Have you ever imagined what it would be like to spend a night in the world’s most environmentally-friendly home?
In Al Jazeera English’s “TechKnow: The House of the Future,” viewers are taken to the University of California, Davis’ 1944 square-foot smart home alongside Neuroscientist Cara Santa Maria and Entomologist Phil Torres, as they endure an evening spent in the research-driven smart home and laboratory.
Created in partnership with Honda for experimental purposes, every inch in the zero carbon emission home was created intentionally and deliberately. The home’s main attractions, including a passive structural design that complements the angle of the sun, state of the art geo-thermal system, ingenious approach to insulation, and responsible water operating system all make for the ultimate energy efficient combination. Even the home’s furniture and flooring are made sustainably, designed to reduce carbon emissions. Despite the heavy concentration on technology, however, the home was made with the intention of having warm, inviting and livable aspects that technology could otherwise offset.
While pioneer guests of the home, AJ’s two chosen TechKnow scientists are encouraged to cook, shower, and watch television all for the sake of science, as the home tracks every outlet where resources are used within the home. Through use of an iPad, Santa Maria and Torres are able to monitor their energy usage and generation in real time: electronics, grid, solar, battery. The iPad also serves as the house’s operating system, where occupants can adjust temperatures and lighting fixtures as they please.
Honda suggests the house will consume 18.00 kWh/day, in comparison to the average American home that consumes 30 kWh/day. In the time TechKnow’s scientists were there, the house delivered 19.14 kWh of energy back to the grid.
Though the home is undeniably efficient and progressive, Santa Maria suggests that the average consumer would have a hard time relating to the costs of the home and its features, even getting close to affording them. However, she notes that given the home is an experiment pardons the high expenses that Honda is not releasing.
We've broken down the most innovative features of the home and why these features work:
Passive Structural Design: Taking advantage of the climate in Davis and accounting for the direction of the sun, the passive solar design techniques implemented serve to reduce the energy needed for the home’s heating and cooling systems. With double stud walls, cooling roofing material, and a fully insulated concrete slab, the bullet-proof design ensures energy efficiency. The home also utilizes strategic window placement, with the south-facing windows optimizing the heating and cooling within the home and the north-facing windows maximizing natural light and ventilation. Additionally, the house can produce double the energy it needs on any given day due to the solar panels. The excess energy is then stored in a lithium battery, and reserved for miscellaneous needs.
Geo-thermal system: Because heating and cooling systems account for the largest amounts of energy consumption in homes, Honda opted to equip the smart home with a geo-thermal system that is proven to be five times more efficient than a comparable home. Instead of moving thermal energy around with air, they move it around with water. The system exists beneath the home’s backyard, where 4 20-foot deep holes have been drilled into the ground to allow a geothermal heat pump to take from the ground’s thermal sink and deliver heating and cooling through both the floors and ceiling. To ensure that no energy is wasted, the home also has a heat recovery system within the geo-thermal system to recycle leftover, unused energy.
Lighting system: The Honda smart home utilizes solid LED lights to illuminate the home, which have proven to be five times more efficient than conventional lighting. The lights are also circadian-friendly, serving to improve the health and wellness of its inhabitants in addition to being energy efficient. Working in conjunction with researchers from the California Lighting Technology Center at UC Davis, the team explored new circian color control logic that mimic natural shifts in the day. As the day progresses, the lights shift in tones on top of working alongside our own internal body clock. During hours of natural sunlight, the indoor lighting projects a blue tint, and during evening hours when the sun has set, the indoor lighting produces amber tinted lighting. The lighting scenes complement occupants circadian rhythms and support nighttime vision.
Insulation: To ensure seamless insulation, they pressurized the home and sprayed in a nitrogen solution that goes straight to all of the cracks and seal them up. When they depressurized, researchers knew it was completely air-tight.
The home also keeps an electric car, the Honda Fit EV, in its garage. With more and more electric vehicles entering mainstream society, Project Leader of the Honda smart home Michael Koenig suggests it’s necessary to be more careful in the way electric cars integrate with homes, and the electrical grid within homes. By linking the house and car together as a system, Koenigs offers that the system can be more than the sum of its parts. The car operates off of reserve energy stored in a lithium battery, and can run for up to 15 hours when fully charged.
To imagine a house that can think for itself may seem far fetched, but the future of home automation is headed in this direction. Honda’s smart home is equally as busy maintaining itself as the occupants are doing their own tasks, paving way for a smarter future for the homes of the world.