Solving Cities

Can a suburban home be energy neutral?

Can a suburban home be energy neutral?

Posting in Design

Maybe a low-impact lifestyle doesn't mean giving up hot showers?

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Commerce Department

Not too long ago, mention of a zero-impact lifestyle called to mind visions of cedar wood cabins with cold showers. To some sections of America, that approach would arrive as a brilliant escape from frenzied urban life; for others, it downright antedelluvian.

But does the pursuit of a zero impact life require abandoning the creature comforts of toaster ovens, televisions, and incandescent light bulbs? A new project by the U.S. Commerce Department seeks to answer just that.

Launched Sept. 12, the new Net-Zero Energy Residential Facility in Gaithersburg, Md., is applying the best of currently-available consumer technology with the frame of a four-bedroom suburban home in order to determine if the demand for energy efficiency is compatible with picked fences.

"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."

Among the numerous amenities built into the frame of the Net-Zero Energy Residential Facility include solar water heater and solar photovoltaic system that will not only provide hot water and electricity, but will also feed excess energy back to the grid. During times of poor weather, the home will draw electricity back from the grid to deliver a 21st century lifestyle without interruption.

The Net-Zero Energy Residential Facility also invested in radiant floor heating, high-performance windows, Energy Star appliances, and twice the insulation found in a typical new home. For its efforts, the building earned LEED Platinum status.

But are these improvements scalable for the average consumer? Therein, as Hamlet said, lies the rub. Even though comparable net-zero homes have been constructed for $600,000, the Net-Zero Testing Facility project $2.5 million price tag means that saving up for the perfect place in the suburbs might take a little longer than expected.

[NBC News]

Photos: National Institute of Standards and Technology/Flickr

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Claire Lambrecht

Contributing Writer

Claire Lambrecht has written for the New York Times, Slate, Salon, The Nation, and CBS MoneyWatch. Previously, she taught English as a Teach for America Corps Member and Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. She holds degrees from Cornell University, the University of Hawaii, and the Arthur M. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure