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Home is where the energy factory is

Net zero home.jpg
Daniel Robison
10 Winter Street has been stripped to its frame. Soon most of the 130-year old home's innards will be replaced with the latest in efficient home materials.

In our homes we use energy a number of ways. We flip on lights, take showers, and crank the heat when three sweaters aren't doing the trick. Then, for most of us, we pay our utility bills and that’s that.

 Most homeowners don’t think about where their energy is coming from – it’s just coming from “somewhere else.”  But what if energy production took place inside the house? That’s exactly what the non-profit PUSH Buffalo is attempting to do with a home on Buffalo’s west side. It’s a “net zero” home, which will produce all its own energy.

Electricity will come from 4.5 kilowatts worth of solar panels on the roof. And the roof itself will be made of “cool” metal that reflects heat.  In the morning, when a shower is due, an on-site solar hot water heater should be able to fog up the bathroom mirror.

Do those features still work in the winter? What about those gloomy days when Mr. Golden Sun can’t peek through the moody clouds? Well, that all depends on the type of solar hot water heater that’s installed (choices, choices). 

According to a recent Reuters article, , Buffalo has about 10,000 abandoned homes, and 10 Winter Street is leveraging that fact too. Next door is a vacant lot where a house used to stand. Now it will house a closed-loop geothermal system. At about the depth of your average grave, the ground is a constant 50 degrees. Anti-freeze and water collect this temperature and transfers its heat in a storage tank. Then, when a piercing gust of wind comes off Lake Erie and chills residents’ bones, they can draw on that geothermal heat by throttling the thermostat (and wrapping themselves in  something much more attractive than a Snuggie).

Right now, the house is an idea. There’s construction work going on every day. But whether this concept works on a larger scaleemains to be seen. Completion is still more than a year away. And the costs are high, “a few hundred thousand dollars,”according to Aaron Bartley. He runs PUSH Buffalo.  But so far, fundraisers have kept it afloat, along with donations from the likes of Pella Windows. When theyheard about the project they donated 10 Winter Street’s high-efficiency windows.

Still, the idea of turning a house into its own energy factory is something that’s out of reach of most of the world.  It’s out of reach for most pocketbooks.  And the home will only be the 2010 version of a “net-zero” house.  As new energy advances come online, they could make 10 Winter Street obsolete.  After all, there isn’t even a spot to park a flying car.