RICHLAND — Two new homes on the campus at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland only look identical.
One will be retrofitted with the latest in energy-saving features and the other will continue to function much like an average Tri-City home.
Together they will serve as a first-of-its-kind research facility in the Northwest to measure how much energy efficiency can be gained with different technologies.
"We've never had a facility like this where we can change one variable and get good high-quality data," said Subrato Chandra, co-project manager and a senior buildings engineer at PNNL.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Data will be compared between the control house and the experimental house to see exactly how much energy or money each change saves.
The goal is to eventually help consumers make smart decisions about technologies that can save energy and reduce utility bills. Research at the two homes will focus on changes that can be made to a house after construction.
The first project will test how much energy efficiency can be gained by using highly insulating windows and the second is expected to look at cost savings of installing "smart" appliances that can respond to a utility pricing signal.
Bonneville Power Administration is interested in learning how well insulated windows work to improve energy efficiency as utilities consider providing incentives for the windows to customers.
In addition, the Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy wants to find out if the energy use in a typical home could be cut 50 percent by making a range of improvements that include highly efficient windows, additional insulation, eliminating air leaks, solar or heat pump water heaters and highly efficient heating and cooling systems.
Residential buildings now account for 22 percent of the nation's annual energy use and commercial buildings account for another 18 percent, giving opportunities for substantial energy savings for the nation.
But the first experiment at the new lab homes is to make sure they really are identical, Chandra said.
After a ribbon-cutting today, engineers will start comparing the amount of air leakage from each of the two 1,500-square-foot Marlette manufactured homes and then sealing up the leakier one until both match.
No one will live in the houses, but they are being programmed as if identical families lived in each.
Lights are programmed to turn on and off on a set schedule. Water in the sink also will turn on and off on schedule and a known quantity of water will be evaporated. The ventilation system has been programmed to simulate opening and closing the outside doors.
The nine-month study of highly insulating windows will require the control home to have its windows downgraded to the typical aluminum-frame windows found around the Tri-Cities to provide a more true-to-life comparison to the new high insulating windows that will be installed in the experimental house.
Researchers will evaluate the energy and cost savings for a homeowner, as well as how well the windows enhance comfort.
The next project will study the potential energy and cost savings smart appliances can provide.
The appliances -- including a range, refrigerator, dishwasher, washer and dryer -- have the ability to quickly respond to a pricing signal from an electrical utility. The appliances then can reduce energy consumption when prices are high and resume full operations when the prices go down.
Organizations helping pay for the lab homes project include the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the BPA, the DOE Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and the city of Richland. The land for the homes was donated by Battelle, which operates PNNL for DOE.
-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org