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The House That Ingenuity Built Heads to National Competition

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By Kathleen Lynn

“The spirit of this competition is to show it isn’t that hard,” he said. “Just learning and evaluating how much energy you’re using can help you adjust your lifestyle.”

To that end, all the rooms have “smart sensors,” which are about the size of motion detectors. They detect information such as temperature, humidity, and how many people are in the room. The sensors are monitored by the home’s private computer server. If no one’s in the house, lights and air conditioning will be turned off. The system also tracks how much energy is used by the appliances or systems. Homeowners can access the information wirelessly through their smartphones or tablets.

“It helps provide feedback to help the residents make more energy-efficient decisions,” Moy said. The home’s computer system can even monitor the weather report — so it can tell you, for example, that you should wait to do a load of laundry till the next sunny day, which will create cheaper solar energy. Or tell you to hold off on watering your plants, because it’s going to rain tomorrow.

A new-age dehumidifier hangs on the wall of the dining area. Air is sucked in at the bottom, then dries out as it passes over tubes covered in a liquid salt solution, and comes out drier at the top. Condensation is sent outside, where it evaporates. The system takes about 200 watts of power, compared with 750 watts for a traditional humidifier, Moy said.

The walls contain something called biologically based phase-change material, a passive technology that helps stabilize internal temperature. The material, a bubble-packed soy-based paraffin, absorbs heat during the day and melts; as it cools and solidifies again at night, it releases the heat. So in the southern United States, for example, you can have temperature swings of 20 degrees a day; this product reduces that variation to 4 degrees, Moy said.

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