CGBC announces first-of-its-kind HouseZero project: Extreme retrofit of its headquarters requires no HVAC or electric light

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 24, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) announced today that it is retrofitting its headquarters in a pre-1940s stick-built house to demonstrate how to transform this challenging building stock into a prototype of ultra-efficiency that will use no HVAC system, no electric light use during the day, 100% ventilation, almost zero energy, and produce zero carbon emissions, including embodied energy of materials.

“Before now, this level of efficiency could only be achieved in new construction,” said Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology at the GSD, founding director of the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities and the creator of the HouseZero project. “We want to demonstrate what’s possible, show how this can be replicated almost anywhere, and solve one of the world’s biggest energy problems — inefficient existing buildings.”

The U.S. building stock is responsible for around 40 percent of energy consumption, with housing nearly a quarter of that use. Property owners spend more than $230 billion annually heating, cooling and powering its 113.6 million homes. HouseZero could help curb climate change by creating a blueprint for reducing the demand for energy, as well as saving money for property owners by lowering operating costs.

Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean of Harvard GSD and the Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design, said, “The HouseZero project represents precisely the kind of transformative impact through design that we strive to make at the GSD. With this test case – retrofitting a house in Cambridge into a new work space – the Center for Green Buildings and Cities directly engages the ways in which we can reimagine the future of many of our cities and their utilization of resources.”

The HVAC system will be replaced with thermal mass, and a ground source heat pump for peak (extreme) conditions. A solar vent will instigate buoyancy-driven ventilation and triple-glazed windows will employ natural cross ventilation through a manual and automated system that monitors for temperature, humidity and air quality.

HouseZero’s interior will model a healthy environment with natural light, no off-gassing material and is designed to be comfortable, durable, functional, and flexible, with great acoustics. The space will also promote well-being and productivity. Rather than approaching the house as a “sealed box,” the building envelope and materials of HouseZero are designed to interact with the seasons and the exterior environment in a more natural way. Much like a layered approach to clothing, the house is meant to adjust itself seasonally, and even daily, to reach thermal comfort targets.

“All components of the building are sensored to generate data that will allow the building to adjust itself and fuel CGBC research focused on actual data and simulated environments,” said Professor Ali Malkawi. The building will also feature a flexible, highly-controlled and monitored experimental lab that is hardwired to the building’s energy exchange system. Because the lab is connected to an ultra-efficient structure, this space will allow for the testing, swapping, and optimization of new, intelligent technologies, façades, and materials to inspire the next generation of ultra-efficient buildings.

Conceptual design was fueled by the center’s blueprint and developed in collaboration with Snøhetta as the project’s lead architect, interior and landscape architect. The firm was hired because of its Scandinavian roots and its demonstrated commitment to the advancement of energy positive buildings in this region. Skanska Technology (Norway) led the energy concept with significant simulation support from CGBC research teams and Skanska (USA) provided pre-construction input. Project management logistics were provided by Harvard Planning & Project Management (HPPM) and CSL Consulting, and operations support was provided by staff from Harvard GSD. Columbia Construction will manage and execute the construction process.

HouseZero will not promote or seek any special certification because it wants to demonstrate an entirely new paradigm for ultra-efficiency, one that is localized and focused on curbing energy demand, with energy production secondary to that.

Construction will take about 7-9 months.

About Harvard Center for Green Buildings & Cities
The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) aims to transform the building industry through a commitment to design-centric strategy that directly links research outcomes to the development of new processes, systems, and products. By strongly emphasizing innovation and multidisciplinary collaboration, the Center will work to promote holistic change within the built environment, namely the creation and continued improvement of sustainable, high performance buildings and cities. The CGBC was established at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2014.

For more information, contact:

Molly Kalan
InkHouse Media + Marketing

The release is also available here.

