HouseZero: Renovating a 1920’s house to make it energy net positive
A 1920’s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts is currently being refitted in a way which could transform the building industry. The headquarters of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities has been equipped with a number of contemporary technologies, as part of an attempt to prove that ordinary houses can be renovated to a point where they are almost entirely self-reliant from an energy perspective, all while cutting costs in the process.
Using innovative design and careful planning, the HouseZero project has created a building which is self-sufficient. The building alleviates the need for external energy by providing its own. What’s more it has been designed to be as accessible as possible, utilising mostly commonplace technologies.
Adele Peters, writing for Fast Company, reports that their plans include fitting solar panels on the roof to provide enough electricity for the house, as well as making sure that it natural light is maximised reducing demand on artificial lighting. This has been made possible by a collaboration on the design with Snøhetta, an architecture firm. An array of features will enable the building to self-regulate its own temperature, including an intelligent ventilation system.
Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and director of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities explains:
“If you want to open the window yourself, you can, but at the same time, the building by itself knows its need for ventilation…if there’s a need for ventilating the building, it will automatically open the windows.”
The designers have been thorough, adding concrete floor slabs to increase the mass of the wooden building, a clever way of ensuring that the structure retains heat more effectively in the winter, while fostering a cooler environment in the summer. The windows are triple-glazed to ensure that the maximum heat is retained when the cold bites and a geothermal heat pump next to the building is there in case of extreme cold. A multitude of factors ensures that a significant percentage of the building’s energy and electricity is provided without connection to an external power supply.
At the end of 2016, Arup Group unveiled their ‘Circular House’ concept, which asked the question, what would a home look like (conceptually) if designed with the principles of the circular economy in mind from the very start. Of course, it isn’t practical to entirely dismantle and rebuild all architectural infrastructure from scratch, which is what makes positive renovation stories like this one so interesting. In this case, energy self-sufficiency was the principle goal of the rebuild, but it may hint towards some of the other exciting possibilities for innovation towards a more regenerative economy in the construction sector.