This article was originally published in the May/June 1996 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1996


Atlanta House A Showcase 
for Energy Efficiency

An artist's rendering of the completed building. Atlanta-based Pimsler Hoss Architects developed the architectural design, and JP Limited has created a holistic interior design for the center. Outdoors, the site will have a drought-tolerant xeriscape that relies on indigenous plant species.

A combined demonstration home, resource center, and training facility for energy-efficient building will open in June in Atlanta, Georgia. The building will showcase as many as 30 innovative energy-saving and renewable energy technologies that are environmentally friendly, cost-effective for homeowners, and available in today's marketplace. The house will have passive solar design, but will include traditional or contemporary styling so that to an observer, it resembles other houses currently on the market in the Atlanta area.

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have joined with the Atlanta-based Southface Energy Institute to build and operate the center. Southface will move its offices and resource center into the building and, for two years, manage the house under the guidance of DOE. After that, the facility and its activities will be run completely by Southface.

The doors will open on time for tours by visitors to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. The house is conveniently located in the civic center area of downtown Atlanta, adjacent to Renaissance Park and the SciTrek Museum, which draws 250,000 visitors yearly.

The demonstration house is an excellent example of cooperation among federal, state, and local governments, private corporations, and a nonprofit organization. The technology guidelines for lighting, ventilation, the HVAC system, and the building envelope were developed by DOE, ORNL, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Local agencies, including the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority's Division of Energy Resources and the City of Atlanta, are contributing to the project. Almost all of the building components and technologies are donated. Private corporations have provided the foundation system, the structural insulated panels for the building envelope, high performance windows, a variety of super-efficient heating and cooling equipment, and photovoltaic roofing materials that will generate electricity from sunlight. Additional sponsors are being sought for other innovative energy and environmental technologies, as well as for the development of educational and research materials.

Table 1. Private sector partners to date
The Home Depot
Oglethorpe Power
Atlanta Gas Light
Furman Lumber
Blue Circle Williams
Southwire Company
Structural Insulated Panel Association
Turner Foundation
Flexible Products
RCD Corporation
Carpet and Rug Institute
Kohler Company
Pella Windows
International Energy Conservation Systems
American Gas Cooling Center
York International
AFM Corporation
Phillips Driscopipe
Clark Pest Control
Koch Materials
Presto Block/Vecco
Clopay Corporation
Carolina Lumber
Advanced Conservation Technology
Shaper Lighting
USI Prescolite
Lithonia Lighting
Cooper Lighting
Juno Lighting
SPI Lighting
Mitor Lighting
ALSY Lighting
Alta Lighting
Osram Sylvania
General Electric
Certus Laboratories
Integrated Design The design of the house emphasizes energy efficiency, renewable energy resources, sustainable building products, good indoor air quality, and accessibility for the physically disabled. The house is built on three levels and has approximately 6,000 ft2 of space.

The main floor is designed as a complete showcase home, with master bedroom suite, kitchen, dining room, laundry, living room, sunroom, and home office. Through hands-on displays, visitors will see energy and environmental products now on the market that are practical, attractive, and affordable. They can operate energy- and water-efficient appliances and view exhibits on home construction and renovation. A comprehensive guidebook shows the estimated costs, savings, and benefits derived from innovative energy and environmental products. A library and on-line services located on this same level offer access to hundreds of information sources.

On the lower level, a training and conference area will be available for audiences ranging from policymakers to local building tradespeople. Already workshops on energy codes and sustainable building technologies are being scheduled by the Southface Homebuilding School, which will be housed on this floor. Southface's offices will occupy the upper level which will also serve as a demonstration for office/ commercial energy technologies.

The foundation for the house is constructed of insulated foam sheets. They are reinforced with steel and temporarily supported with wood bracing while concrete is poured into the inner cavity. The foundation is protected from moisture by a waterproof coating and drainage board.

Structural insulated panels form the exterior walls and most of the roof. The panels provide an airtight envelope with superior insulating values. They also eliminate the need for stud framing, thereby reducing the use of wood by one-third. Other framing materials, such as engineered wood trusses and finger-jointed studs, minimize the use of dimensional wood lumber.

The foundation for the demonstration home and training center is built from termiticide-treated foam sheets, reinforced with steel and filled with concrete.

The main level of the house is conditioned by a geothermal heat pump. Vertical wells capture heat from deep in the earth for warmth in winter and send heat from the house into the ground in summer. A gas heat pump will maintain comfort in other areas of the house. Both systems will operate much less here than they would in a conventionally designed building due to the continuous insulation coverage, location of ductwork inside the conditioned space, airtight envelope construction, and passive solar design.

Reducing air leakage is a key to lower energy costs and indoor air quality. The building eliminates the uncontrolled air leakage common in most homes and brings in fresh outdoor air in the quantities needed to maintain proper air quality. Indoor pollutants are minimized by using low-emmission materials for furnishings. Many of these products are also made from recycled materials.

All the appliances-refrigerator, stove, oven, dishwasher, clothes washer, and dryer-have high efficiencies. This is true also of the computer, printer, and fax machine in the home office.

The passive solar design allows for a variety of cost-effective benefits. The interior is highlighted by a 200 ft2 direct-gain area in the living room and an adjacent sunroom. A cupola, reminiscent of the Southern Victorians in nearby neighborhoods, brings daylight into the core of the home, and a solar water heater provides hot water. The 500 ft2 of integrated photovoltaic roof shingles supply approximately 2 kilowatts (kW) of electricity from peak sunlight. The PV shingles will blend in well with the traditional fiberglass shingles on the rest of the roof.

The Department of Energy and Southface will be working with several of the sponsors to monitor the photovoltaic system, the geothermal and gas heat pumps, and other technologies used in the house. They will track utility bills to evaluate energy use and will produce fact sheets that show the savings over time.

To learn more about the demonstration house and resource center, contact the author at Southface Energy Institute, P.O. Box 5506, Atlanta, GA 30307. Tel:(404)525-7657; Fax(404) 525-6420; e-mail: or Pat Love, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (423)574-4346: e-mail: Information is also available through the Southface Home Page at

-Dennis Creech

Dennis Creech is executive director of Southface Energy Institute in Atlanta, Georgia.


Publication of this article was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Building Technologies


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