House project to be model of energy saving

Home is to generate as much power as it uses

`Something any builder can do'

Design to include solar, other efficient methods

August 22, 2004|By Emily Bregel | Emily Bregel,SUN STAFF

The National Association of Home Builders Research Center plans to build a home in Maryland that can produce as much energy as it uses, to help lower utility bills and highlight the power-efficient technology being tested by the construction industry.

The Upper Marlboro-based research center will team up with the U.S. Department of Energy and the state to build the home before next summer. The group plans to decide on a builder during the next few weeks.

The structure will use solar power to generate heat and electricity, and most likely will use energy-efficient technologies such as increased wall insulation and low-flow plumbing fixtures. The house would be designed to produce energy to help power lights, appliances, air conditioning and other amenities so a homeowner's utility costs at the end of a year could amount to zero.

"All these things are something that any builder can do," said John Wesley Miller, whose construction company formed a partnership with the research center to build a similar home in Tucson, Ariz., two years ago. "They just have to take a little time to get themselves educated."

The proposed Maryland home would be part of the Energy Department's zero-energy homes initiative aimed at introducing the concept to the mainstream construction industry. Like the research center, the home would be used as a laboratory to teach builders and homeowners about the efficient technology being developed. Organizers plan to sell the home.

"There'll definitely be educational workshops along the way," said Walt Auburn, assistant director of the Maryland Energy Administration, which will help pay for the project.

Plans for the energy-efficient home were discussed during the research center's technology fair held at its Prince George's County headquarters last week. The group is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Energy-efficient homes have gained popularity during the past few years but have been constructed mostly in the West and Southwest, not the Mid-Atlantic, according to Joe Wiehagen, senior research engineer at the research center.

"Most groups are following the sun, of course, but [Maryland] certainly is an area that needs to have some work done," he said. "There's good solar resources here as well as ample opportunities to try to reduce the energy consumption, so ... the time is right."

While it has not been designed, the Maryland zero-energy home will likely contain a solar thermal system and photovoltaic roofing. It also might make use of what's known as optimal value engineering techniques, in which a homebuilder uses larger individual supports in the walls - but fewer of them - to allow more room for insulating materials.

The Maryland Energy Administration has offered $60,000 to pay for state-of-the-art materials that will be used to create what would be the first zero-energy home in the region, Auburn said. A $50,000 Energy Department grant will go toward education and support of the construction, he added.

The energy home in Tucson sold within a month for $386,000, according to Miller. Since October, energy consumption at the residence has been monitored with the consent of the new owners.

Miller, whose company built the solar-friendly development in which the zero-energy home is located, estimated the home cost at about $56,000 more than a home built with more traditional materials. Wiehagen noted that the residents have reduced their electric bills this year by about 66 percent.

The Tucson house uses solar thermal power for space and water heating, as well as solar photovoltaic roofing to produce electricity for appliances. Other features include increased exterior wall insulation to ease the load on air conditioners and low-flow plumbing to conserve water.

The Department of Energy's program is designed to create neighborhoods of zero-energy homes across the country. Other building teams affiliated with the program have built homes in California and Nevada.

Paula Hallberg of Silver Spring visited the research center's exhibits last week to find ideas for the second home she and her husband are building in West Virginia. Hallberg's husband, Reinhard Radermacher, is director of the Center for Environmental Energy Engineering at the University of Maryland.

Hallberg was particularly interested in a parallel piping system in which small-diameter pipes are connected to each hot water outlet to deliver it faster and with less energy. She also is considering tankless water heaters, which warm water "on demand," conserving the energy often wasted on heating a standing tank of water.

"We're ... trying to look at whatever techniques we can use that would decrease energy dependence," Hallberg said. "That's our goal."

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