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Harvard Turns Prewar Home Into Green Building That Makes More Energy Than It Uses

By Nicole Caldwell

It’s one thing to build a brand-new house that’s energy efficient, runs on renewables, and is equipped with smart technology for heating, cooling, and minimizing its carbon footprint. But most of us don’t have that luxury. Retrofitting an older house to have a minimal footprint is a bit trickier. Yet that’s just what the ambitious “HouseZero” project aims to do, and then some. 

The Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities (CGBC) at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) plans to convert a pre-war, stick-built house in Cambridge, Mass., into a building with a negative carbon footprint. Call it a pre-1940s, modern marvel.

Buildings are energy hogs. 

Buildings account for almost half of all energy consumption in the United States. Housing comprises a quarter of that use, with property owners collectively spending more than $230 billion a year on climate control and energy at home. But, maybe for not much longer. The model HouseZero is going to be providing could change the face of energy use—and production—here and abroad. Imagine: no gas, electric, heating, or cooling bills.

Clean structures are the way of the future.

The HouseZero project allows the CGBC to create additional space for its program while also establishing a blueprint for retrofitting older homes for minimal (or zero) carbon emissions and maximum energy efficiency.