Toward a Zero Energy Home: Applying Swiss Building Practices/Attitudes to U.S. Residential Construction

By Koch, Daphene C.; Hutzel, William J. et al. | Journal of Technology Studies, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Toward a Zero Energy Home: Applying Swiss Building Practices/Attitudes to U.S. Residential Construction


Koch, Daphene C., Hutzel, William J., Kutch, Jason M., Holt, Eric A., Journal of Technology Studies


Abstract

This project evaluated typical U.S. and Swiss homes to identify construction practices that are most energy efficient and have economic payback. A net zero energy home (ZEH) produces as much energy as is consumed in it over time. Students in a College of Technology in a Midwest Indiana State University and a technical University in Switzerland resulted in developing models of homes that combined U.S. and Swiss standards. The project was completed in two phases: during the first phase of this project, construction costs, energy use, and economic payback was calculated for six homes that were designed using both Swiss and U.S. standards. During the second phase of the project, cultural norms that influence energy use were explored. A survey was used to compare U.S. and Swiss college students' lifestyles and energy habits. All homes had the same basic size and layout, but some used construction practices typical for the United States and others were designed according to Swiss guidelines for residential construction. The results of the study showed that a Swiss-style low-energy home is not cost effective for the Midwestern United States if energy costs remain low, but it could become attractive if energy rates escalate significantly. It was also recognized that technology by itself will not minimize energy consumption, a result of the second part of the project that explored cultural norms that influence energy use. From the survey of both U.S. and Swiss college students' lifestyles and energy habits, it was revealed with a high level of confidence that Swiss students are more energy conscious than their U.S. counterparts.

Introduction

This project evaluated typical U.S. and Swiss residential design to identify construction practices that are most energy efficient. The analysis reviewed current best practices in both countries along with an evaluation of attitudes toward energy use by individuals. In the United States an Energy Star system is being used to model homes. Energy Star is an umbrella of voluntary programs started in 1992, which ran as a joint program since 1996 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the DOE to improve energy efficiency of homes (Banerjee & Solomon, 2003). The Swiss method of building a sustainable home is the Minergie System (Minergie, 2010). Zero Energy Homes (ZEH) have been built in Japan, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Austria, and the United States. Unfortunately, there is no real database to centralize information to globalize the adoption of successful homes worldwide (Charron & Athientitis, 2005). To add to the existing body of knowledge, this project reviewed the importance of moving toward ZEH homes, and the current practices and attitudes of the United States and Switzerland toward energy efficiency.

The research modeled six variations of designs that incorporated the Energy Star and Minergie systems.

Significance of Energy Consumption

The International Energy Outlook (IEO) report projects that the world energy consumption is expected to expand by 50% in 2030 (Energy Star, 2010). Residential buildings account for 22% of the primary energy use according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA, 2008). Within residential buildings, space heating and water heating (both natural gas and electric) are the biggest opportunities for energy savings. Figure 1 details the exact usage of electricity in the home. It shows that most energy is used for heating (home and water), lighting, and cooling. These should be the initial targets to better design a home.

The Department of Energy (DOE) started a program, "Build America," with a goal of reducing whole-house energy use for new home by 50% by 2015 and 95% by 2025 (Anderson & Horowitz, 2006). The Build America initiative targets significant improvements to the building envelope (the makeup of the walls, roof, and floor) through better insulation and sealants, and major reductions in electricity through using highly efficient appliances, lighting, and mechanical systems. …

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