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Near-zero-energy buildings blessing to owners, environment

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 11, 2004 — An electricity meter that sometimes runs backwards is just one of the cool aspects of Department of Energy near-zero-energy homes.

While low or no electric bills are an obvious benefit, high energy efficiency homes and businesses also reduce the amount of electricity that needs to be generated, thus reducing pollution, said Jeff Christian of DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

In Tennessee, air pollution is of special concern as the state ranked third behind California and Texas for smog, according to a September 2003 Environmental Protection Agency report. And in June 2003, ozone alerts were in place 25 of 30 days in the Smoky Mountains, the most heavily visited national park in the United States.

Christian, director of ORNL's Buildings Technology Center, believes he and colleagues have at least part of the answer.

"We have a roadmap for communities to transform their building industry from part of the problem to part of the solution by leading buildings from energy consumers to net energy producers," Christian said.

While DOE's long-term goal is to develop technologies that enable net-zero-energy homes at low incremental costs, today's focus is on leading new home owners and builders toward houses that boast high efficiency and use solar panels to generate some of their own electricity.

"The effort must be all-inclusive, so we're not limiting our approach to space heating, cooling, water heating, lighting and major appliances," Christian said. "We're also looking at a number of other advanced technologies and we are integrating sensors so the homeowners can monitor their energy usage and savings."

In July, workers completed a fourth Habitat for Humanity DOE Building America Near-Zero-Energy House. These houses feature airtight envelope construction, advanced structural insulated panel systems, insulated precast concrete walls, a heat pump w
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Contact: Ron Walli
wallira@ornl.gov
865-576-0226
DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory
11-Aug-2004


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