Metro: Harvard is updating a home from the 1920s to be ‘ultra’ energy efficient

Today, Metro features CGBC’s HouseZero: a “first-of-its-kind” project that challenges the idea that you have to build new homes from scratch in order to implement energy-efficient design. Professor Malkawi, founding director of the CGBC, explains that his goal was to “push the limit” for what energy-efficient upgrades can be added to an existing home — a part of the market people think “you can’t do much with,” he said — which could help curb climate change and also help current property owners save money.  Read the article here.

Fast Company: This super-efficient renovation is a model for lowering a house’s energy footprint

CGBC’s HouseZero project is featured in Fast Company. The piece explains how a retrofit of CGBC headquarters will result in a positive energy building. “We could have done something that’s futuristic,” says Ali Malkawi, professor of architectural technology at the GSD, founding director of the CGBC and the creator of the HouseZero project. “But what we chose to do is use existing ideas and technologies, put them all together, and see what we can do and push and reach goals that no one has reached before in terms of retrofits.” Read the piece here.

Bud Ris delivers Climate Week lecture: “Climate Ready Boston: Planning for Challenges Ahead”

On Monday, April 24, 2017, the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) welcomed Bud Ris — Co-Chair, Climate Preparedness Working Group, Boston Green Ribbon Commission, and Senior Climate Advisor, Barr Foundation– to present a lecture entitled “Climate Ready Boston: Planning for the Challenges Ahead.”

“Boston was once the dirtiest harbor in the country; now it is the cleanest urban harbor in the United States,” Ris said, beginning his talk by referencing a past sustainability success that can serve as a model and inspiration for future challenges. For combating climate change “there are two big tracks: the mitigation side, cutting greenhouse gasses to reduce the problem, and now there is adaptation or the climate-preparedness/resilience side,” he continued, laying out the essential steps in making the city climate ready: climate consensus, vulnerability assessments, and resilience initiatives.

Ris emphasized his focus on the research and analysis which he sees as essential to the city’s preparation for future effects of climate change. Though noting that current projections of sea level rises and potential flooding in the future could compromise up to $85 billion of Boston’s land and built environment, he acknowledged the importance of remaining optimistic. “Stop depressing people,” Ris said of those trying to communicate the future effects of climate change. He noted that Boston has “sprang into high gear” when it comes to climate preparedness and that solutions can be found and implemented. To do this, Ris said that “Boston should coordinate public investment to adapt infrastructure to future climate conditions.” Throughout his lecture, Ris discussed several studies, projections, and possible solutions, many coordinated and completed by the City of Boston and surrounding universities. Beyond what the city already has planned and committed to, Ris sees an additional role for building owners and renters in adapting to the climate. “We have to create value around building resilience,” Ris said, “Green buildings are already commanding higher interest and rents, and resilience should also be re-assessed.”

Ris’ lecture was presented as a part of a week of climate change-related events called “Climate Week,” organized by the Harvard University Center for the Environment in cooperation with a wide variety of partner institutions across the Harvard campus. This week-long program gives the Harvard community, as well as the interested public, exposure to some of the best scholarship and thinking related to climate change at the university.


Malkawi featured in The Guardian: “How malls and cities are becoming indistinguishable”

Featured in an article in The Guardian, CGBC Director Ali Malkawi explains how the wasteful energy consumption of malls and big box stores can be traced to the 1950’s when reducing fossil fuels was not a priority. In addition, he stressed that outdoor “retail villages” typically have smaller ecological footprints, as their thin structures allow for natural ventilation and daylighting. Read the entire article here.

CGBC’s Ali Malkawi to Present at “Building Tomorrow”: Harvard Arab World Weekend

On Saturday, March 11, the Harvard Arab Alumni Association will host the Harvard Arab World Weekend 2017 Conference in Jordan to highlight the theme of “Building Tomorrow,” which will explore initiatives across the region that are currently (re)shaping the face of the Arab world. The HAWC proposes several panels that bring together multi-disciplinary leaders to discuss the region’s tomorrow for future generations in healthcare, education, entrepreneurship, policy, and law. CGBC Founding Director Ali Malkawi will speak as apart of the “Entrepreneurship Panel & Startup Pitch” panel. His presentation is entitled “The Future of Buildings: the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities”.

