- ReNEWW House
Whirlpool’s ReNEWW house is a live-in laboratory of green technology that will reduce energy, water and waste in the 86-year-old house.
An 86-year old bungalow in West Lafayette, Ind., is the subject of a grand experiment conducted by one of the country’s top appliance manufacturers and one of its top universities.
Whirlpool Corporation is investing more than just money into a project to turn the 1920s 3,000-square-foot house into an energy, water and waste-efficient laboratory. Over the next three years, Whirlpool engineers and local homebuilder Green Goose Homes will turn the ReNEWW house (standing for Retrofitted Net-zero Energy, Water and Waste) into a home that generates all of its own power, and reuses all of the water and waste it generates in order to create a net-zero, well everything, house.
The house will be home to three Whirlpool engineers as they attend graduate school at Purdue University, located practically across the street from the home, as part of the Whirlpool Engineering Rotational Leadership Development (WERLD) program.
Whirlpool’s ReNEWW home prior to renovations, which began lthis summer. The 86-year-old bungalow is an experiment in making an older home more energy efficient, as well as a lab for green energy experiments by the Whrilpool employees who live there while attending Purdue University.
Green Goose Homes is finishing up the home this week for an open house Sept. 12. The house, built in 1928, is owned by the Purdue Research Foundation, which leased the structure to Whirlpool. While the project’s total cost hasn’t yet been evaluated (the project manager says that data will be collected after the dust settles), cost isn’t the point of this project.
Turning an energy hog (pre-retrofit it was given a HERS rating of 177), into an energy generator is more than just a class project for the grad students who live there. The goal is to implement solutions that would work just as well in new construction as older homes, and come up with new ways of making those solutions even more energy, water, and waste efficient.
Doctoral student Stephen Caskey uses an infrared camera in research to improve energy efficiency in the structure.
(Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
“It’s not a case study retrofit,” says Eric Bowler, project manager and senior engineer of sustainability at Whirlpool. “There are aspects of the home that certainly would be recommended for homeowners to implement. But the goal is to implement solutions. Some would make sense in a new build; some would make perfect fit in an older home…
When you have the net-zero conversation, normally it’s about a new build, but you can have existing homes and make them as efficient as new homes are today,” Bowler says.
A Live-In Lab
The first question everyone asks Bowler when he describes the ReNEWW house is, “Is it feasible, expense-wise, to do this with every older home?”
The answer to that question is of course not, but the ReNEWW house isn’t just a home, it’s also a lab where various ideas and products will be tested, reworked, and tested again.
“We did some things to the house to enable them to do some experimentation that normal homeowners would not do,” Bowler says. “It is not a cookie cutter example of what the individual should do, but it is showcasing the technology that’s out there.”
Engineering students from Purdue will be able to use the house as a testing facility for innovations one of which is a plant system that grows within the house and acts as part of the HVAC system. Called a biowall filtration system, the plant roots within the HVAC system and filters impurities from the air while generating oxygen.
Another group of students is working on an automated hydroponic system that would grow food inside the home and make it easy for individuals to do so.
“There has been a lot of interest from students who aren’t Whirlpool employees but are interested in sustainable building as well,” Bowler says.
Thinking Outside the Icebox
With Whirlpool being one of the largest manufacturers of home appliances in the world, this home would not be complete without the latest appliances, and some experimental ones.
Bowler says appliance efficiency is nearing the point of diminishing returns, and it’s becoming more difficult and expensive to find new ways to make them efficient.
“If I could show you a curve of appliance efficiency from 1970s, it would look like a hockey stick,” he says.
Whirlpool is rethinking the way appliances are designed as standalone units, such as the refrigerator that cools air and keeps hot air out. In the ReNEWW house, engineers can think outside the icebox.
One idea is connecting kitchen appliances so they share resources. The heat exchanger on the back of a refrigerator can pre-warm the water needed by the dishwasher next to it. It’s a product that is being released in Europe. The pre-warmed water needs less energy to heat than cold water and so helps the machine to be more efficient.
“Thinking of appliances as a suite might get us more efficiency gains,” Bowler says.
Then there’s the electrical input. Most homes have alternating current yet the solar panels generate direct current, so Whirlpool engineers can explore ways to do more with DC applications rather than having to convert solar from DC to AC.
Crews use a never-before-used spray-in insulation developmed by Honeywell to insulate the ReNEWW house (photo courtesy Whirlpool USA).
Experiments in Building Technology
Other experiments are being done the reconstruction of the home, such a never-been-used type of spray-in insulation developed by Honeywell. The Solstice liquid blowing agent is supposed to be super-efficient and nontoxic, meaning it won’t affect the indoor air quality of the people living there.
Manufacturer Ply Gem has donated building materials including Mastic siding, and energy-efficient windows and doors. Before construction began, the house had no insulation and was making almost 11 air changes per hour. “The house was more or less open all the time,” Bowler says with a laugh.
But the insulating building materials should make a drastic change.
“We haven’t done the post-construction HERS test, but I’m really looking forward to doing the blower door test,” he says.
The home once had central air and a gas furnace, but those systems are being replaced with a GeoComfort geothermal system by Enertech Global. Contractors dug three 250-foot vertical wells that will heat the home’s three levels. The basement and first floor will be a forced-air system while the second floor bedrooms will have a hydronic system with minisplits in each bedroom that will allow each room to be heated or cooled separately.
A crew drills one of the vertical wells for the GeoComfort geothermal system in the ReNEWW home (photo courtesy Whirlpool USA).
Bowler says the split system will allow the HVAC system to do less work. Instead of forcing heated or cooled air through ductwork to the second floor, the system pumps heated or chilled water, which takes less energy.
Solar manufacturer SolarZentrum is providing a solar panel system that not only provides electricity but also will heat domestic water for the home. The combination system called PVT (photovoltaic thermal) combines electricity and heat generation. The panels’ solar cells have heat exchangers behind them which circulate a fluid behind the panels, picking up the heat that the panels generate. Bowler says the thermal exchanger has two benefits: the heat can be used to heat water for domestic use, and the system cools the panels that become less efficient as they get hotter.
“This would be useful in regions like the Southwest, but it will also be good to use in colder climates,” Bowler says. “We have pretty hard winters and you can actually reverse the system’s flow to melt the snow on the panels. You just push a button and it melts the snow, and you can get solar generation in the winter.”
Technology Homebuyers Want
The unique solar panels were what attracted Grant Giese, president of Green Goose Homes, to the project.
Giese has overseen every aspect of construction and says he was intrigued with the project when Whirlpool contacted him last year largely due to the solar system.
“It’s not something that is done frequently around our city,” Giese says. “It’s been a neat project, you’ve got huge corporations involved in it, I’ve had access to their engineers and it’s been a good learning experience.”
Giese says his firm has had experience on every component of the building process in prior construction except for the solar system, but putting them together into one project has been unique. “These systems individually are great, but together they’re world class.
“I see all these things being used in the future. We’ll see it because consumers demand it. I’ve based my business on this. Consumers want comfortable homes with lower energy costs. … Projects like this will help to the nth degree.”
Whirlpool and Purdue University will host an open house Sept. 12 to celebrate the completion of the initial stages of the ReNEWW home in West Lafayette, Ind.