Informed Choices – Assessing Green Features

Want to know the effect of adding solar panels to your home before you buy? Soon, virtual reality will allow you − and builders or community planners − to explore the costs and benefits of energy-saving green building features before investing.

UNL engineers are creating computer-simulated environments to analyze costs, energy savings and social and environmental benefits of green technologies before replacing traditional building components or starting construction. Their goal: provide this decision-support software as a Web-based tool for researchers, students, architects, builders, planners and others interested in green building.

“The virtual community allows the user to make better informed decisions before our community is built in real life.”

They’re also developing real-life energy-efficient technologies that reuse energy and water at the site rather than sending the water to centralized treatment plants. A five-year, $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds these projects, conducted in partnership with the National Association of Home Builders.

Nationwide, water treatment infrastructure is deteriorating while demand for water is increasing. Additionally, buildings account for about 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption, so improving efficiency in homes, offices and centralized water treatment facilities has a major impact.

To reduce water and energy demands, the team is developing technology to recover energy and reuse drinking and wastewater in homes and communities. For example, researchers have designed a heat pump that taps the energy given off by hot water as it cools after use. "In the virtual environment, you can try out all kinds of these technologies first," said project leader Jonathan Shi, professor of construction management in the College of Engineering’s Charles W. Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction. "In real life, they would be very costly to do."

Community planners also will be able to use the virtual green world to test alternative technologies or even to create entire communities from scratch, mixing and matching to see how the technologies will work together.

"The virtual community allows the user to make better informed decisions before our community is built in real life," Shi said.

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Associated Web Content

UNL news release: DOE grant

Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction website


The 2009-2010 Annual Report is published by the
University of Nebraska−Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development. More information is available
at or contact:

Prem S. Paul
Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development
301 Canfield Administration Building
University of Nebraska−Lincoln
Lincoln, Nebraska 68588-0433
(402) 472-3123  •

Vicki Miller, Monica Norby, Ashley Washburn, Elizabeth Banset, Office of Research and Economic Development

Contributing Writers:
Gillian Klucas, Kim Hachiya, Cara Pesek
Some articles are based on earlier stories from University Communications and IANR News Service and written by Kelly Bartling, Troy Fedderson, Sara Gilliam, Sandi Alswager Karstens, Daniel R. Moser, Judy Nelson, Tom Simons,
Steve Smith, Carole Wilbeck

Joel Brehm, Brett Hampton, Craig Chandler,
Alan Jackson/Jackson Studios, Greg Nathan,
Bruce Thorson, Robert Cope, Laurence Smith
Historic photos, page 22, courtesy Joyce Clarke Turvey

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