Welcome to the Ecosmart House

by lgrant@solagroup.com

Almost all architecture and engineering students are required to apply their skills during hands-on classes. Students at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont., however, have a unique opportunity. The Ecosmart house, sponsored by Leesburg, Va.-based REHAU and led by the Creative Research Lab (CRLab) at Montana State University, is a work-in-progress, near net-zero energy research house. Students were invited to participate in the construction and ongoing research of the house, which employs myriad sustainable technologies and design elements, many of which are in the experimental phase. Directed by Terry Beaubois, the CRLab is part of the College of Arts and Architecture at MSU. It undertakes creative, funded, applied research projects with multidisciplinary, collaborative teams of students, faculty and professionals. 

From fall 2009 through spring 2010, three mechanical engineering technology (MET) students performed energy modeling for the Ecosmart house as part of their senior capstone course. Based on those models, the students recommended construction materials and mechanical heating and cooling requirements. Construction commenced Sept. 1, 2010. 

Starting in fall 2010 through spring 2011, three more MET students designed the data acquisition system and started installing instrumentation into the home during construction. Installation continued through summer 2011. Instrumentation was also built into the geothermal bore field. Students performed a thermal conductivity test of the bore field and assisted the drilling contractor with the boring process. Construction ended in October 2011, though certain systems, such as photovoltaics, have not yet been installed. 

Students currently are working on data acquisition programming and final installation of instrumentation devices throughout the house. These instrumentation devices will track system efficiency pre-occupancy throughout the next two years with the goal of determining which systems contribute toward near net-zero energy. After the initial two-year pre-occupancy period, research and data collection will continue through occupancy of the home by homeowner Bill Hoy and his wife, during which time the CRLab will administer a post-occupancy evaluation and publish real-time data results at Montanaecosmart.com

The research will determine how the building systems can best be integrated to optimize energy consumption, comfort and life-cycle costs. International building standards will be compared to the CRLab residential model to determine the best way to achieve the residential building certification standards of various programs, including Energy Star and LEED.

Hoy is an MSU alumnus of the School of Architecture and serves as an adviser to the College of Arts and Architecture alumni group. REHAU chief executive officer Kitty Saylor also graduated from MSU, making the MSU’s involvement personal to many project participants. 

Other project participants include AAON, Tulsa, Okla.; AFM Corp./Big Sky Insulations Inc., Belgrade, Mont.; Energy 1, Bozeman; Grundfos Pumps/Triangle Tube Boilers, Olathe, Kan.; PJ’s Plumbing & Heating, Belgrade; and Tollefson Builders, Chimacum, Wash.

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