EEBA's High Performance Home Blog

Georgia Power Smart Neighborhood

A collaboration between DOE, utilities, and a long-standing homebuilder create an opportunity to explore how homeowners are using energy in a real-world, smart home environment.
Georgia Power Smart Neighborhood

“Altus at The Quarter,” a townhome community consisting of 46 units, recently opened in Atlanta, Georgia and will serve as real-world research for understanding “how emerging smart technologies and distributed energy resources can impact energy efficiency, energy management and resiliency.”

The townhomes include PV panels, battery storage, heat pump water heaters, and other energy efficient building elements - all managed by a “grid-interactive control system” developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (“ORNL”) and the Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office (“BTO”).

Oak Ridge National Laboratory was originally established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project. They are currently managed and operated by UT-Battelle as a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the DOE. ORNL supports DOE’s national missions of scientific discovery, clean energy, and security.

The DOE’s Building Technologies Office leads a vast network of research and industry partners to continually develop innovative, cost-effective energy saving solutions to create better products, better new homes, better ways to improve older homes, and better buildings in which we work, shop, and lead our everyday lives.

The grid-interactive control system, if successful, should have the ability to optimize home energy use and “manage the neighborhood’s major energy users to maximize value for homeowners and grid operators alike.”

Altus at The Quarter, also known as Georgia Power Smart Neighborhood, is the second community in the BTO’s Connected Neighborhood project. The first community, Reynolds Landing, has been operational since 2017 and consists of 62 single family homes in Hoover, Alabama.


Microgrid at Reynolds Landing (photo: smartneighbor.com)

As of August 2019, researchers have discovered that the Reynolds Landing homes use 39% less energy than a sample set of new homes in the Birmingham metro area.

"Grid-interactive efficient buildings like these in our Atlanta and Hoover neighborhoods go beyond energy efficiency in that they’re advanced and able to not only harness the flexibility of their equipment and loads, but to deploy that flexibility in ways that also benefit the grid," says BTO Director David Nemtzow. "Grid-interactive buildings can improve the affordability and sustainability of energy by helping utilities reduce peak demand periods that are particularly costly and stressful for utilities to manage and for consumers to pay on their energy bills. This efficiency, in turn, helps reduce energy waste.”

The DOE recently released a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for “Connected Communities”. The FOA would support the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings research initiative, which explores how smart building technologies and practices will enable American businesses and families to save energy and reduce their utility bills while protecting their comfort, productivity, and quality of life.

Those interested in learning more or participating in this FOA can learn more here or reach out to aaron@eeba.org to talk about collaborating.

Collaboration and Energy Efficiency for Affordable Homes

It’s great to hear about net zero energy communities being built, and even better to discover the aim is to make them affordable.
Collaboration and Energy Efficiency for Affordable Homes

In many areas in the country, home prices are growing faster than incomes are increasing. Making sure homes stay affordable once they are occupied is essential in keeping costs down once they’re occupied.

Collaborating on projects is becoming more and more popular when attainability is of utmost importance.

In Hillsborough County in the Tampa Bay, Florida area, Commissioners are working with the Florida Home Partnership, a 501(c)3 nonprofit community home builder to build seven zero energy homes. The houses will utilize solar panels and aim for monthly electric bills of $20 or less. Other features will include metal roofing and concrete walls for hurricane resistance and lower insurance premiums.

Along with their collaboration with Florida Home Partnership, Hillsborough County has also secured a $150,000 grant from Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo has a history in housing philanthropy and recently announced a partnership with Enterprise Community Partners to create the Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge. The national competition will be aimed at finding innovative and scalable solutions for subjects like construction costs, financing and resident services.

"What we want to do is start the conversation about what's possible with technology that's right there, right now." Mike Morina, Executive Director of Florida Home Partnership, said. 

"The good news is we have a growing economy," Overman said. "But we need housing for people to live in. And this is one way to make that happen."

With over 100,000 people searching for portable housing in the Hillsborough County area, seven homes may not seem like a lot. But successful, proven, scalable models are the only way we are going to make progress. Let us know what other interesting partnerships you’ve heard about that are paving the way to create energy efficient, affordable homes.

Bringing it all Together

With a passion for the outdoors and vast experience in sustainability in the building industry, EEBA’s new CEO is ready to drive collaboration to a greater level.
Bringing it all Together

If you’re looking for EEBA’s new CEO, Aaron Smith, you’ll likely find him in Minneapolis working on a remodeling project or playing outdoors with his family. Whether he’s gardening, hiking, nordic skiing, downhill skiing, or playing hockey, his love of being outside is evident through the activities he and his wife, Jennifer, engage in with their three boys.

