Architecture

Snøhetta and Harvard join forces to make old buildings sustainable

Snøhetta and Harvard join forc...
HouseZero is an energy-efficient renovation of Harvard's Green Buildings and Cities headquarters 
HouseZero is an energy-efficient renovation of Harvard's Green Buildings and Cities headquarters 
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Snøhetta has teamed up with Harvard's Green Buildings and Cities at the Graduate School of Design to create HouseZero
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Snøhetta has teamed up with Harvard's Green Buildings and Cities at the Graduate School of Design to create HouseZero
The idea is that HouseZero will eventually produce more energy over its lifetime than was used to renovate it and throughout its subsequent operation
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The idea is that HouseZero will eventually produce more energy over its lifetime than was used to renovate it and throughout its subsequent operation
HouseZero is an energy-efficient renovation of Harvard's Green Buildings and Cities headquarters 
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HouseZero is an energy-efficient renovation of Harvard's Green Buildings and Cities headquarters 
HouseZero's formerly inefficient office space has been retrofitted with a lot of sustainable technology
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HouseZero's formerly inefficient office space has been retrofitted with a lot of sustainable technology
HouseZero is naturally ventilated with triple-glazed windows that will open and shut automatically or manually
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HouseZero is naturally ventilated with triple-glazed windows that will open and shut automatically or manually
HouseZero doesn't have any artificial lighting during daylight hours
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HouseZero doesn't have any artificial lighting during daylight hours
HouseZero serves as an office for 20 workers
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HouseZero serves as an office for 20 workers
HouseZero includes hundreds of sensors to track its performance
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HouseZero includes hundreds of sensors to track its performance
"The building will adjust itself seasonally, and even daily, to reach thermal comfort targets for its occupants," says  Snøhetta
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"The building will adjust itself seasonally, and even daily, to reach thermal comfort targets for its occupants," says  Snøhetta
"285 sensors embedded within the building collect almost 17 million data points each day," adds Snøhetta
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"285 sensors embedded within the building collect almost 17 million data points each day," adds Snøhetta
"We hope to prove that HouseZero’s approach is replicable," says Harvard's CGBC
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"We hope to prove that HouseZero’s approach is replicable," says Harvard's CGBC
The energy-efficient HouseZero project involved renovating a pre-1940s building
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The energy-efficient HouseZero project involved renovating a pre-1940s building
Snøhetta has teamed up with Harvard's Green Buildings and Cities at the Graduate School of Design to create HouseZero
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Snøhetta has teamed up with Harvard's Green Buildings and Cities at the Graduate School of Design to create HouseZero
The idea is that HouseZero will eventually produce more energy over its lifetime than was used to renovate it and throughout its subsequent operation
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The idea is that HouseZero will eventually produce more energy over its lifetime than was used to renovate it and throughout its subsequent operation
HouseZero doesn't have any artificial lighting during daylight hours
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HouseZero doesn't have any artificial lighting during daylight hours
HouseZero is an energy-efficient renovation of an old office building
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HouseZero is an energy-efficient renovation of an old office building

Constructing new sustainable projects is all well and good, but there are still many drafty old buildings in use throughout the United States. With this in mind, Snøhetta has teamed up with Harvard's Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) to create HouseZero. The project involved renovating a pre-1940s building into a new energy-positive office and aims to offer ideas for making old inefficient buildings energy-efficient.

HouseZero also involved Skanska Teknikk Norway and was created as a kind of working laboratory. The idea is that it will be used daily as CGBC's headquarters while being monitored for its efficiency and eventually produce more energy over its lifetime than was used to renovate it.

To bring this about, the once inefficient office space has been retrofitted with a lot of sustainable technology and design. For example, its original HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) unit was replaced with a ground-source heat pump, while triple-glazed windows open and shut automatically to help maintain a comfortable temperature.

No artificial lighting whatsoever is used during daylight hours thanks to the carefully-placed glazing and skylights. Additionally, the windows sport sculpted surrounds that offer shading during summer months. The building is topped by a roof-based solar panel array too.

"We hope to prove that HouseZero’s approach is replicable," says Harvard's CGBC
"We hope to prove that HouseZero’s approach is replicable," says Harvard's CGBC

Hundreds of sensors have been installed in the building to track its energy usage and the team will closely monitor its performance year-round.

"The building will adjust itself seasonally, and even daily, to reach thermal comfort targets for its occupants," says Snøhetta. "285 sensors embedded within the building collect almost 17 million data points each day. This data infrastructure enables the building to immediately self-adjust in response to both internal and external variables such as outdoor air temperature or rain, and indoor CO2 levels and air temperature."

It's early days yet and there's still a lot to learn, though the team hopes the project will ultimately demonstrate that an energy-efficient renovation can be preferable to knocking a building down and starting again.

"We hope to prove that HouseZero's approach is replicable," says Harvard's CGBC. "Some of HouseZero's upgrades are solely required to transform the building into a functional office for up to 20 researchers and staff, but most enhancements to the existing building are viewed through the lens of the renovation market. The CGBC believes that the best ideas should be transferable to other building owners as a recipe for significant energy and carbon use improvements to their existing structures without costly or wasteful tear-downs.

"While a building owner may not be able to implement every aspect of HouseZero, applying one or more of its components could positively impact its environment, the health of its occupants, and building operating costs."

Sources: CGBC, Snøhetta

2 comments
ljaques
And it probably only cost them $300k to retrofit the $60k home!
Allaz Fabrice
Following your comments, this project is only great if you can buy an older house and retrofit it for less than the price of a similar new house, on the same plot of land. This is where the hard work is, and could help hundreds of thousands of family in US (and the rest of the world) to live an healthy and cheaper life.