The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a government science lab that is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, recently unveiled its Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility. But like a real-life version of the Sims, the house is inhabited not by real people, but by a virtual family. Built at a cost of $2.5 million in Gaithersburg, Md., near Washington, D.C., the test house includes extensive monitoring devices and computer equipment that will simulate the presence and activities of a family of four. A NIST announcement says that “No actual humans will be allowed to enter the house during this [first year] so that researchers can monitor how the house performs, but lights will turn on and off at specified times, hot water and appliances will run – and small devices will emit heat and humidity just as people would.”
Researchers will use the house to test energy-efficiency technologies and alternative energy systems. NIST Director Patrick Gallagher believes that the facility will “allow development of new design standards and test methods for emerging energy-efficient technologies and, we hope, speed their adoption.”
Up to now, some net-zero homes have tended to skimp on size and amenities. But the NIST test facility is designed as a full-size 4,000-square-foot suburban home with four bedrooms and three baths. The building incorporates a highly-efficient building envelope, solar thermal water heating, photovoltaic (PV) solar systems, geothermal energy, smart metering, and specially-designed energy-efficient space conditioning and air distribution systems. The house is built to LEED Platinum standards.