RICHLAND, Wash. – Two newly constructed houses sit in the middle of a field, nearly identical from the outside. Inside is a different story.
Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., will use the prefabricated homes to identify the most efficient and cost-effective ways to save energy. One home will act as a baseline, designed like older homes in the area. The other will be slowly retrofitted with new energy-saving materials.
Graham Parker is an engineer at the lab and manages the project. He says researchers will be able to simulate people living inside both homes.
“Well, it’s the real world where everything is actually implemented. And there’s a way to predict energy savings, but if you don’t actually go out and measure it, and actually measure it against a baseline, you never will know what the real savings can be,” Parker says.
Both homes are outfitted with a commercial-sized electrical panel, the brains of the house. The panels can be controlled remotely. Researchers will schedule energy use changes to simulate a family living in the home: turning lights on in the evening, using water and controlling temperature. They can also create humidity to study condensation.
The more efficient model has high-grade insulation, energy-saving appliances and a multitude of electrical conduits for future experiments. Researchers will replace different parts of the home as if a resident made upgrades.
The windows will be the first to go. Parker says they will be replaced with more efficient ones that can insulate homes about half as well as walls.
“About 13 percent of the floor area in this home is windows,” he says. “So it can be a real big energy saver, and it’s also more comfortable.”
Parker says it’s important to consider economics: how much energy is saved versus how much the technology costs. The experiments will take place over five to 10 years.
But if you don’t want to wait a decade to upgrade your home, Parker has some useful tips:
Add insulation: Parker says this is the simplest way to save energy, especially in the winter.
Seal your home: Make sure you aren’t leaking energy through cracks in doors and windows.
Buy higher efficiency appliances: That 74-year-old refrigerator isn’t doing you any favors. When appliances wear out, Parker says to replace them with more efficient ones.
Retrofit your windows: Parker says this can save a lot of energy and make your home more comfortable.
Parker says every home is different. Energy efficient changes can depend on how much you want to spend to how much needs to be upgraded.
Share your experiences as part of EarthFix's Public Insight Network.
Join our Public Insight Network!