Students show net-zero home possible amid challenges of historic district

As industries seek to renovate and recover old homes in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine district, they struggle with incorporating new energy-saving practices to historically sensitive neighborhoods. 

A team of University of Cincinnati students recently set out to solve this problem through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Race to Zero competition, the school reports. 

Race to Zero is an annual student competition that “challenges collegiate teams to apply sound building science principles to create cost-effective, market-ready designs” that meet federal standards set by the agency's Zero Energy Ready Home program. The competition challenges students to design practical net-zero homes.

“There aren’t a lot of articles or research on designing a net-zero home in a historically sensitive neighborhood,” said UC student Alex Rodrigues, team lead of the project. “With UC right next to OTR, we had this huge opportunity in our back yard.”

Neighborhoods such as OTR have old designs, homes built in close proximity and certain building codes and limitations, Rodrigues said. For example, according to neighborhood standards, each home in OTR must be a certain height and be built using a certain type and color of brick.

To prepare for the competition, the team of three architectural engineering students and four architecture students collaborated with local companies. The team modeled its design on a real plot of land, which was a vacant lot wedged between two buildings.

The students came up with a design that incorporated environmental features like green roofs, solar panels and windows that took advantage of the limited daylight without letting in too much heat from the sun. The team also designed a natural centralized ventilation system that recycled air using energy-efficient heating and cooling units.

The team started the planning process in mid-October and presented its findings in April, taking almost the entire academic year. Despite being its first year participating in the Race to Zero competition, the UC team made it to the final round in Golden, Colorado. On April 21, the team presented its project at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).

“In class we have professors, and on our cooperative education rotations we have supervisors. This was the first time we had our own project that we could design from scratch,” Rodrigues said.

Topics: Building Green, Home Design & Plans, Sustainable Communities

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