In Gaithersburg, Maryland the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has built a Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF), which I was able to visit while participating in Greenbuild DC. It’s home to a four-member robot “virtual family” and a lab to keep track of the energy data that their household produces. The house is used to demonstrate that a typically sized residence can produce as much energy from renewable energy resources as it consumes on an annual basis and was designed to LEED Platinum certification.
While we were visiting, the virtual parents were in the kitchen cooking and running a load of laundry while the virtual children did homework. Designed to blend in nicely in a new suburban subdivision, NZERTF is approximately 60 percent more energy efficient than homes built to the requirements of the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code. In its first year of operation (July 2013 – June 2014) the house had enough surplus energy to power an electric car for about 1400 miles. Instead of paying almost $4,400 for electricity – the estimated annual bill for a comparable home in Maryland – the all-electric home actually exported energy to the grid.
In the coming years, NZERTF will test different systems and continue to monitor air-quality, humidity, and other systems. The goal is to provide independent results that accurately demonstrate the effect off gassing has on human health and air quality in an interior environment and the efficiency of systems in the long term in a controlled environment. In the short term, NZERTF is demonstrating that the financial difference between having a home that is built to net-zero or net-positive standards versus a home that is built to code is minimal; research that will change the way newer homes are being built.