Equinox House a home for net-zero energy and healthy living


Lyanne Alfaro

Professor Emeritus Ty Newell said it is a good sign that his wife, Deb, continues to reside in the Equinox House, a "test bed" for net-zero energy consumption and improved air quality living.

"It is a healthy, comfortable environment. My wife would leave the house for many reasons, but especially if she isn’t comfortable," Newell laughed.

"It took me a few years to research here, to study and learn and test and analyze, but it’s like all the stars have aligned now: the cost, the efficiency, the technologies, they are all here right now just waiting for people to figure out how to put the pieces together to this puzzle in an economically efficient manner."

Today, the home’s main source of power is the sun. And instead of using aquifers, the Equinox House relies on the rainwater collectors on the roof to accumulate water.

"We were the first house in Illinois to get that permission to use rainwater in a house," Newell said. "After almost three years of collecting rainwater, it’s never run dry, even with the drought last summer, and it works very well. We are restricted to use that for toilets at present, but that is half of the water consumption in a house."

Newell reported that the house has never had a utility bill except for a monthly customer service fee.

With the completion of the Equinox House, Newell also hoped to promote the importance of fresh air, a quality that many homes lacked in the past.

"Homes were just very leaky. Now that we are building more efficient homes, sealing them up better and better, we need to ensure that there is fresh air coming in," Newell said. "It impacts your health, your well-being."

To address the issue of stagnant air, the Equinox House uses a Conditioning Energy Recovery Ventilator (CERV), to consistently provide the home with fresh air, as well as moderate temperature and humidity levels. The CERV regularly monitors indoor air quality and checks the weather outside. If the system finds that the air quality inside the house needs improvement, it will deposit fresh air in living areas and rooms while removing exhaust air from"wetter" spaces in the house.

"Unlike opening a window, the air going into this is filtered, so you are not bringing in those asthma triggers, pollen and dust, and those other things that typically are difficult," Newell said.

Similarly, if the system finds that the temperature inside is higher than desirable, it will send fresh air through cooling coils and into the house. If the temperature is too cold inside, it will send fresh air through heating coils and into the living space.

"Instead of a simple heat exchanger, we use a heat pump to exchange energy from outside to the inside," Newell said. "The CERV’s conditioning box has a heat pump and the top half are the cooling coils and the bottom half are heating coils."

The Newells had wanted to live in a solar-energy powered house for 40 years. Newell and his son, Ben Newell (BSME ’02, MBA ’08), designed the Equinox House in 2009 and completed its construction in 2010. Even the tools used during construction were powered by the home’s solar PV system.