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Get Green and Get Wired!

By Anthony Todd in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 12, 2008 4:30PM

Since May 8, thousands of visitors have been amazed by the style, innovation and comfort of the Museum of Science and Industry's Smart Home: Green and Wired. The Museum, in partnership with Wired Magazine and architect Michelle Kaufmann, built an entire house, complete with landscaping, on the lawn outside the Henry Crown Space Center. Visitors can tour the entire house (including the utilities spaces, the roof and the grounds) with a guide for a small additional fee. We had the opportunity to visit the Smart Home a few weeks ago, and our recommendation is simple: If you haven't been, go right now.

The exhibit was inspired by many famous "house of the future" exhibits of the past, including a prominent example during Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition in 1933. However, unlike those exhibits that have come before, this is not a house of the future. Every piece of technology and decor is available for purchase. Visitors to the exhibit receive a resource guide which reads like a very informative catalog, detailing everything in the house and who made it.

Why is the home "Smart?" The home isn't just environmentally friendly, but (thanks to the partnership with Wired) the home showcases the latest in technological innovation. Indeed, these two facets are connected throughout the house - for instance, a "Home Energy Dashboard" can be displayed on any TV in the house, helping residents to manage water, energy and heat consumption and view the power being generated by the home's solar panels (which, by the way, can work through 8 inches of snow!). Even better, this energy dashboard is accessible via the internet. Forget to turn off the lights? You can have the house send you an email and then shut them off remotely from your office.

The message we took from the Smart Home was that the most important factor in environmentally-friendly home-building was good design. The home has no drastic lifestyle changes built into it; you aren't huddled around each other for warmth or filtering your own drinking water from the rain. However, little touches abound. The house has balconies and exterior spaces all around, so that in the summer, the house seems much bigger. All the heating is built into the floors, because the heat will rise to fill the house much more efficiently than traditional forced air. Our favorite innovation is a series of small, empty ports at the base of every room. At first, we thought they might be central vacuum - but they're expansion ports. Rather than ripping out all the walls in 10 years to install new wiring technology, the conduits are already built in - just thread the wires through.

We can't rave enough about this exhibit, and we also can't begin to document all the cool things we saw. Everyone can get ideas from the home, even if there isn't a major remodeling in your future. Sadly, the exhibit (in its current form) will be closing on January 4. So, if you want to see this incredible example of Smart, Green design, get to MSI now.

Get more information, including pictures and a copy of the Resource guide, at the Smart Home Website. The tour of the green home costs $10 in addition to your admission ticket. Look for seasonal events - the home is being decorated for Christmas!