TxAIRE Houses Showcase Green-Building Technology
By EMILY GUEVARA
The IN Magazine Summer 2012 New Home Tour starts today and with it area home builders will show off some of their best work.
But two houses on the tour might stand out more than the others, not necessarily for their architecture or size but because of what they have on the inside.
The houses, at The University of Texas at Tyler campus, are research houses. Although they have brick exterior, shingles and windows with faux shutters just like many others, the products all throughout the houses make these buildings part of a long-term research project rather than someone's future abode.
Even though no one lives in the houses, UT Tyler and Pyramid Homes, the builder, hope to use the research to raise awareness about energy-efficient technology and provide consumers with facts to help them make smart decisions about their homes.
"This is what we're opening them up for this weekend is to show people kind of what some of the state-of-the-art features are that are available in houses today for green, energy-efficient houses, and we're just starting our research to determine which of these make sense in terms of performance and cost-effectiveness," said Dr. Roy Crawford, director of research and technology development at the Texas Allergy, Indoor Environment, and Energy Institute (TxAIRE).
Built in 2011, the houses are just one of the projects of TxAIRE, which is based at UT Tyler.
Funded with money from the Governor's Emerging Technology Fund, the houses showcase some of the newest in technologies designed to improve energy efficiency and environmental health in buildings.
One house, nicknamed the Patriot House, features some of the best products on the market.
These include solar photo-voltaic cells, which convert sunlight to electricity; solar thermal water heating; solar light tubes; and shingles that reflect at least 40 percent of sunlight.
This house uses an advanced framing technique. By using 2-by-6 pieces of wood instead of 2-by-4s and spacing them farther apart, the builder used less lumber and installed 50 percent more insulation than conventional framing.
The other house, nicknamed the Tyler House, is an example of how an existing home could be retrofitted.
It highlights products such as high-performance windows with advanced window treatments; a vented attic with advanced ventilator options; ducted and ductless air-source heat pumps; heat pump water heaters; and shingles that reflect 10 percent of sunlight.
Both houses are built tight, meaning they have less air leakage when compared with a standard home. They also have better insulation and higher-efficiency cooling units when compared to typical houses.
About 60 sensors positioned throughout each house will collect data about how those products are functioning.
TxAIRE is collecting data in four main categories: thermal performance of the house such as the walls, the roof and the ceiling; ventilation and indoor air quality; the equipment's energy efficiency; and the house's humidity control.
Crawford said the institute has collected about three months worth of data and he expects to have some findings to report by year's end.
"We're doing a lot of comparison testing in here," Crawford said.
By monitoring the performance of different technologies, researchers will be able to determine what works and what doesn't and which products are cost effective.
Crawford said the institute easily could conduct at least three years worth of research on these houses.
Pyramid Homes owner Anwar Khalifa said energy-efficient, or green, building, simply put, is a really good idea.
His company has built Energy Star-certified homes that incorporate energy-efficient features for several years, Khalifa said.
He said he moved even further in this direction by taking courses to become a master certified green professional and attending green-building conferences.
Khalifa said there is a balance when it comes to building green homes. Although some ideas are great for improving energy efficiency or indoor air quality, the homebuyer isn't always open.
"There's the research side and what we really should be doing, but it's not always what you can do because of the market," he said.
Khalifa and Crawford said their goal is to informduring this weekend's home tour.
"We're going to be able to answer their questions about what they can do in their existing homes and give them options," Khalifa said.