Aaron’s extensive resume includes over 20 years in construction, building products, sustainability and non-profit board leadership. He also has considerable experience in sales and business development and believes his current position with EEBA is a culmination of all of the subject matter he’s been passionate about during his life. His grandfather was a builder in Minneapolis and played a pivotal role in his love for the building industry.

“There’s such a pride in building something,” says Smith. “My grandfather taught me early on that when you build something, it could be there forever. That stuck with me. There’s something satisfying about building and providing a home, and joy, for someone. Our legacy is what we leave behind.”

He has always been driven by his grandfather’s ideology and feels privileged for the opportunity to impact people - forever.

Aaron sees EEBA as a curator and educator with the important purpose of bringing people together and learning from each other. Focusing on four common themes within the organization - energy, water, human health, and resilience - and building upon an existing foundation, he believes EEBA can further assist builders improving their own techniques within these four pillars and beyond.

In 2020 you’ll see improvements to the EEBA and Summit websites as they become more user-friendly. You’ll also see an increase in EEBA’s social media presence and outreach, as well as the edition of new Builder Benchmark Groups, a program focused on bringing builders together to learn how to both build sustainably and operate their businesses sustainably. In addition, EEBA has partnered with Thrive Home Builders and Pro Builder magazine to bring the Ultimate Z.E.N. (Zero Energy Now) home to the Summit in Denver, showcasing what it takes to build a zero energy decarbonized home.

“EEBA is a great organization with a great history and foundation,” says Smith. “I’m excited to bring a fresh viewpoint from a builder point-of-view. We have amazing people involved with EEBA but we need to touch more people and get more builders involved and move the entire industry forward.”

Aaron and the whole EEBA team will be out at the High Performance Home Summit in Denver September 29-October 1. Make sure you reserve your spot and be ready to ask Aaron about his spring chickens and love of cats (you’ll have to attend the event to learn more).

A New Level of Enlightenment

At this year’s EEBA Summit you’ll experience the Ultimate Z.E.N Home.
A New Level of Enlightenment

EEBA is proud to announce a partnership with Pro Builder and Thrive Home Builders to bring The Ultimate Z.E.N. (Zero Energy Now) Home to this year’s High Performance Home Summit. The 2400-2600 sq ft “eco-luxury” model will be built on a 53’x80’ lot and will aim for LEED Gold certification, EPA ENERGY STAR and Indoor airPLUS and healthy home standards. The project will be completely electrified and decarbonized. This model will be used for an additional 33 homes in the development.

“We hope that this home, being a model for a community with the same base specifications, shows that homes like these do not need to be one-off demonstration homes but that they can be a successful home series delivered in a competitive marketplace,” says Bill Rectanus, VP of Homebuilding Operations at Thrive Home Builders.

As a leader in the home building industry, Thrive Home Builders has been providing the Colorado single family home market with energy efficient homes for over 25 years. Year after year they have received national recognition for their dedication to building sustainably. Their Z.E.N. product line is already certified by the U.S. Department of Energy Zero Energy Ready Home program.

“We are excited to partner with Pro Builder and Thrive Home Builders to bring the Ultimate Z.E.N. Home to attendees of our EEBA Summit,” says EEBA CEO, Aaron Smith. “The project will act as a beacon for sharing cutting edge net zero practices and education to high performance home builders everywhere.”

The 4-bedroom demonstration home will have a focus on health and sustainability. It will feature a HERS Score of 15 or less and utilize a battery storage system, a Wiser Energy Smart Home Monitor system from Square D, advanced lighting, HVAC controls, air quality sensors, as well as Thrive’s signature “clean room” that was developed to reinforce the healthy pillar of their brand - efficient, healthy, and local. This brand pillar begins with EPA Indoor airPLUS certification and is bolstered by fully active radon systems, advanced MERV 16 air filtration, and ERV ventilation.

“These features live in our mechanical rooms and are designed to provide consistent clean healthy air to the home,” says Rectanus. “Most builders do not pay attention to this area of the house as it tends to become just another storage area. At Thrive we believe this room is the lungs of the house and should be designed to show off the advanced clean air features that live there. We designed this room to be drywalled and painted with a clean sealed floor to emphasize the importance of these home features and reinforce the healthy indoor atmosphere they are designed to create.”

Pro Builder will cover the project throughout construction, culminating in a feature story in December 2020. The home will debut during EEBA’s High Performance Home Summit in Denver, Colorado September 29 through October 1 and will be open for one year. For more information on sponsorship opportunities on the Ultimate Z.E.N. Home, contact Aaron Smith.

