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Design of a Zero Energy Home as a First-year Design Project

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

FPD III: Innovation in Design in the First Year

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.398.1 - 25.398.19



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Paper Authors


Andrew Lau Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Andrew (Andy) S. Lau is Associate Professor of engineering and Coordinator of first-year seminars for the Penn State College of Engineering. Lau is a 1977 graduate of Penn State with a B.S.M.E. and was a Research Fellow and 1983 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with an M.S.M.E. He has worked since 1977 as an engineer in the areas of solar energy applications in buildings, simulation of building energy use, and general consulting in the energy field. Most recently, his work has involved green buildings, engineering ethics, and sustainable design. He is a licensed Professional Engineer, a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-accredited Professional, and has contributed more than 50 publications to professional magazines, journals, and conferences.

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Tara Lynn Sulewski Pennsylvania State University, University Park

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Design of a Zero Energy Home as a First Year Design ProjectThis paper describes in detail a novel first-year design project focused on Zero Energy Homes(ZEH’s). The project has been piloted for two semesters and provides a relevant context forlearning and applying the design process. Students apply design tools including spreadsheets,system analysis, 3D drawing, model building, research, reporting, and customer needs, all in ateam-based active-learning environment.A ZEH is a high-efficiency home that is well-insulated and air-tight, oriented and designed toutilize passive solar heat, and fitted with high efficiency appliances and HVAC systems (heating,ventilating and air-conditioning). A solar thermal water heating system further reduces theenergy use. The remaining use of electricity is provided by an integrated solar photovoltaicsystem and/or an on-site wind turbine. These homes are grid-connected and sometimes drawenergy from the grid, and at other times put energy into the grid such that on an annual basis, thenet energy use is zero.There are several notable features of this project. One is that students begin by using a teamprocess for identifying the desirable features they would want in their future homes. Thishappens before energy use is even considered so that they realize that ZEH’s provide whatpeople want and use zero net energy. System concepts are also emphasized by identifying andanalyzing home components and their interconnections. A specially developed spreadsheet toolaccounts for these interactions and allows the student designers to see how design choices affectthe overall energy use. Sustainability and green design concepts are introduced, and studentscalculate their ecological footprints and ways to reduce them. Students also learn someengineering concepts like overall heat transfer, thermal resistance, air leakage and its energycost, as well as technologies including ventilation air heat recovery, solar water heating, heatpump operation including ground-source heat pumps, passive solar heating, and solar electricsystems. In the process of choosing certain components, students learn to balance first costs andoperating costs, and are introduced to the concept of life cycle cost, cash flow, and financing.Google Sketchup is learned and used to create 3D virtual models of their houses, and they alsomake a physical scale model.At the end of the first pilot of this project in Spring 2010, student feedback included: • I can look at system as a whole now and have a better idea of the energy it needs and how it affects its surroundings. • This project applies to engineering overall because it truly demonstrates how interconnected different systems are. • Overall, the project taught me that ZEH’s are not only doable, but they are practical especially in our economy where everyone is trying to stay on their feet financially. • I also discovered that a ZEH can be aesthetically pleasing and not look like something from outer space.

Lau, A., & Sulewski, T. L. (2012, June), Design of a Zero Energy Home as a First-year Design Project Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21156

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