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Community and Q&A

Am I crazy or is the NIST house really confusing?

Joseph Welker | Posted in General Questions on

I was all excited to dig into the details of the NIST NZERTF. I was slowly moving away from SIPS and looking a lot at the PERSIST building method. I was reading articles on the building science center’s site about the “perfect wall”. All standard building science nerd stuff. Then I get onto the NIST site and click on the “centerfold”, the Fire, Plumbing, Mechanical, and Electrical Plans PDF. I started scrolling though the pages and reading all of the details. What should have been a good time went south pretty quick. Looking at DHW I see a HPWH. ok cool, but then I see details for solar hot water. Moving along to HVAC I see what looks like plans for trenches and wells for geothermal. But then there are also plans for ducted air to air heat pumps, including a separate one just for the detached garage. I keep going a little further and what do I see, the entire basement ceiling lined with pex for hydronic heating…

To say I’m confused would be an understatement. I’ve been reading GBA almost daily for a few years and can recall article after article that would raise alarm to some of these ideas. Solar hot water- not worth the investment. Geothermal- not worth the investment. Hydronic heating, overkill for a house of this nature. I get that it is a test facility and that the government is really good about wasting taxpayer money, but couldn’t we just look back at all of the hard work that has already been done to eliminate some of these options from the start? It cost 160k above code built to achieve net zero according the one article. This was built in DC, slap on some ductless minisplits and save the labor costs of ducted units and avoid the costs of drilling or trenching geo. Am I missing something? I’d really prefer my tax dollars be spent at researching the more cost effective ways of hitting net zero.

What would some of the Pros around here do if they were building their own test facility?

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  1. User avatar GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Yes, the researchers at NIST are federal employees who don't show evidence of being in the loop concerning well-known principles for designing net-zero buildings.

    That said, I'm wary of the impulse to ridicule researchers. Data are good. It's easy for people who are mad about government spending to come up with federally funded research projects that sound absurd or wasteful. But of all of the activities that our government invests in -- including the invasion of Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan -- research into net-zero-energy homes is far from the worst way to spend my tax dollars.

  2. Joseph Welker | | #2

    I'd rather not justify one misuse of money with another. I wouldn't consider my question to be a ridicule of researchers nor an impulse. I firmly believe that this project spins the wheels in many aspects. I'm trying to understand the main goal of the project. There isn't anything really new or untested in the house. If the goal is for building scientists to test different configurations to reach net zero then lets not waste our time with some of the features installed in the house. If the goal is to bring attention to the public the idea of a net zero house then lets show them how it can be done affordably so that it attracts the largest demographic possible. Being critical of research is not a bad thing. I think more people in the industry should be raising similar questions.

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