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House of the Future Is Here Today, Generates Twice the Energy It Uses

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Buildings can suck up a lot of energy. Etimates say that the nation's 114 million households and 4.7 million commercial buildings account for nearly 40 percent of total U.S. energy use, as well as 38 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

In order to slash our reliance on natural resources, it's increasingly clear that green buildings are one of the ways forward, and the Active House B10 is a great contender for a more sustainable future.

The Active House is so energy efficient, it can power electric cars as well as its neighbor. Photo Credit: Zooey Braun

According to its project description, the Active House generates twice the amount of energy it needs thanks to the photovoltaic panels on the roof, and does not produce any emissions.

The 970-square-foot house, completed last July, uses smart-grid technology and is so energy efficient it also powers a pair of electric cars as well as a building in the neighboring Weissenhof Museum.

Additionally, since it's a prefab, it only takes a single day to assemble it once it's on-site. It can be also reconstructed in a completely different location or be fully recycled, the designers say.

The extremely light-weight prefab can be assembled on-site in one day. Photo Credit: Zooey Braun

The Active House has a number of other sustainable design elements. As Dwell observed, the home's opaque walls and vacuum-insulated glass front creates a tight seal (which reduces the amount of air that leaks in and out of the home, cutting heating and cooling costs). The fold-up patio also creates another shield from the sun:

The Active House is also a smart home that uses a "self-learning building control system" via radio sensors in and out of the building. This means after a family lives in it for some time, the home will know how to adjust to the temperature preferences and power needs of the dwellers inside. For example, if it's hot outside, the home knows how to stop heating the home.

Appropriately, the conceptual home is located in Bruckmannweg 10 in Stuttgart, Germany, the site of the then-revolutionary Weissenhof Estate that was built in 1927 to showcase how people could live in the future. The former estate was partially destroyed after World War II and the land was unused until construction of the Active House kicked off in 2013.

The home is outfitted with pieces from modern furniture company Knoll. Photo Credit: Zooey Braun

The home's "self-learning building control system" can adjust to different temperatures based on the weather. Photo Credit: Zooey Braun

In the video below, Active House architect Dr. Werner Sobek talks about the necessity of sustainable building and sheds light on the future of construction.

"What we build must be fantastically beautiful, exciting, fun," Sobek said. But it also must "[minimize] the use of resources [and increase] recyclability and energy efficiency, or we won't solve the environmental or population explosion problem."

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California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.

The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.

On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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