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Students Envision Solar Future

A group of Northwestern University students have developed a model of the solar home of the future as part of the Department of Energy's fall Solar Decathlon 2017.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Lila Reynolds is an undergraduate student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Manasi Kaushik is a graduate student at the school. They wrote this column at the request of the Energy Times. Northwestern University's Institute for Sustainability and Energy is a founding, three-year sponsor of our Empowering Customers & Cities executive energy conference in Chicago November 7-8.

With climate changes putting earth at risk on a daily basis, it is imperative that we begin to reduce our carbon footprint and live more sustainably than we have in the past.

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017, scheduled this fall between October 5-15, allows students, professors, and community members begin this discussion at a grassroots level by building a house that models a green home, not only for the future generations but also for the present times.

Enable by House by Northwestern (HBN), is Northwestern University’s first-ever entry to the Solar Decathlon. By packaging energy efficient and sustainable features into a comfortable, beautiful, accessible, and easy-to-maintain home, Enable is designed to offer sustainability without compromise.

From Enable’s wood siding and drywall choices to furniture, tile, and lighting,  sustainability was a top priority during the design and construction process. However, for homes already on the market, green features were probably not prioritized during the building process, which means adapting or replacing features is the best option.

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architects

Enable is equipped with a number of features that could also be used in existing homes, without requiring an entire remodel. Here are some ideas for ways to make your home a more energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly, and healthier place to live – on a scale as large as you want.

Solar panels. Solar panels today can look much like normal roofing materials and last just as long. If your roof is due for a replacement or repair, consider doing it with solar panels. Roof-integrated solar panels allow Enable to be net positive – the house produces more energy than it consumes – which eliminates energy bills.

Heat pump. According to Energy Star, maintaining a home’s indoor temperature can use up to half of your home’s energy, meaning green tech is a great way to dramatically reduce your energy bill – and carbon footprint. In a typical home, separate systems are used for heating and cooling. Enable will use an air-source heat pump to heat – including water – cool, and control the relative humidity of the home, which helps make Enable 90 percent more efficient than the average home in our community.

Lila Reynolds

Rain barrels. Outdoor water use, like watering plants, is a major factor in your home’s overall water usage. That’s why Enable waters its plants using rainwater caught by barrels connected to roof gutters. Installing a rainwater catchment system at your home can enable you to easily water all your plants after even just a ⅛” rainfall, entirely eliminating the need to use purified water from the house.

WaterSense appliances. If you’re not making any major design changes in your house, upgrading to WaterSense appliances is an easy way to reduce your water usage. WaterSense is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program designed to encourage water efficiency. Enable’s WaterSense labeled showerheads and toilets allow our appliances to collectively use ~30 percent less water than those in a standard, code-compliant house.

Manasi Kaushik

Energy Star appliances. Buying  appliances certified by Energy Star, an EPA/DOE program that rates appliances for energy use, is another easy and effective way to transform your home into a more energy-efficient space. Enable’s appliances, such as our dishwasher, our washing machine, and our refrigerator, are supplied by Beko, the 2017 Energy Star Partner of the Year. 

Smart home features. One of the best ways to conserve energy is to find out where you’re using the most power. Enable uses the Wiser Energy Center, which monitors the amount of energy is being used by each outlet, and can send this data right to your smartphone. Using other smart home devices, like those which can program your thermostats and lighting or monitor the air quality of your home, are other easy-to-install home improvement solutions.

PURETi. Enable is one of the first residential homes to use PURETi, a water-based (NSF and NIOSH approved) spray coating that is photocatalytic and is applied to windows and exterior surfaces of the house. When light energizes a PURETi treated window, wall or solar panel; oxygen and water in the air (humidity) are activated to instantly break down organic grime on the surface and pollution in the air thus transforming treated surfaces into light activated, self-cleaning air purifiers through a proven and well studied technology known as photocatalysis - the safe reversal of photosynthesis.




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