Read more here.

CGBC Files New Patent on Fault Detection Platform and Smart Building Applications

The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities Research Team has filed a patent application for the following work: An Open Platform for Automated HVAC Fault Detection and Smart Building Applications. This research and application provides an automated fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) solution that transforms energy-efficient building operational data into actionable information by detecting and tracking energy inefficiencies and system faults. It gives valuable insights on building performance in real time so that facilities can identify, prioritize, and fix faults quickly to avoid costs.

According to the Department of Energy, more than $10 billion US dollars can be saved through FDD and energy information systems for commercial HVAC systems every year. In China, it is estimated that there are more than 30% energy savings potential out of total energy consumption in large-scale commercial buildings, according to Tsinghua University. CGBC’s new research aims to improve FDD by using a robust data-driven algorithm for FDD that takes uncertainties in operations into account. It can detect abnormalities in whole building energy consumption; detect faults on the component-level of HVAC and other mechanical system operations; and estimate energy savings potential of what-if scenarios in building commissioning and retrofitting projects.

CGBC’s web-based forecasting application was developed from this research to allow users without coding background to build Gaussian Process (GP) models to make predictions and evaluate the impact of certain variables. It also has a decentralized architecture that is salable and extensible to easily incorporate new data sources, enhancing user experience by optimizing the design specifically for FDD. The tool’s forecast gives an estimate of how significant the impact of the investigated parameter is on total energy consumption. This rapid estimate could be useful in early decision-making in building commissioning/retrofitting projects.  Engineers can now use this information to select control variables that have large impact to optimize. The proposed GP modeling process is a direct and rapid modeling method based on actual data, and it avoids input configuration and calibration.

HUCE Launches “Harvard Speaks On Climate Change”

Late last year, the Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE) launched a new online video initiative, Harvard Speaks on Climate Change, to share expertise of Harvard faculty across many disciplines who contribute to solutions through teaching, research, and leadership. In the videos, faculty from across our campus discuss the many dimensions of the climate challenge: from law, business, and public policy, to public health, design, the sciences and engineering, and the humanities. Each video leads to an individual faculty page with more resources for those who want to dig deeper. CGBC Founding Director Ali Malkawi participated in the initiative and his video segment discusses computational design decision support as it relates to the energy efficiency of buildings. Learn more and watch the video here.

Princess Sumaya bint Hassan of Jordan visits the CGBC

On Wednesday, February 17, Her Royal Highness Princess Sumaya bint Hassan of Jordan was welcomed by CGBC Founding Director Ali Malkawi at the Marshal’s Office during her visit to the Center for Green Buildings and Cities at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Professor Ali Malkawi accompanied her, along with three aides during her trip. Her visit also included stops at Widener Library and the Harvard Art Museums. See more here.

Harvard CGBC receives Microsoft Azure Research Award

On Monday, January 23rd, 2017, Microsoft announced that it awarded Harvard CGBC an Azure Research Award, which gives the center sponsored access to Microsoft Azure, a cloud computing platform and infrastructure. It is used to build, deploy and manage applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers, and the award offers free access to cloud computing resources for projects across the world. CGBC researchers will use the award to support a computational research and development agenda.  Specifically, the center will employ the platform for a range of the following research projects: using sensors, machine learning algorithms and prototypes to assess energy optimization of buildings; investigating intuitive and efficient smart building data visualization, monitoring and analyzing interior air quality; monitoring and analyzing building surfaces; documenting and annotating periodic building performance and personal status; and, assessing virtual environments and interfaces.

Microsoft started the Azure4Research program in 2013. It offers cloud computing resource grants to researchers and scientists who continue to explore emerging challenges, basic research, and new applications related to the ubiquitous devices and networking that comprise the Internet of Things (IoT). Other awardees include innovative leaders in areas such as climate research, industrial automation, electrical engineering, and green building technologies.

Find out more about the award here.