A Tour of the New Net-Zero Energy Home at NIST’s Experimental Facility

Last time we showed you DALE, an innovative net-zero housing concept from the SCI-Arch Caltech team at theSolar Decathlon. With its movable modules and open-air design, DALE also offers a one-off, unique – modern layout and look. The home we explore today is also net-zero energy, but has the look of a more traditional, suburban neighborhood home and all the methods for reducing energy consumption are already on the market, right now. From the outside, nothing looks different. The difference is just under the skin – specifically, in the home’s green insulation technique: putting plastic insulating foam OUTSIDE the studs, supplementing traditional insulation between the studs.

The net-zero energy residential facility at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in suburban Maryland relies heavily on hyper-insulated exterior walls and roofing made of polyisocyanurate rigid foam plastic insulation to achieve it’s net-zero green building status. According to NIST’s Chief of Energy and Environment, Dr. Hunter Fanney, the insulation (2 layers each of 2 inch plastic foam) gives an R-75 value, which is more than twice the R-Value of the insulation in a typical home. The twist: insulation is installed on the OUTSIDE of the studs and roofing structural members, reducing heat and cold before it reaches the building. Also playing an important role is the home’s ductwork, carefully sealed with plastic sealants to reduce wasted air leakage. As you may have noticed, a common theme throughout this home is sealing the building’s “envelope.” Be sure to check out the video for other energy efficiency techniques!

The bottom line: plastic insulation, sealants, windows, air barriers, and spray foam can help achieve net-zero energy homes now, today. Material choice plays an important role in building efficiency, and (more in a future blog) the ultimate tool in choosing the best environmentally and acceptable material is the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of each product. Thanks to NIST for letting the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division tour the facility and shoot this video!