At Castles Unlimited, we’re always on the hunt for the latest eco-friendly home advancements– after all, what’s more important than respecting our planet while saving our customers money? New England and cutting-edge technology go together like Tom Brady and Super Bowl championships, so as you can imagine, we were thrilled, yet, hardly surprised to learn that Harvard researchers have just now completed their first “zero-energy” retrofit of a pre-war Cambridge home.
The building, known as “HouseZero” is now being utilized as the headquarters of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities. Researchers are studying the meticulously designed building with a hope to uncover lessons for making housing more efficient throughout the Greater Boston Area, and eventually the entire country.
Now operational, the once unassuming pre-war has been engineered to generate more energy over its lifetime than was used to renovate it– it will use nearly no energy for heating and cooling, no electric lighting during the day, and 100 percent natural ventilation. It was renovated using zero carbon emission building materials. There are solar panels on the roof, insulation has been improved and its timber frame thickened, windows have been added and enlarged, and skylights have been a welcome addition.
It doesn’t stop there– while researchers have taken full advantage of natural elements in order to make this home coexist with its environment rather than withstand it, high-tech innovations are abundant. Consider the “window actuation system,” that relies upon software and room sensors to automatically open and shut windows as the outside temperature changes– powered by a solar vent in the basement.
For context, in the United States, buildings contribute to over 40 percent of the country’s energy consumption, with housing accounting for over 10 percent. Utilities such as heating, cooling, and lighting alone cost homeowners upwards of $230 billion annually in our 113.6 million homes. With that kind of money, we could retrofit quite a few homes.
In the off chance that weather gets too extreme for the home’s systems, they have instituted a ground-source heat pump that pushes naturally heated or cooler water through the floor slabs of the home– indeed, every element of the home’s interior environment is decided through data-driven processes. Drawing on data from throughout the home, HouseZero will serve as a “living laboratory” that researchers can control, adapt, and learn from. Hopefully, their goals will be realized, and a practical blueprint of cost-effective green retrofits will prove applicable on a significant scale.