Net-Zero Home Embodies New Era of Energy Efficiency

Net-Zero Home Embodies New Era of Energy Efficiency

This piece was originally published in the March 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.

By Greg Galluccio, Vice President, Engineering and Product Management, Maxlite, and Dixie Comeau, President, Dixie Comeau Consulting Inc.

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Greg Galluccio and Dixie Comeau walk the property where their net-zero home will be built. Photo by Becca Tucker.

During a recent meeting at the NEMA conference center on emerging technologies, I mentioned the net-zero, 2,600-square-foot home my wife, Dixie Comeau, and I are building. The editor of this magazine asked me to describe the project, which is just getting underway this spring. This is the first installment of a series that chronicles a new model of the old campaign, Living Better Electrically.

It is our belief that we can live well and still treat the planet appropriately by using sustainable building materials, capturing energy from the sun and the wind, and taking care to keep our carbon footprint small.

We are in the process of building a home from a reconstructed post-and-beam barn on a seven-acre plot in Warwick, New York. The barn, which was built in 1860 in Bolton, Ontario, has been dismantled, fumigated, and warehoused. Our plan is to erect the barn on the property and turn it into an energy-efficient, environmentally friendly space where we can live and work and become an integral part of the community.

Barns conjure images of soaring ceilings and drafty gaps between sideboards—not the ideal space for energy efficiency. We intend to blend the beauty of this post-and-beam structure with state-of-the-art insulating building materials, such as structured insulated panels and packed cellulose wall construction to create a high-performance, low-energy living space. When we’re done, the barn will essentially be a sealed structure, which can be heated and cooled using an HVAC system that traditionally would have struggled to handle a tiny cottage.

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The energy-efficient barn will showcase all the luxuries of a modern home that uses only the electricity the homeowners generate. Drawings by architect Joe Irace.

Net-zero philosophy goes beyond energy usage. This house will showcase how one can minimize or even neutralize environmental harm and still enjoy all the luxuries of a well-sized, modern home. In addition to using only the electricity we generate, we will incorporate sustainable building materials, reclaim water, and take every precaution not to release carbon into the atmosphere or the ground.

We are also exploring some human safety features that are not as well known to the public, such as distributed direct current (dc) electrical power for lighting and small appliances. Finally, we’re employing a robust battery system that will power the home when the public utility grid is operating at peak power or when the grid is down completely.

We plan to include a number of sustainable technologies:

  • LED lighting and controls
  • dc systems where possible (USB-powered appliances, Power-over-Ethernet lighting)
  • solar (photovoltaic) power with DC battery backup
  • geothermal radiant heating and cooling with split-system air assist
  • packed cellulose wall construction
  • smart thermostat controls
  • tankless hot water systems

Construction begins in early spring, and we will share our journey with ei as we go. We anticipate continual testing, rethinking, and refining throughout the process—and we would love to share it with others who are considering a similar journey or who have something to offer to the quest.

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Follow the progress on the house at www.netzerobarn.com.

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