The Autonomous House designed and constructed by Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) engineers is considered the first of its kind in the region. It follows sustainability standards, protects the environment. Using the latest smart technologies, the house ensures quality of life, top-notch comfort and healthy living conditions. It is definitely the dream house of all, which has come true at MBRSC in Al Khawaneej, Dubai.
Following studies and experiments on cutting-edge technologies in terms of design, engineering techniques, ecology and sustainability standards and local climatic conditions, the house represents a model for the real-estate development sector in local, regional and international markets. It is a remarkable scientific achievement and a modern architectural gem that is smart and sustainable. The house also allows for energy savings of up to 85% compared with typical houses. It was built in a record time of less than 100 days.
MBRSC has made it possible for all concerned groups, specialists and those interested to consider the concept of the Passive House, especially in the Gulf region where the climate is very hot and humid. It shall be noticed, that this house is the VERY FIRST CERTIFIED Passive House in such a climate by the German Passive House Institute.
About the House
The house is designed in a way that respects the natural and local environment. This energy plus building operates cooling and lighting systems and home electronics using renewable energy sources, efficiently transforming solar power captured by solar panels into electricity.
The house employs the latest technologies, super smart sensors and an air conditioning system based on chilled water. It also maintains clean air, stable temperature and humidity levels all day long throughout the year. This is achieved through the use of thermal and air insulation techniques, which constitute an integrated system that offers moderate indoor temperatures.
Engineering Design Features
Innovative insulation techniques
An External Thermal Insulating Composite Systems was built around the house to ensure good insulation, using processed types of wood and other insulation materials that are resistant to water, moisture and fire, all of which are certified.
An integrated and all-new insulation system is used in the roof, walls and so on. It uses highly-efficient non-conductive materials in window frames, e.g. Low-E triple pane glazing with warm edge spacers. These materials were chosen based following detailed study of their properties through simulation testing.
This insulation system reduces energy losses. In addition, air leakages through the thermal envelope are avoided in both directions; hot air from the outside in and cold from the inside out. By so doing, it reduces the cooling load and saves more energy. Several “Blower Door Testing” where carried out to verify the airtightness of the building.
The use of power-hungry conventional air-conditioning devices was ruled out from the beginning. The house instead uses a smart cooling system that combines a floor cooling radiant system and a moisture controlling energy recovery mechanical ventilation system (HRV), which is connected to the house’s own solar-powered autonomous electricity grid. This gives a top-notch comfort, avoids typical condensation phenomena in this region as well as permits to let the air circulate at a very low – practically imperceptible – speed.
Electricity generated by solar panels is used in operating the heat pump, which cools the water to be used in the cooling systems. Then, the water is pumped into 3 directions; first, through pipes in the house floor to cool it, second, to the fan coils to cool the air inside the house, and third to the mechanical ventilation system to cool and dehumidify incoming outside air.
General Health Standards
Unlike the conventional air conditioning systems, this smart cooling system controls indoor temperature, humidity level and air quality to provide a high level of comfort and reduce the dust and germs likely to cause asthma, as the filters of HRV purifies air 24/7. In addition, the continuous supply of outside air and the equal extraction of stale air allows for pollutants and C02 level to remain as low as to guarantee optimal indoor air quality (IAQ).
This house ensures optimal temperature and humidity levels, where the standard temperature and humidity are kept within the desired range 24 hours a day all year round, providing residents a maximum level of comfort, going way beyond the usual setpoints used in UAE dwellings.
Efficiently Operating Electrical Devices
Generated energy is used to operate all home appliances - refrigerators, washing machines, TVs, computers - needed in any big modern family house in the UAE. This house is designed to meet all requirements and provide all amenities needed by any Emirati family. It can also store excess energy to be fed back into the central electrical power grid later on according to future plans (so called “net-metering”).
Smart Technologies and Remote Sensing
Using certified smart technologies, sensors and remote sensing light fittings, the house ensures low energy consumption and appropriate lighting that is not overly bright and does not cause eye strain.
Smart technologies maintain indoor temperature by controlling shading devices (such as venetian blinds) and increasing or decreasing water temperature. When sunlight falls near a window, sensors detect it and the shading devices are automatically drawn in that spot with the required angle to avoid any variations in temperatures. Also, certified programs were used to maintain stable temperature and humidity levels at all times to offer residents physical comfort.
Furthermore, there is a smart alarm system to alert residents of the need to close entrances and windows to maintain a moderate indoor temperature and humidity level.
The Concept and Scientific Definition of the Passive House
In its traditional sense, the passive house is an energy-efficient home that ensures thermal comfort without the use of any of the conventional cooling systems used in the UAE. It is provided with effective insulation materials and a standard well-designed ventilation system. Like European passive houses, it does not need much power for cooling or heating. It also generates electrical power from sunlight. The house prevents heat losses; therefore it does not need much energy for the heating typically required during severe winter periods in Europe.
Challenges of the Hot and Humid Climate in the UAE
The challenge faced by MBRSC's engineers was how to apply the Passive House concept in very hot and humid conditions. After much thought they adapted the theory to the demands of the region and managed to reduce energy consumption typically found in regular homes in the UAE, replacing conventional air conditioning devices with insulation techniques and a dry cooling system that cools air by cold water using sustainable and renewable eco-friendly sources of energy. Ultimately, they were able to construct the first off-grid house to function fully in a very hot and humid climate.
Protecting the environment and using sustainability standards
Through this project, MBRSC’s aim has been to find science-based efficient solutions in the field of alternative and renewable energy sources, to reduce energy consumption in the UAE. This house is a scientific contribution from the space center in line with the UAE strategy aiming to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels by 2050.
MBRSC is offering all the technologies used in this house for the benefit of the scientific community and government and private entities across the UAE. If this model is widely applied, it will contribute to the protection of Earth by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, as it will transform the real estate sector from one using conventional energy sources to one using environmentally friendly renewable sources of energy.
Global knowledge-based partnerships
MBRSC enginners collected the findings of the latest sustainable architectural techniques and built knowledge and scientific-based partnerships with international academic entities such as the "University of Bergamo", consultancy firm "Casetta&Partners", the construction company "Wolf Haus” and the "Passive House Institute" to take advantage of their experiences and knowledge in the fields of engineering, sustainable energy and advanced technology.
The aim was to design, develop and build a house that generates its own electricity from solar energy and be self-sufficient and completely independent of the electricity grid, and is able to adapt to the hot and humid climate challenges.
The engineering solutions included the development of an innovative isolation technology that will surround the house and prevent air and heat loss from outside to inside and vice versa. Moreover, anti-termite treated timber platform frame system was used in construction while completely avoiding the use of heat-conductive material in the windows, walls and floors. The air conditioner has been replaced with a cooling recover mechanical ventilation system, based on pure air and cooling using cooled water, as well as using a cool exchanger that transfers the “cool” of the extracted air for the rooms to the purified inlet air. Moreover, temperature is controlled around the clock, and the air is purified and filtered to eliminate germs and dust, ensuring the highest levels of public health.
The UAE Future Home, built by MBRSC, received a certificate of accreditation from Passive House institute in Germany, being the first of its kind in hot and humid climates countries, after the Institute's experts assessed with site inspections and a double verification the performance of the house in terms of energy consumption and sustainability criteria.