There has long been an argument that homes and buildings are reliant on 19th-century technologies. The result is that while home climate-control systems and features such has windows have improved over the years, homes and buildings are still inefficient.
One project that is trying to get ahead of the curve is the ReNEWW House, a partnership between Purdue University and Whirlpool Corp. The aim is to transform an existing home near campus into a green building research laboratory and sustainable living “showcase.”
Whirlpool says it is working with researchers at Purdue to develop next-generation appliances that will be more efficient, improve performance and mitigate their impact on the environment – which will benefit consumers in the long run as they will pay less to use and maintain them.
To learn more, TriplePundit spoke with Maureen Sertich, North America sustainability lead at Whirlpool.
TriplePundit: Who is working on this project, and what is the kind of feedback they've given after their experience?
Maureen Sertich: Since 2013, Whirlpool Corp. has been converting a 1920s home into a net-zero energy, water and waste home. And since its inauguration in April 2014, the ReNEWW House has [hosted] a total of five engineers and will welcome three new engineers for the 2016-2017 school year.
These three new Whirlpool Engineering Rotational Leadership Development (WERLD) engineers will be living in the house while pursuing their master’s degrees and continuing research work related to resource efficiency in the home. The engineers work on energy recovery and water systems design, along with monitoring data from the newly installed energy systems, including geothermal, solar electric and thermal systems, as well as new foam insulation infrastructure updates.
3p: What are some of the key learning points Whirlpool and its employees have learned from retrofitting this house?
MS: ReNEWW House is providing valuable insights for our homebuilder partners and customers on technologies that enable sustainable living. Our collaboration with Purdue researchers helps us to accelerate the development of the next generation of ultra-high-efficiency appliances that increase core performance, while lowering both their impact on the environment and cost to operate.
3p: How can homeowners address the challenges associated with moving into an older home like the ReNEWW House?
MS: Low energy efficiency is a common challenge across the board. Replacing older, inefficient appliances with Energy Star-certified offerings is a common and beneficial place for homeowners to start, in order to dramatically reduce home energy use.
Innovation at Whirlpool is focused on delivering these energy-efficient solutions to homeowners. On average, the refrigerators, washers, dishwashers and freezers we make today are more energy-efficient than the ones we made five years ago and 10 years ago.
3p: The fact is that appliances are way more efficient than even a decade or 15 years ago. Add the low cost of energy, and there are huge headwinds confronting this sector. How is Whirlpool viewing this niche?
MS: The majority of the environmental impact created by an appliance occurs during its in-home use, so continued innovation for energy-efficient appliances remains an important need that we are focused on at Whirlpool Corp. Energy-efficient and Energy Star-certified appliances can make a big difference in reducing energy impact – which can also translate to costs saving on home utility bills. Whirlpool has received 38 Energy Star Awards since 1998 for continued commitment to energy and water efficient products -- more than any other appliance manufacturer in the U.S. and Canada.
3p: The ReNEWW House website also works as an educational tool. Can you tell us more about that?
MS: The data we post to the website shares our progress in reducing the home’s energy output, and is an important part of sharing our learnings from the program. We also use the website to go beyond the story of our own progress, by linking visitors to additional resources for managing the energy output of their own homes.
3p: Any other outcomes you've learned from this project?
MS: In 2014, we unveiled the completed first phase of the project after it was retrofitted with the latest in energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies, including a geothermal heat pump, solar electric and thermal panels, triple paned windows, new insulated siding and metal roof, and spray foam insulation.
In summer of 2015, the focus was on achieving net-zero water. The work included a plumbing retrofit, the installation of 3,000 gallons of rainwater storage, installation of a rainwater and separate greywater treatment system. This is a project that allows Whirlpool Corp. to explore energy, water and waste efficiency within an active home environment.
3p: How is what you've learned with this house helping with the development of new products and services for your customers?
MS: We are proud to announce progress toward the goal of this project, which is to learn more about sustainable home systems and demonstrate how any home can become resource efficient with the right modifications.
At present, the home is capable of collecting over 100 channels of data every second, which serves both Whirlpool research and the research of our partners. As a continuation of these ongoing sustainability efforts, these results will also inform future product design throughout Whirlpool Corporation’s global portfolio.
3p: Could you summarize the benefits of the ReNEWW House project?
MS: The ReNEWW House is the first live-in, retrofitted net-zero energy, water and waste research home. We are committed to exploring new technologies and partnerships to address the large existing residential housing stock around the world. All of our partners play a critical role in helping us to accelerate the learnings from this project.
The ReNEWW House now has over 10 collaborators from various industries such as home building, plumbing and HVAC industries. And our successes have been shared with numerous home building, academic, architectural and designers around the U.S.
3p: Is Whirlpool considering more projects like this?
MS: We have recently joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s Sustainable Lifestyles group to facilitate more cross-industry collaboration and make the ReNEWW concept global.
Image credit: ReNEWW House
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can be found at The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.