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Peek inside Honda’s radically efficient, energy-producing smart home

Last March, Honda showed off its state-of-the-art smart home, which is so energy efficient it actually produces more energy than it uses. But it wasn’t just a slick showpiece. For the last nine months, the Bennett/O’Hara family has been living in the Honda Smart Home on the University of California campus in Davis, and they like it so much, they’ve decided to extend their stay another year.

You can’t really blame them. It’s 1,944 square feet, runs on solar energy and battery power, and it doesn’t even need air conditioning. Everything from the lights to the music is controlled through an iPad app. The blinds and lights are programmed to open and close automatically. Because its plans are all open-source and it produces more energy than it uses, it’s an excellent potential model for future California homes, because all new houses there will have to be net zero beginning in 2020.

If it seems odd for a car company to get involved in home automation, it’s because Honda is actually looking at the bigger picture. Honda and UC Davis researchers are looking at how devices work together, and how they can influence climate change, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The dishwasher is from Bosch and KitchenAid made the refrigerator, but the energy management system is Honda’s. The company also wanted someone in the family to drive about 30 miles per day, testing its electric Fit and accompanying charging equipment.

“When we came to visit, I was shocked that it was 74 degrees inside when it was 104 outside,” Susan O’Hara tells Smithsonian. The windows face south and have eaves that block the sun when the day’s at it hottest, while still capturing the rays in winter. The thick walls are well insulated, and the roof reflects light. To make the home water-efficient, Honda installed dual-flush toilets, low-flow faucets, and gray-water collectors for the yard’s drought-resistant plants.

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Though it took the family a couple of months to get used to the automated home, they soon asked Honda to let them extend their stay another year. “It’s become an integral part of our lives,” says O’Hara.