What is NIST and Why is the US Government Building a “Laboratory” House?

RTA_blog_2012_0918_NIST_NetZeroHouseOn September 12, 2012, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new two-story, 2,700 square foot house on its campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The house is a net-zero project built in partnership with DOE’s Building America program.

The term “net zero” refers to the energy consumption of the house – it produces as much energy as it consumes so it’s net energy use is zero. This house is a laboratory that will allow NIST to simulate a family of four living in the house so the performance can be measured. The results of the study will help the design and construction communities evaluate products and methods – does “green” building really deliver as promised?

The results will also inform future decisions about building codes. It’s much less expensive to conserve than to create. So, building more efficient houses will help us avoid making unnecessary investments in infrastructure like power plants and water treatment facilities that are incredibly expensive, have many geographical restrictions and often impact adjacent properties.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is a non-regulatory arm of the US Department of Commerce – one of three federal departments that Texas Governor Rick Perry advocated eliminating in his 2012 Presidential bid. The Governor (and others) have noted the frequency with which agencies have been moved out of the Department of Commerce to other departments.

NIST conducts experiments and collects data across a significant number of subject areas like bioscience and health; building and fire research; materials science, etc. Even though it may seem odd that an agency in the Commerce Department is studying energy consumption and production in houses, NIST researchers should be able to use the data collected in this experiment in many of it’s other related subject areas.

The NIST press release for the net-zero house provides a helpful description of the partnerships and goals for the project. You can also find some additional information in Triple Pundit’s article on the project. The link to NIST data from the experiment at the bottom of the NIST press release is likely the most valuable resource in these two articles. In addition to the plans for the house – you can follow what may be the future of housing in the United States!

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