Higher Education, Manufacturing, and Sustainability

Whirlpool partners with university to convert 1920s home into living lab

May 29, 2014
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Whirlpool partners with university to convert 1920s home into living laboratory
Purdue University doctoral student Stephen Caskey, left, works with professor Eckhard Groll to convert a home near campus to the most efficient domicile possible — a net-zero energy structure. Photo by Mark Simons, Purdue University

Whirlpool is embarking on a three-year partnership with a university to convert an energy inefficient 1920s bungalow into a living laboratory focused on maximizing energy efficiency.

Engineers from Benton Harbor-based Whirlpool are working with Purdue University to transform the off-campus house in West Lafayette, Ind. into a net-zero energy, water and waste structure.

Net-zero home

“Net-zero energy means that over a certain timeline, usually an entire year, energy production equals energy consumption. It's going to be a super-efficient home,” said Eckhard Groll, project sponsor, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Office of Professional Practice, Purdue University.

Over the next three years, Whirlpool engineers that participate in the Whirlpool Engineering Rotational Leadership Development Program and are enrolled in the graduate engineering program at Purdue University will have the option to live and work in the house, which Whirlpool is leasing from the university.

After the initial collection of baseline data, such as how much energy and water the home consumes, the students will work on converting the house into a net-zero home, according to Groll.

Energy-efficient features

Called the ReNEWW house — which stands for retrofitted net-zero energy, water and waste — the structure will be renovated to include energy-saving features, solar panels, a "gray" water system that reuses water from sinks and showers and other technologies that promote resource efficiency.

Improvements will include replacing windows, insulating and air sealing the building envelope, installing a solar power system and a very efficient HVAC system.

Plans for the home also call for converting the large basement into a laboratory environment.

Product design

Engineers will install an instrumentation system that monitors key data and employ the lab and data collected to help develop a next generation, high-efficiency appliance suite in conjunction with Purdue University.

"The goal of this project is not only to learn more about resource sustainability, but also to demonstrate how any home can become resource efficient when the right kind of modifications are made," said Bob Bergeth, general manager of builder sales, Whirlpool.

Bergeth said the data collected would be shared with the company’s homebuilder partners who are interested in the benefits of sustainable building.

“The project will also provide valuable insights which inform our engineers on future product design,” Bergeth said.

Dated homes

Whirlpool sees a growing need in the residential market for energy-efficiency improvements.

The majority of the nation's housing stock was built before the first energy crisis and with little regard for resource efficiency, said Ron Voglewede, global sustainability lead, Whirlpool.

"We want to focus on ways to dramatically improve the existing residential stock in the United States, which is why the project research will stress integrated appliance design that seamlessly increases resource efficiency," Voglewede said. "By creating products that perform better while significantly lowering operating costs and environmental impacts, we're able to give consumers more choice, not compromises."

Habitat for Humanity

Whirlpool has a history of supporting residential energy-efficiency projects. The company recently renewed its partnership with Habitat for Humanity and will donate more than $5 million in products this year, providing a range and refrigerator in every new Habitat home built in the United States and Canada.

During its 14-year partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Whirlpool has developed active programs in more than 45 countries with a commitment of more than $84.5 million.

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