Building Faster and More Resilient After Wildfires

While bushfires in Australia continue to burn an area larger than Denmark, wildfires are not far from our minds here in the U.S.
Building Faster and More Resilient After Wildfires

The Insurance Information Institute reports that between 2017 and 2019 there were over 176,000 wildfires across the U.S. - mostly in California. In the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties over 5,800 structures were destroyed. In 2018 almost 19,000 structures were consumed in a 4 hour period in Paradise, California. And just last year, the Kincade Fire in Northern California destroyed 374 buildings - 174 of those were residential structures.

According to Forest Service data, wildfires in the U.S. are now lasting 78 days longer than they did in the 70’s and are also burning twice as much area. Currently, 42 U.S. states, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Island, and the District of Columbia, use or have adopted the International Fire Code (or an edition of the specific code), although almost a dozen of these do not use the particular code as a standard for all buildings.

Many who lost their homes in these wildfires are finding it difficult to rebuild. While some homeowners were underinsured to begin with, the increased costs for labor, as well as the cost of building a new home from the ground up, have blocked rebuilding efforts.

Either by downsizing and adding an Accessory Dwelling Unit for future rental income, or shifting to alternative building methods, those who are able to rebuild are looking at ways to increase value to their homes.

Off-site modular construction companies like Dvele can add value because of the speed. Dvele claims they can get a homeowner into their new home in 6-7 months after finalizing your design plan and budget. At one point Dvele was even offering a discount to fire victims (although I don’t see where it is advertised on their website).

Plant Prefab, a sustainable modular home builder, offers fire victims a “free initial site assessments...50% off feasibility service, $5,000 in FREE upgrades and 5% off design/admin fees for LivingHomes.”

What are your opinions on rebuilding in high-risk wildfire zones, building materials that should be required, and mitigation measures that should be implemented? We’d love to hear your opinions!

Hey Google, Show Me What’s Possible this Decade

We’re predicting the next 10 years will produce some of the most exciting changes in the building industry - and we get to be part of it.
Hey Google, Show Me What’s Possible this Decade

Saturday morning you wake up and realize you’re out of coffee and your fridge is empty. You’re hungry. You need coffee. But you really don’t want to get dressed and go to the coffee shop. So you grab your iPad and you order some food from the breakfast joint down the road and a giant coffee from your favorite coffee shop - scheduled to be delivered directly to your doorstep by Uber Eats.

You then say, “Hey Google”, and proceed to state various commands to set your NEST thermostat to 72 degrees, set the lights in the living room to your “Relax” mode, and turn on the television so you can watch SpaceX launch reusable rockets. Then your Ring doorbell alerts you that someone is at your door - it’s your coffee and breakfast.

This scenario is complete bliss to some, and a living nightmare to others. Most notably, however, is that this was an impossible chain of events just 10 years ago - because none of these technologies existed.

This new decade marks limitless possibilities for the advancement of technology and for some of the most exponential change ever seen in the building industry. If there was ever a time to push an idea and try something new, it’s now.

Solar technologies and renewables will continue to push energy efficiency forward. Net zero energy homes will become mainstream - from affordable housing to luxury custom homes to apartment buildings - across the board, we’ll consistently build shelter that occupants can actually afford to live in, have healthy IAQ, and are built using sustainable materials. It’s an exciting time to be working in our industry.

What building product or technology are you most excited to see evolve in the next decade? What predictions will you make for the building industry in the next decade? Imagine what we can accomplish together in the next 10 years!

New Year, New CEO

Welcome, Aaron Smith, EEBA's new Chief Executive Officer
New Year, New CEO

We are excited to announce that effective today, January 8th, Aaron Smith will be joining EEBA as CEO.

Aaron comes to us with over 20 years experience in construction, building products, sustainability and non-profit board leadership. He has worked for companies including Kohler, Uponor, ASSA ABLOY and Williams as well as startups in Silicon Valley and his own building and remodeling company.

Aaron previously served on non-profit Boards for Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, was Board Treasurer of the Health Product Declaration Collaborative (HPDC); co-founded the CT Collaborative – Living Building Challenge; was a member of the International Living Future Institute – East Coast Congress and served on the Board of the CT Sustainable Business Council (CTSBC).

Aaron completed his undergraduate studies at West Point and St. Cloud State University and is a 2016 graduate of the Yale University MBA program with a focus in Sustainability. He loves hockey, hiking, skiing, gardening and spending time with his wife, Jennifer and 3 boys at their home in Minneapolis.

Please join us in welcoming Aaron to the EEBA team!

Aaron can be reached at aaron@eeba.org and on his cell phone at 612-325-5719 and will be at the IBS show coming up in Las Vegas.

What Will 2020 Bring?

It’s hard to believe but we’ve reached the end of 2019. It’s been an incredible year filled with some great accomplishments and exciting potential.
What Will 2020 Bring?

