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Honda: Designing More Than Just Sustainable Cars

Street view of the Honda Smart Home

On the University of California's Davis campus sits a live-in model of the future of home design. Known as the Honda Smart Home, the building boasts more than just curbside appeal. Using passive house design, rooftop solar panels, a geothermal heating and cooling system, and greywater capture, the Honda Smart Home was awarded the Best Demonstration Home of 2014 by Green Builder Media.

But the 1,944-square-foot house offers more than just sustainable design. The home's real purpose is to encourage innovative technology and software design for better home efficiency. More importantly, it's a facility that can implement, monitor and provide the data necessary for researchers to move their idea from prototype to marketplace.

Highlights of the Honda Smart Home

DP6V0995It's easy to say the Honda Smart Home is greater than the sum of its parts. However, some attention should be given to specific components that emphasize what makes the Honda Smart Home unique.

Adaptive Circadian LED Lighting – LED lighting is already known for being more energy efficient than traditional compact fluorescents. In the Honda Smart Home these energy-saving lights are software controlled to follow our natural circadian rhythm. The home's lighting system is programmed with the daily times of the sun's rise and set. This allows the system to automatically adjust the lighting needs of the home, projecting warmer tones in the early morning, bluish tones in the afternoon and warm tones again in the evening. The result? Occupants find it easier to get up in the morning and fall asleep at night.

DP6V0998Adaptive LED Circadian Lighting – Nighttime Warm Tones

Passive design – The location and angle of the Honda Smart Home was also designed to take advantage of the natural heating properties of the sun. During the hot Californian summers, the south-facing windows are largely covered by external overhangs, keeping the house cool. Meanwhile, in the winter when the sun is lower in the sky, the sun's rays will reach into the home, heating it for free. You can see a time lapse video of the house's passive design here.

Sustainable construction – To build the Honda Smart Home, advanced framing techniques were used to increase energy performance of the home and to decrease overall lumber needs. All lumber used for construction was approved by the Forest Stewardship Council.

New concrete techniques were also applied for the construction of the foundation. A method called "concrete post-tensioning" reduced the amount of concrete needed by 25 percent compared to a traditional home. Furthermore, the foundation was then polished instead of covered with wood to create a seamless and sturdy main floor.

Water management – With the Honda Smart Home being located in California, water conservation was of utmost importance. Outside the home, a river rock swale was created to direct storm runoff from the roof into underground catchments. Mimicking a natural stream bed, the river rock swale will also double as a butterfly and bird habitat. Additionally, xeriscaping—use of plants which need little to no water—were used to decrease water usage.

DP6V4624Outdoor water management – River rock swale

Inside the home a greywater system was installed that diverts water from sinks, bath and shower drains through a series of filters and then into holding containers for later use. This water is mostly good for use on outdoor plants, making sure that any edible plant parts don't come in contact with greywater.

Releasing its first six-month report on water consumption, the Honda Smart Home and its occupants—a family of four—used 40 percent less water than best practices for new construction. The average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water a day. With the Honda Smart Home's water conservation strategies and the family's mindfulness, only 85 gallons a day were used.

A future to build and grow

Though the achievements of the Honda Smart Home are commendable in their own right one other detail really sets the project apart from other sustainable home models. The Honda Smart Home project has made all of the technical and architectural specifications for each aspect of the home available on its website. The reason for doing so is simple: so more people can implement and design sustainable homes on their own. With the home and outdoor landscaping being the greatest contributors to the waste stream—whether energy, water or building materials—the more homes that are designed that reduce waste the greater the environmental benefits in the long term.

DP6V0936Interior of the Honda Smart Home – Living Room

Communities are already embracing the sustainable living trend. The GROW Community of Bainbridge, Washington and River Falls Eco-Village in Wisconsin are both successful examples of the growing demand for better sustainable living options, but there's still a gap between sustainable living and traditional home design.

While it may be some time yet before we see sustainable home design as a mainstream option, the Honda Smart Home's designs and innovations will hopefully be at the forefront of this movement.

by Maggie O'Brien
image 1: Streetview of the Honda Smart Home; image 2:  Adaptive LED Circadian Lighting – Daytime Cool Tones; image 3: Adapative LED Circadian Lighting – Nighttime Warm Tones; image 4: Outdoor water management – River rock swale; image 5: Interior of the Honda Smart Home – Living Room. All images © American Honda Motor Company Inc.