Around the United States, homes are using up 23 percent of the total energy use, and are also responsible for 18 percent of our carbon emissions. Those living in cities like Chicago, where they are confronted with great extremes in temperature, often find heating and cooling bills to be as unbearable as the weather itself.
The urban design team from Farr Associates was given the challenge of solving these problems, and in response they constructed 2,600 square foot home that is at the point of being able to generate and provide all of its own energy needs.
As the housing designers and the owners continue improving the design, they expect to reach their goal of net-zero energy use by end of the next year. Take a look at how they’ve managed it:
Water Recycling – The uniquely designed roof has an “upside down” configuration that conceals a large array of solar panels and also traps rainwater to be used for irrigation of the native plants in the garden. The house also has a clever system of treating grey water from the washing machine with UV light and chlorine; the water is then used for flushing the dual tank toilets in the home.
Solar Panels – Speaking of that solar array, there are a total of 48 panels which provide 10KW of electrical generation capability. The roof is treated with a reflective surface, making even more sunlight available to the panels, which increases the energy production by about 10 percent. The home’s hot water is provided by thermal collection panels which also help support the home’s heating and cooling.
Geothermal Wells – There are three geothermal wells located one hundred yards below the garden. They’re used to store warm water (which has been heated in part by those thermal panels on the roof) and circulate it through the house for climate control. In warm weather, the system works as a heat-exchange system, and can cool as well as an air-conditioning system.
Radiant Heat – In cooler weather, the warm water from the underground wells is circulated through the concrete floors via a system of tubing. It will heat the floors to as much as 60 degrees; then air pumped up from the wells will increase the room temperatures to a comfortable 70 degrees.
Thick Walls – It’s no secret that thick walls make for good insulation, and the walls here consist of two eight-inch concrete layers that sandwich a layer of insulation. The combination protects the house well from the extreme temperatures outside. During the day, the concrete will absorb the sun’s heat, keeping rooms from overheating. At night, the concrete slowly releases that heat to help maintain comfortable temperatures.
Ultra-Efficient Windows – While glass lets in warmth with the sunlight, it also lets heat escape in cold weather. This home’s windows have three coats of glaze on each of the three layers which give them more than double the insulating powers of a regular double paned window. Additional custom window shades help retain even more heat.
Rob is a sustainable technology enthusiast working for weekend break specialist Hotelshop UK. As well as investigating eco-friendly technology for the home he loves seeking out the best 'green' and sustainable holidays all over the work.