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Zero Energy Home

Appalachian State University

Author: Charles Nicoletti II - A group of Appalachian State University students, staff and energy consultants have come together to build the first “zero energy house” in North Carolina. The house, which was constructed earlier this year in Ridgeview Village near downtown Hickory, is a joint venture between the Appalachian State department of technology, the Energy Center and the Catawba Valley Habitat for Humanity.

The state-of-the-art, sustainable-energy house is the result of the Affordable Passive Solar Grant, awarded to the Energy Center earlier this year by the North Carolina Community Development Initiative. The modest, green house combines advances in construction with renewable energy systems such as solar water heating to create a house that produces as much energy as it consumes annually, project manager Laurel M. Elam said.

A “net-zero energy house” has state-of-the-art advances in sustainable energy technology, and utilizes passive solar features in the design of the house. The amount of energy consumed by the house should be equaled by the amount of energy it produces. The house is equipped with several solar panels, which produce power for the water heater and other electrical appliances, all of which are Energy Star certified.

Thus, a net total of 0 percent of energy is lost every month. A major feature of the zero energy house is a geothermal heat pump, which uses the temperature of the earth to heat and cool the house. The pump regulates the temperature by drawing heat from a series of pipes buried six feet under the house. The ground at that depth is warmer then the surface during the winter and cooler during the summer months.

The system is designed to reduce the amount of energy normally consumed by regular air-conditioning units. A. Scott Suddreth, a local sustainable energy expert who was consulted by the university to assist in the zero energy home’s design, says that heating and cooling bills should not exceed $24 a month. “In fact, if [the heating and cooling] bills exceed that amount, Advanced Energy in Raleigh will pay the difference through a program called ‘SystemVision,’” Suddreth said.

The house also utilizes elements of “passive solar design,” such as windows facing south to take advantage of the sun during the winter months. During the summer months, specially built overhangs block sunlight - which is more prevalent in the summer months - to prevent overheating.

Overall, the project combines more then 12 energy saving features, most of which are cost-effective, especially in the long run. Additionally, the owner of a zero energy house can sell energy produced by the house’s solar panels to local power distributors. The power generated by the house in Hickory is sold to Duke Energy, and is deducted from the cost of energy.

The group broke ground on the project on Earth Day, April 22, and finished the project in late July, construction coordinator for Catawba Valley Habitat for Humanity Rob Howard said. The house will have to wait for its new owners, however. “We’re leaving it open for at least a year … so that we can use it as an educational tool,” Howard said