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From Exhibit to Reality: Creating Your Own Smart Home

by Chicago Agent

By Zipporah Porton

Everywhere you look, people are doing their part to help the environment. From a simple surge in recycling to complete LEED-rated buildings, Chicago has stepped up its efforts to save the environment, too. In addition to our city housing the largest green roof in the country with Millennium Park, the Museum of Science and Industry is now displaying “Chicago’s Greenest Home,” also known as Smart Home. While many of this exhibit’s remarkable features might be difficult to mimic in your own home, there are still a number of ways to do your part and go green.

Chicago’s Smart Home: Green + Wired exhibit opened in May 2008, and more than 200,000 guests have visited the 2,500-square-foot green space that features recycled and renewed materials from top to bottom. The exhibit was updated with new innovations for 2010, which was shown until Jan. 9, 2011. However, the Smart Home is back at the museum – in April, the exhibit came back, and museum patrons can stroll through the home and the Smart Home Park until Jan. 8, 2012.

The Smart Home was remade for 2011 to remind people of green appliances of the past while also alerting them to gadgets of the not-too-distant future. Scout, a Chicago interior furnishing store, brings its specialty touch for refurbishing and reviving pieces from government and education buildings into a truly eco-friendly and stylish decor. Meanwhile, Gizmodo shares the cutting-edge technology that we’ll soon be using to live, play and relax at home. Appropriate for this mix of the new and old, the museum has also paired some of Gizmodo’s newest gadgets with some of their vintage counterparts from within the museum’s collections.

Since the Smart Home is green inside and out, architect Michelle Kaufmann began the process right from the design phase. In fact, the exhibit is made of a modular home, was constructed at a factory and then brought to the museum on a flatbed truck.

The roof of the Smart Home is outfitted with the newest in solar energy technology known as photovoltaic film, and a wind turbine works with the local electric utility to power the home. Sometimes wind turbines can generate more electricity than is needed, in which case the home’s electric meter can actually spin backwards, putting power back on the grid, resulting in the utility giving money back to the homeowner.

Another creative feature that is in the Smart Home is spray-in-place insulation, which one day might be standard in all homes, given that it reduces energy consumption by 50 percent and minimizes mold. The exterior siding is made from Ipe wood, which is long-lasting and requires minimum maintenance. Up top, the green roof keeps the home cool in the summer while absorbing water and minimizing runoff.

Though new siding or a completely revamped mechanical system might not be in your budget right now, the Smart Home also has a number of environment-saving attributes that can easily be added to any existing Chicago-area home. You may also be eligible for a green renovation tax credit up to a certain amount spent. Regardless of the monetary gains that can result, adding these energy efficient or green touches to your home can save you money in terms of utility bills, as well as help the environment. Here are a few options that won’t necessarily break the bank:
• install a low-flow shower head or a dual-flush toilet
• purchase energy-efficient appliances
• install a green roof
• use low VOC products
• install solar panels
• upgrade or replace your windows

There are also a number of energy-saving techniques that don’t cost a thing! These are easy fixes that you might have heard before, but if you think of these tasks as a way to help the environment and save money rather than a chore, perhaps you won’t forget when the time comes.
• turn off the lights when you leave an empty room
• turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater or throw on a blanket
• use leftover water from your drinking glass or pet bowl to water plants
• don’t let the water run when brushing your teeth
• unplug your phone charger when the charge is complete

These are just a few ways that you can make your lifestyle greener, and perhaps save money in the end. Some require an initial investment, while others won’t cost you a dime. Visit the museum for inspiration, then come home and put these ideas to work. Save money and save the environment, just by taking a few simple steps.

For more information and tips on ways to go green, visit the Smart Home: Green + Wired exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. Visit msichicago.org for more information.

SPECIAL THANKS TO JENNY AMES FROM COLDWELL BANKER, and active MEMBER OF THE GREEN COMMUNITY, FOR REPRINTING PERMISSIONS

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