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Green Living: The Net-Zero Home Is Getting Closer to Reality

Michael McKenna

Michael McKenna is an associate broker and the president of WEICHERT, REALTORS® – McKenna & Vane, with offices in Columbia, Md...

Michael McKenna is an associate broker and the president of WEICHERT, REALTORS® – McKenna & Vane, with offices in Columbia, Md...

Jan 24 4 minutes read

Exterior of the Start.Home

With ingenious energy-saving features and a price tag of less than $240,000, the Start.Home could be the green home of the future. Image: Stanford Solar Decathlon

The Start.Home is an experimental solar-powered house designed and built by a group of Stanford University students. It is a 1,000-square-foot prototype that cost less than $240,000 to build, and is packed with simple but ingenious features that make energy savings a no-brainer, such as:

Smarter room switches. Instead of traditional light switches, each room is equipped with a pulsating touch screen that's used to turn on electronics and lights. It's also designed to measure the room's electricity use. The rate it pulsates suggests how much power is being consumed. When the switch is turned off, it shuts down all the lights, electronics, and even the outlets — no more vampire power loss.

Hands-free, leg-operated sinks. Designed to make turning on and off faucets effortless while preventing you from turning on the water and walking away. Just lean into the sink to turn on the tap and move back to stop the flow of water.

Art that represents the home's energy consumption and production. A wall-mounted sculpture expands and contracts throughout the day to share with homeowners how much electricity their solar panels are generating, and how much energy the home is using. You can see it in action in this video.

The Start.Home was created for the Solar Decathlon, a building competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The event introduces new sustainable building methods to the public while showcasing the work of the next generation of green building leaders.

The students behind the Start.Home developed a smart green building idea that boosts efficiency. It's called the "Core." It's a prefabricated module that contains and controls the Start.Home's electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems. It combines "smart" and green technologies that enhance savings, including:

Control pods that the students designed to help homeowners manage their comfort settings.

Sensors to self-regulate the home's temperature, humidity levels, and even lighting using data gathered by the home's external weather station (it hangs over the home's deck).

A heat recovery ventilator that gathers escaping heat and recirculates it to lower heating costs.

Here's a tour of the Start.Home's Core.

The Core can also make green houses more affordable for consumers. Installing technical systems is the most expensive part of building, according to Stanford University. Mass-producing prefabricated modules like the Core (think auto assembly line) can lower construction costs.

This house even has a moneymaking benefit. When the solar panels generate more energy than the abode consumes, the homeowner can sell the surplus electricity to a local utility company.

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