Har­vard is up­dat­ing a home from the 1920s to be “ul­tra” en­ergy ef­fi­cient

The project is called HouseZero and shows that you don’t have to build new struc­tures from scratch for them to be en­ergy ef­fi­cient, a Har­vard pro­fes­sor said.

Metro USA (Boston) - - NEWS - KRISTIN TOUSSAINT @kristin­dakota kristin.toussaint@metro.us

Imag­ine a com­fort­able, liv­able home where you don’t have to turn on any elec­tric lights dur­ing the day, where no heat­ing or air con­di­tion­ing sys­tem is re­quired — yes, even in New Eng­land — and that it can do all that with­out pro­duc­ing any car­bon emis­sions.

This house will soon be a re­al­ity, thanks to the Har­vard Cen­ter for Green Build­ings and Ci­ties, but even with its “ul­tra-ef­fi­cient” ameni­ties, it won’t look com­pletely mod­ern from the out­side.

That’s be­cause it’s a 1924 two-story home in a his­toric district of Cam­bridge. The cen­ter will be retrofitting the house with mod­ern, en­ergy-ef­fi­cient tech­nolo­gies for a project called HouseZero.

Ali Malkawi, a pro­fes­sor of ar­chi­tec­tural tech­nol­ogy at Har­vard Grad­u­ate School of De­sign and the found­ing di­rec­tor of the cen­ter, said it is a “first-of-its-kind” project that chal­lenges the idea that you have to build new homes from scratch in order to im­ple­ment en­ergy-ef­fi­cient de­sign.

“In the U.S. and many places around the world the ex­ist­ing build­ing stock is the prob­lem,” when it comes to high en­ergy use, not new de­sign op­tions, he said. “Our in­ten­tion [of HouseZero] is shat­ter­ing the be­lief that these things can­not be done to ex­ist­ing homes. You don’t have to tear them down.”

Res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial build­ings ac­counted for 40 per­cent of the to­tal U.S. en­ergy con­sump­tion in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion. Prop­erty own­ers spend more than $230 bil­lion an­nu­ally on heat­ing, cool­ing and pow­er­ing about 113 mil­lion homes.

Malkawi said he and his team wanted to “push the limit” for what en­ergy-ef­fi­cient up­grades can be added to an ex­ist­ing home — a part of the mar­ket peo­ple think “you can’t do much with,” he said — which could help curb cli­mate change and also help cur­rent prop­erty own­ers save money.

Be­cause it’s in a his­toric district, the out­side ap­pear­ance couldn’t be dras­ti­cally al­tered. But in­side, changes to the house in­clude elim­i­nat­ing the HVAC (heat­ing, ven­ti­la­tion and air con­di­tion­ing) sys­tem, adding sky­lights and other al­ter­ations to flood the home with nat­u­ral light so elec­tric lights aren’t needed dur­ing the day and adding a lab so that data can be col­lected to de­velop new and more ef­fi­cienct tech­nolo­gies.

With no heat­ing or cool­ing sys­tem, the house will in­stead use “ther­mal mass,” mean­ing the build­ing’s ma­te­ri­als are able to ab­sorb and store heat. There will also be an au­to­mated sys­tem, Malkawi said, to “sense the oc­cu­pants’ needs and open the win­dows ac­cord­ingly through­out the en­tire day as well as the night.”

Al­go­rithms can sense if the win­dows need to open to im­prove air qual­ity, when they need to close once the build­ing is cool and can “pre­dict fu­ture fore­casts for [the win­dows] to ad­just them­selves,” Malkawi said.

Con­struc­tion to up­grade the home is ex­pected to take seven to nine months. When it’s com­plete, it will be the new head­quar­ters for the Cen­ter for Green Build­ings and Ci­ties and, Malkawi added, hope­fully be a tem­plate to mod­ern­ize more ex­ist­ing homes.

The cur­rent head­quar­ters of Har­vard’s Cen­ter for Green Build­ing and Ci­ties in Cam­bridge is un­der­go­ing a retro­fit into an ul­tra-ef­fi­cient struc­ture. SNØHETTA

The house is de­signed to be durable, func­tional, flex­i­ble, com­fort­able and con­nected to its nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. SNØHETTA/PLOMPM

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