We started the year off recognizing Mandalay Homes as they offered rooftop solar as a standard product on their homes and Health E Community Enterprises’ Zero Energy Ready Home communities. We also took a look at a Utah-based project where Sonnen EcoLinx batteries will be used to manage peak energy use and provide emergency power.

Material advancements were also in the news throughout the year. We took a look at key solar developments like floating PV, molecular solar thermal liquid, and a water flow glazing technology that captures solar radiation for heating, preheating, domestic hot water, and the storage or expenditure of excess energy.

In addition to these materials, keep an eye on other products like translucent wood, self-healing concrete, and 3D printed houses that will continue to advance and make news in 2020.

Data and AI will also contribute to advancements in the construction industry. It’s clear data is already important in determining optimal design for the greatest energy efficiency. It will become more and more important for projects of all sizes and will allow for even better predictions on how long a project will take, and pinpoint any potential challenges during the design phase. Data collection will be imperative for our continued advancements surrounding energy and usage.

And don’t worry, robotics will not likely become fully “aware” in 2020, but you’ll still want to keep up with how people are strategically utilizing this technology. Whether for safety or labor reasons, robotics will enhance and compliment many aspects of the construction industry. Just like Spot - a robot (you can actually buy) that has the capability to Inspect progress on construction sites, create digital twins, and compare as-built to BIM.

Thank you for supporting EEBA this year. We look forward to everything the new year has to offer and can’t wait to see you in 2020!

 

Energy Efficient Buildings of the Future

A team in Bulgaria recently opened a project to exhibit and test water flow glazing technology.
Energy Efficient Buildings of the Future

A demonstration project in Sofia, Bulgaria, is showcasing a water flow glazing (WFG) technology that utilizes water as a transparent insulator. Referred to as InDeWaG (Industrial Development of Water Flow Glazing Systems) and developed in Madrid, the project will demonstrate and test the efficiency of the system and its ability to maximize solar in varying temperatures during both winter and summer, as well as in very different climates.  [Photo courtesy InDeWaG]

The project consists of a pavilion with three walls with panes that use the WFG. The remaining wall and the floors are insulated to help achieve nearly zero energy building standards (in accordance with Bulgarian legislation).

As explained in a Bulgarian article:

“Each pane has a continuous flow of distilled water and glycol. Inside each window, there is a constant flow of 70 litres of distilled water and 30 litres of ethylene glycol, which serves as antifreeze. Each transparent panel acts as an individual solar collector. Using solar cells, the windows absorb solar radiation and turn it into thermal energy to heat the building's interior.”

"The advantage of using liquids instead of air inside the glass is that water is denser, so it absorbs infrared light in a broader range,” says Miglena Nikolaeva-Dimitrova, a physicist at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

The captured solar radiation can be used for heating, preheating, domestic hot water, storage or expenditure of excess energy. Depending on the temperature of the water in the glass chamber within the window, the pane may act as either a heating or cooling unit. Temperature and humidity will be monitored consistently inside of the building and data collection for the demonstration pavilion will continue for 10 years.

Researchers believe the technology is ready to go to market for smaller homes and buildings but are also eager to prove that it can work on larger buildings.

Water Water Everywhere

71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. That’s a lot of water.
Water Water Everywhere

Floating houses are not a new concept and can be found all over the world. Growing up surrounded by water I knew a family (of SIX!) that lived in a houseboat. It was normal. We have them all over Lake Union in Seattle.

But what I haven’t seen a lot of in the U.S. is floating PV (FPV). In 2008 an FPV array was installed in Napa but as of 2017, the U.S. only had seven “operational” floating solar arrays. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory believes there are “more than 24,000 human-made bodies of water throughout the country with the potential of generating 10% of the nation’s electricity using FPV.”

Other reports state that the demand for this product will grow steadily by an average of 22 percent from now through 2024. By the end of this year (2019) there will be about 340 floating solar installations completed globally in 35 countries (mostly in Asia). The market is primarily driven by countries with “high land costs, limited land availability, or ambitious renewable energy targets.”

As with anything, there are pros and cons to FPV.

One of the most obvious pros is that FPV doesn’t take up valuable land that can be extremely costly to buy and develop. If you’re paying top price for land you likely don’t want to use a large portion of it for a solar array. Floating solar also provides shade on the surface of water which decreases evaporation and water loss in hot months while the water cools the panels, creating better efficiency.

The cons include FPV not being a great option for individual households (more suited for larger-scale projects) and the current cost to install, resulting from the need for specialized equipment.

As FPV is more widely adopted most experts believe the install costs will drop exponentially.

As more projects are installed we’ll obviously obtain better data. And with better data it will become easier to implement improvements that need to be made to drive the cost down. And once the cost starts to drop, new markets should open up for FPV - including sea-based PV projects. Keep watching...it will be interesting to watch this technology and to see if it “floats”.

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