Bye, bye bills! Harvard’s HouseZero produces more energy than it consumes

Anyone who has ever gotten an unexpectedly large heating bill will likely be interested to hear about Harvard University’s ambitious HouseZero project currently taking place in Cambridge, Massachusetts: To create a sustainable building that produces more energy than it consumes.

That may sound impressive enough on its own, but clear your mind of the kind of futuristic architecture that would be more at home as the dazzling headquarters of a Silicon Valley tech giant. Instead, what researchers from Harvard, architectural firm Snohetta and Skanska Technology have done is to retrofit a stick-frame pre-1940s house — which will serve as the new energy-efficient home of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities.

The idea is to demonstrate a transferable model of retrofitting that could be applied to the 14 million-plus residential houses of its type that currently exist in the United States. This stands in contrast to conventional thinking that similar levels of energy efficiency can only be developed as part of a new construction.

The so-called HouseZero project boasts a variety of nifty features. These include reducing the need for electric lighting by creating new, enlarged windows and skylights, designed to protect interior spaces from direct sun in the summer, while also encouraging winter sun. This means minimal cooling necessary in the hot summer months, while minimal heating is required in the cold winter months. Air quality and comfort levels in the house are permanently monitored, with ventilation controlled via smart algorithms and room sensors that are responsible for opening and shutting windows. Then there’s a glazed, solar chimney designed to generate thermal uplift to draw heat from the basement into the main living areas. In addition, expect energy generated by photovoltaic panels and then stored for use — with surplus energy fed back into the city’s power grid.

In terms of materials and design, the house consists of open-plan areas, glass partitions, and lots of exposed wooden beams; which will all contribute to a quiet, undisturbed living experience. Sure, you might feel a bit like you are living in an Apple store at times, but the lack of bills will presumably make up for it!

Should all continue to go to plan, expect more houses like this to pop up around the United States in the not-too-distant future.