Beware: Your House is Alive

Net Zero Energy Home

Recently Seyi (our friendly Chief Electricity Officer) forwarded this article to me about a Net-Zero-Energy home. After first glance, I thought, “Hmm, a house that generates electricity. Big whoop. Seen it. NEXT.” Then, something in the story struck me and I lapsed into English major mode, whereupon I thoroughly overanalyzed the story and produced some pretty seemingly random thoughts about the house. (Ask me about Virginia Woolf and To the Lighthouse sometime.) Apparently, I’ve become a bit jaded, as I was not initially that impressed by the notion that a home can generate more electricity than it – and its occupants – can use in a year’s time. (Call me the “anti-Luddite.”) That’s actually not nothing. It’s really quite an impressive feat in fact, particularly for a box of wood and metal. I’ll take it one big step further and concede that this home borders on revolutionary AND may forever affect the way we think of and consume energy. This house is indeed different than most of us have likely ever seen, much less experienced. Allow me to explain…

Go ahead, read the article on the net-zero-energy home , then come on back here so we can discuss.

Trying It On For Size

Oh good, you’re back. (I so loathe talking to myself.) So, what I found particularly interesting about this home was that prior to its official introduction to the market, a family (the Simonsens) was brought on to “test” out the home to see if it could meet the needs of living, breathing, eating, and sleeping people. One comment about this experiment that really hit me was THIS:

“In time, though, we think the Simonsens would have kept the blinds open more as they grew to understand how the windows affected their energy consumption. We know the family recognized the house’s energy performance and is proud of it. On one particularly bright day, Sverre examined the computer display in the hallway that charts the house’s energy performance, and the power of the sun truly hit home. ‘It was obvious here on Sunday when the sun came out,” he wrote in the family’s diary. ‘I just had to go and check: Was it really affecting energy output? Yes it was! That was a real ’ta-da!’ moment.’”

I actually had to reread that a few times before a) I understood it, and b) it really hit home. Energy output. Yes, that’s output. This house — an inanimate object — is generating electricity that could be fed back into the power grid. (And with nary a radioactive isotope aglow – even better!) The most interesting part of this story (for me) is that it illustrates how technology is in a sense responding to the physical — and hence, social — divide that it has created among individuals. (In other words, technology has enabled people to “interact” without being in one another’s physical presence — as if our social skills weren’t lacking enough!) How this social breakdown will affect our inherent ability to respond to physical interaction with others (e.g., interpreting body language, social cues, etc.) remains to be seen. And yet, alternatively, technology such as this is now creating stronger relationships between people and what were formerly inanimate objects.

Pavlov’s Human

In this example, the Simonsens began adapting their own behaviors to maximize the energy-saving capabilities of this home — for the betterment of themselves, the home, and also the environment. These homes, despite their ultra modern designs and super high-tech gadgets, are in effect creating a more symbiotic relationship between people and natural and manmade resources. The occupants are made aware of the direct effect their behaviors have on this home, and perhaps on a larger scale, how their behaviors can impact the world around them. It’s come full circle, and technology is ironically bringing us back to nature and helping us to better understand and respect the earth and its many wonders, including the light and warmth of the sun and the cooling effect of the winds. Interestingly, through this technology, our reliance on energy is reduced. (But perhaps our reliance on technology has then increased?)

Much as a neglected houseplant bends toward the light, this story illustrates that people as well are beginning to yield to the whims of the environment, in the interest of self-preservation — particularly when there are no other options. From an environmental perspective, a lack of options may very well be the case someday, perhaps in the not so distant future, if we continue at the pace we’re going. Time to start thinking of preservation not just for ourselves, but for the generations to come.


Would love to hear your thoughts on the above, and how you interact with your own home to conserve energy. Do tell!

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