Idea House, the home’s electrical needs will be met by rooftop solar panels, and the home’s domestic hot water will also be heated by the sun.

  The project’s technical team has opted to forego “true” zero energy by installing a gas-powered hydronic in-floor radiant heating system, described by Mike Lubliner of Washington State University Extension’s Energy Program as the most efficient heating system available. Lubliner’s office manages the Northwest ENERGY STAR® Homes program as well as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America program, which has adopted the project as a case study.

  In addition to incorporating renewable energy and highly efficient heating, appliances, lighting, and windows, the Zero Energy Idea House’s structure itself makes a major contribution to meeting the project’s energy goals. The house is built with structural insulated panels (SIPs), polystyrene panels that combine framing, insulation and exterior sheathing in one system that can be used for roofing, walls or floors over crawl spaces. SIPs are custom-manufactured from project drawings, and although they are a little more expensive than typical framing materials, they save considerable time, labor and waste on the jobsite and result in a structure that is tightly built and extremely well insulated.

  All in all, computer modeling by Lubliner’s team estimates the home’s total energy bills will come in at less than $500 a year. The WSU specialists will conduct a series of tests to see how well the home performs and will also install a monitoring system to provide real-time reports on energy use.


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