Daily Herald
Nuts and bolts of museum's Smart Home
By Deborah Donovan | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 5/8/2008 12:13 AM

With sleek contemporary lines, an open floor plan and a lot of glass, the house that sprouted on the grounds of the Museum of Science and Industry just begs for a visit.

And that's before it shows its hidden beauty: automated, ahhh-inspiring energy savers designed to make life easier.

You can program the house to turn off the lights and lower the shades when you leave for work in the morning, for example.

Special sensors let your plants phone you when they need water, and monitors let you track your energy use and take advantage of off-peak times.

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The Smart Home opening today at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is a factory-built two-story home in the park near the Henry Crown Space Center.

Expansive glass NanoWalls on three sides fold open accordion style to provide access to decks and a patio that connects the house with the garage -- which has more glass doors.

"It totally expands your sense of space and the house feels so much larger," said Michelle Kaufmann, the Oakland, Calif., architect who designed the 2,500-square-foot house.

She hopes the house will help visitors cut through the fog surrounding the green industry and gather ideas for living in an environmentally friendly way.

The home, open through Jan. 4th to celebrate the museum's 75th anniversary, also features technology such as computer automation and new solar collectors friendlier to Chicago's weather.

What will happen to the house at the end of its run? This has not been decided. Perhaps it will be like the House of Tomorrow and other homes featured at the Century of Progress World Fair, held when the museum opened. They were sold and several went by barge to the Indiana lakefront, where they still stand.

Here's what makes the Smart Home stand out.

What's 'green'

Recycled: Materials from recycled products are everywhere. The kitchen countertops are bamboo and wood fiber from construction sites. Tiles are made of glass from bottles of Chardonnay. Shards of old toilets are among the ingredients in the concrete sinks in the master bath.

Roof garden: The garage roof does not need extra reinforcing to hold plastic trays full of plants. The system costs about $25 per square foot. It helps insulate and captures and cleans rain water.

Gray water: Aqus is a tank under the bathroom sink that uses gravity and a small pump so waste water from the sink can flush the toilet.

Ceiling light fixtures: Artist Ted Harris put old light bulbs inside large glass balls and electrified them with very efficient and long-lasting light-emitting diode bulbs.

Fireplace: Not only does the ventless fireplace burn ethanol, but it's portable and you can move it around at will.

What's 'smart'

Automation: Web-based systems priced at $30,000 and up let you check on your kids via video camera, turn on the lights or change the thermostat setting from anywhere. Because much of the system is wireless, it's possible to retrofit older homes.

Climate control: Motorized window shades go down to block sun if the temperature in the house rises. A skylight senses when to open to let hot air out.

Solar film: This material works better in our often-cloudy climate than the more traditional photovoltaic panels. The UniSolar product produces electricity for the house, and any left over can be used in the main museum.

Monitoring: Systems help monitor the amount of energy used. Commonwealth Edison tells when energy demand will be lower and gives a way for homeowners to save money by using appliances like dishwashers and washing machines then.

Entertainment: Motorola's Follow Me TV allows you to digitally record a show on one TV, then watch it on another television in the home. It also allows you to record shows on your DVR from your phone or computer.

Smart Home: Green + Wired

Where: Museum of Science and Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago.

When: Through Jan. 4

Tickets: $23 for adults, $22 for seniors and $14 for children 3-11, including museum admission. Tickets have specified entry times. Parking is extra.

Information: www.msismarthome.org