Alfred State’s Net-Zero Energy Demonstration Home

Submitted on July 9, 2012 - 3:06pm

Institution(s)

Alfred State College

Author(s)

Craig Clark, Executive Director of the Wellsville Campus and Dean of the School of Applied Technology, Alfred State College

Julian Dautremont-Smith, Chief Sustainability Officer, Office of the President, Alfred State College

Project Overview

Students in a variety of construction-related programs at Alfred State constructed a net-zero energy demonstration home as part of their coursework. The 2200 square foot home, which is located on Alfred State's Wellsville campus, was designed to be highly energy efficient and incorporates a variety of renewable energy technologies - including solar photovoltaic, small wind, solar thermal, and geothermal energy - as well as a high-end monitoring and control system used for teaching purposes. It serves as a living laboratory for educating the future construction workforce as well as the general public in green building techniques.

Background

Alfred State is a residential college of technology in the State University of New York (SUNY) System. It offers both two and four-year programs and enrolls approximately 3700 students on its two campuses. Project-based learning is a cornerstone of Alfred State’s culture and employers find that the College’s active and engaging approach to education produces students who truly know how to solve real-world problems. As a result, Alfred State graduates have a 99 percent placement and transfer rate.

Alfred State’s Wellsville campus houses the School of Applied Technology, which offers associates degrees in Automotive Trades, Culinary Arts, Computerized Design and Manufacturing, Building Trades and Electrical Trades. The 800 students in these programs have a unique pedagogy where students spend 6 hours every day in a single course. A typical day will include 1.5 hours of lecture and 4.5 hours in laboratory each day. Courses are modular and typically run from 3 to 7.5 weeks long. This structure allows the faculty and students to concentrate completely on a single topic. The Wellsville campus is known for learning by doing so many programs focus on live work such as building homes for sale, repairing vehicles in the automotive shops, and preparing food for customers.

Alfred State is one of the largest human resource providers for the construction industry in New York State. Students in its construction-related programs - including air conditioning and heating technology, building trades-building construction, electrical construction and maintenance electrician, heavy equipment operations, and masonry - have been building and selling homes in the Wellsville community since 1966 when the Wellsville campus was created. The homes are built completely with students as part of their coursework. Over the past few years, the programs have all been incorporating green technology into the curriculum based on industry needs and supported through a series of grants.

A focus on renewable energy began with a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) grant to train photovoltaic installers in 2003. This was followed by an Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) 2007 grant to further develop the ability to teach photovoltaic systems and begin small wind instruction through hands-on installation of systems. In 2009, NYSERDA awarded a $2.2 million clean energy training grant to a consortium of colleges with Alfred State as the lead for the development of educational modules in geothermal, solar thermal, small wind and photovoltaic systems. In the same year, ARC awarded Alfred State with additional grants to develop weatherization training and to create the green home described in this case study.

Project Goals

The Net-Zero Energy Demonstration Home has three main goals:
1. to give students with real-world experience with renewable energy technology and green construction techniques
2. to showcase the high quality student work similar to homes the college has built since 1966 and demonstrate to the public that a typical-looking home can also be green
3. to provide a living laboratory for educating the future workforce in green building techniques.

Project Implementation

Design and other pre-construction work on the Net-Zero Energy Demonstration Home took place between May 2008 and May 2009. During this time, a home layout was selected and materials were determined for most components. The college also began discussions the local and state National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and decided to work toward a minimum of NAHB Gold certification for the home. Faculty working on the project collaborated with NAHB staff throughout the project on issues regarding materials and suppliers for green products and systems.

In keeping with equity and inclusion dimensions of sustainability, the college decided to build a one story home to make it handicapped-accessible and ensure that it could showcase the home to all visitors. The design called for an approximately 2200 square foot home with three bedrooms and master bedroom suite with master bath and walk in closets. The layout also included two additional full bathrooms, a full dining room, a family room with a fireplace, a den, a workshop, a kitchen with breakfast table area, and an attached garage. Since the home was to be a showcase home some minor modifications were made to the layout. The master bedroom walk in closet was modified to be a handicapped restroom and a storage closet for the laboratory. Likewise, the workshop was modified to be the mechanical room so all visitors could assess the mechanical space.

In order to achieve “net zero” status – i.e. the home produces at least at much energy that it uses over the course of the year - the home was designed to be very energy efficient and to incorporate a variety of renewable energy technologies. For example, structural insulated panels were selected for the exterior walls because their high R-value. Likewise, project leaders selected high efficiency windows with a U value of 0.25. The outside building envelope was wrapped and sealed and all cracks, including windows, were sealed. The wood burning Tempcast fireplace located near the center of the home is about 97% efficient. An 8.8 kW photovoltaic grid tie system was installed as two arrays with two separate inverters to allow for better monitoring. The home is also powered by a 2.5 kW Proven grid tie wind turbine located nearby. Hot water is provided from an eight vacuum tube solar thermal system with a storage tank. Another electric water heater was installed to act as both a surge tank and a primary heat source if there is inadequate solar energy. A 3 ton geothermal system with 4 vertical closed loop wells assists with provides heating and cooling. A different grout was used in each well so that students can study the impact of different thermal transmittance properties.

