WWU Students Building Zero-Net-Energy House from Scratch

by Chelsea Andrews, Office of Communications and Marketing intern


Students at Western Washington University are designing and building a zero-net-energy house to address local housing issues and educate the University and community about sustainable home design as part of an initiative called “Project ZeNETH.”

“ZeNETH” stands for “zero-net-energy tiny house.” When completed, the house will produce at least as much energy as it consumes through a rooftop solar PV array, energy efficient systems and smart building design.

The students are working with Assistant Professor of Environmental Sciences Imran Sheikh. He said the total projected cost will probably be less than $50,000 in materials and hopefully some of the cost will be covered through donations or discounts from manufacturers.

The primary sponsor for their work is Western’s Institute for Energy Studies, but they also plan on contacting the Sustainable Action Fund for support, along with other donors, Sheikh said.

Kellen Lynch (Port Townsend), a senior studying Local Energy Relations in Western's  Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, is the project manager.

“We are learning how to build a house from scratch, and are working on everything that you could imagine that goes into that.” 

“We are learning how to build a house from scratch, and are working on everything that you could imagine that goes into that,” Lynch said.

The team is exploring building the house at Western’s Technology Development Center on the waterfront.  The house will be built directly onto a trailer and showcased regionally, Lynch said. Ideally, the house would eventually be sited on Western’s campus as part of the University, giving easy access to students, classes and the public.

“The project is meant to showcase what you can do with a certain amount of money in this region with all of the resources we have on hand,” Lynch said.

Lynch said they are now in the research phase and ideally would start construction next January and have the house built by next spring. In a perfect world, they would have the first open house during the first week of school in fall 2019, Lynch said.

Lynch is also in touch with other schools in the region to set up a competition to see who can build the best zero-net-energy tiny house. This will help the project gain regional recognition as well as give more students a chance to apply their education.

“Instead of doing a one-off project where we build a house and then it’s forgotten about, I want this project to have further iteration. Not only will there be a competition with other schools making their own houses to address their local issues, but Western can keep building on it and giving students a way to apply their education while they’re in school. I want this to keep going long past my graduation,” Lynch said.

Patrick Shive (Whidbey Island) is a senior Energy and Policy Management major and the Policy Lead on the project. He said he looks into legal and regulatory barriers for projects like this, such as building permitting and local zoning.

“I hope that the project can help educate Western students about sustainable building design. This project can also serve as a great hands-on learning resource for the Institute for Energy Studies coursework,” Shive said. “Personally, the project is a great opportunity to hone and utilize the skills I've acquired through the Energy Policy and Management bachelor’s degree.”

"It's been really neat to work on ZeNETH and try to turn an academic conceptual project into a reality."

Sheikh said the students will benefit from the level of detail needed to complete a project like this.

“We see clear integration in several current and future energy courses covering topics such as carbon neutral design, building energy modeling, and energy data analysis. In the design process, students will perform energy modeling, and use that to inform design decisions,” Sheikh.

One of the things the project is aimed to do is create a something that can easily be integrated into new and existing coursework, Sheikh said.

“Given that energy efficiency in buildings will be a growth area in IES coursework, this project will serve as a tangible design and testbed that can be used through several courses related to buildings and energy systems,” Sheikh said. “Upon completion, we hope the house can be occupied and located on or near campus so that we can measure real world performance and have easy access and control of building systems during courses.”

Shive said his favorite thing about Project ZeNETH is that he was able to take a project that he worked on in his Energy Efficient and Carbon Neutral Design class, where they designed a zero-net-energy house, a step further by actually building one.

“Ever since taking that class I've been really fascinated with smart building design and it's been really neat to work on ZeNETH and try to turn an academic conceptual project into a reality,” Shive said.

Project ZeNETH is looking to bring on new members. For more information on the project or how to get involved contact Kellen Lynch, project manager at projectzeneth@gmail.com or visit their website at https://wp.wwu.edu/projectzeneth/ .

Friday, March 9, 2018 - 9:45am