Project leaders also specified green materials and technologies whenever possible. All finishes, paints, and carpeting were selected to emit minimal volatile organic compounds (VOCs), an especially important strategy because the home was designed to very air tight. Building trades students also made the custom built oak kitchen cabinets with low-VOC finishes. The driveway is made with a porous driveway system constructed with pavers to reduce stormwater runoff. To enhance the educational benefit of the house, students in Alfred State’s interior design department participated in the selection of colors, tiles, carpeting and lighting fixtures. To enable faculty and students to better monitor energy use and determine if net zero energy status had been achieved, all of the appliances installed in the home are electric.

Construction of the Net-Zero Energy Demonstration Home began in August 2009 and was completed in May 2011. To maximize the education benefit of the project, the home was built completely by students.

Timeline

This project took approximately 2 years from receipt of the initial ARC grant to completion of construction, as shown in the following list of project milestones:

June 2008 - Initial ARC grant submitted
May 2009 - ARC grant received
August 2009 - Construction begins
May 2011 - Construction finishes
December 2011 - Monitoring system installed
January 2012 - NAHB Gold Certification received

Financing

The Zero Energy Demonstration Home funded primarily by a $150,000 grant from ARC with additional financial support of $60,000 from NYSERDA and $17,400 from the Educational Foundation of Alfred. In addition, Alfred State was also to secure discounts on many of the materials and services for the home. We wish to thank and acknowledge the following companies:
• Carrier Enterprise - Geothermal heat pump
• Clarion Bathware - toilets
• Bariod - specialty grout for geothermal wells
• Christa Construction / Caesarstone - countertops
• Root Well Drilling - geothermal wells
• DJM Equipment, Inc./Bobcat of the Finger Lakes - use of heavy equipment
• Delta Faucet Company - faucets
• ID Booth, Inc. - plumbing supplies
• LC Whitford Company, Inc. - setting of the trusses for the home
• Mazza Mechanical Services, Inc. - HRV mechanical component
• Nudura Corporation - insulated concrete forms
• Peterson Roofing Company, Inc. - roofing material
• Pollard Windows - windows and doors
• Sherwin-Williams - interior paint
• Thermal Foams, Inc. - SIP panels

Project Results

The home is operating successfully and in January 2012 received Gold certification through the NAHB’s National Green Building Certification program.

To enhance the home’s utility as a teaching tool and to ensure it is working as intended, the home has been equipped with an industrial-grade monitoring and control system called the Renewable Energy Visual Tableau Operations System (REVTOS) developed in partnership with IMT Solar. The monitoring system is split between two control cabinets, one placed in the mechanical room and the other placed in the garage. This reduced the number of wire runs from the various sensors and power monitors that were utilized in each system. In addition to the dedicated touch screens located in the front door of each control cabinet, IMT Solar also mounted a 23” touch screen PC in the living room of the home. All three screens have graphical displays showing both real time and historical data from all four renewable energy platforms, including temperature sensors to the full depth of the geothermal wells and insolation monitoring adjacent to solar thermal and photovoltaic systems. Power meters on all of the major power consumers enable students to understand where electricity is being used.

Additionally, temperature sensors have been installed in the ceilings and walls in two locations each to measure the temperature differential between the inside of the drywall and just below the surface of the insulation. An outside temperature sensor in a radiation shield gives the outdoor ambient temperature at all times. An iPad supplied as part of the system also allows students and visitors to view the data while moving throughout the entire house and even outside. Data from the monitoring system will soon be made available through the internet to enable faculty at other institutions to use the home a teaching tool as well. For study purposes, Alfred State plans to “stress” the water and electrical systems of the home as though a family of four is living in it full time. This will enable to test how close the home would be to achieving “net zero” energy house under normal use conditions.

As planned, the home is being incorporated into the curriculum. It is being used to develop teaching modules on sustainable construction techniques and materials. Classes are also using the NAHB green home certification program as a teaching tool. The operation and maintenance of the home and in particular its renewable energy systems is used in both credit and noncredit classes for electricians and HVAC technicians. Finally, the monitoring system has been used to develop monitoring and automation techniques in our electrician program.

In addition to serving a teaching tool for students, the home has also helped educate the public about green design and renewable energy. Well over 3 thousand members of the public have toured the home since its opening and the home has received good coverage in the local media. The home also serves as a working laboratory for high school technology teachers. Alfred State has hosted two summer camps where high school instructors have learned about the systems and how to incorporate these systems into their classes.

To further showcase the home and ensure that it doesn’t sit idle, the dining room and den will be used for office space and the master bedroom will be used as a conference room.

Lessons Learned

A key to the success of this project was having a grander vision than we initially had funds for. Our vision enabled the college to secure additional grant funds to take the green home project to a zero energy home with a high end monitoring system. In this way, the project was able to grow based on the expertise we developed while working on it.

Faculty and students were fully engaged in the project but, in retrospect, additional training of the students and faculty before the construction would have been helpful. In particular, if we had taken more time at the front end to understanding all of the NAHB requirements and identify sources for green materials, we may have been able to attain Emerald level certification (the highest level of recognition).

We were fortunate to have great partners on this project. We were able to find great partners through the connections we made at various meetings and conferences. The key lesson is to be visible and develop a story about success that will be compelling to potential partners. This project continues to grow because of the great partners on the project.

An additional lesson learned was the need for lighting protection on the small wind system. In the first year of operation, the wind system was struck by lightning and damaged the inverter. Fortunately, the inverter was under warrantee; another important consideration for projects like this.

Supplemental Materials

Keyword(s): Buildings, Curriculum, Energy

Admin Dept(s): Academic Affairs, Planning/Architect/Capital Projects

Discipline(s): Architecture and Landscape Architecture, Career Technical Education, Engineering

For more information on this project, click here.