When deciding what exhibit to present to the public in honor of the 75th anniversary of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, Anne Rashford, director of events and special programs, looked no further than the museum's own history. Back then, the most popular exhibit was the "Homes of Tomorrow." The museum is known for creating large, real artifacts, so it only made sense to continue the tradition and build a new home of the future--the "Smart Home: Green + Wired" house--in the museum's courtyard.

The 2,500-square-foot Smart Home is the first of architect Michelle Kaufmann's mkSolaire modular design. Created for green urban living, mkSolaire boasts an open, loft-like feel, according to Kaufmann's Web site, with strategically placed windows that overcome row-house challenges by allowing light and air into the center. A few additions were made to the original mkSolaire, including a sprinkler system and extensions on the mechanical room and decks, Rashford says.

The three-story, two-bathroom unit features a green roof, large windows, sliding doors, and sun shades to help light, heat, and cool the house. Six decks, six outside areas, and a home office are also part of the exhibit.

The house would cost between $450,000 and $500,000 to build, not including the land or furnishings, according to Rashford.

But the savings are undeniable: Energy costs run $837 per year for heat; $125 per year for cooling, and $1,977 for all energy consumed. This compares with $2,021 per year for heat and $3,230 for all energy use for an average bungalow, according to the exhibit resource guide, a savings of $1,253 for all energy consumption in the Smart Home.

Part of the savings comes from photovoltaic (PV) film on the roof. The Uni-Solar PV film is 15% to 20% more efficient than traditional solar panels, according to the resource guide. The film comes in thin strips that are rolled out on the roof, allowing for easy installation in five hours, Rashford says. Extra energy the house produces is used elsewhere in the museum, and a plasma TV in the home displays the energy being used at any given time.

The home was built in modules off site, a process that maintains a controlled environment and leads to less waste and increased efficiency.

Recycled or readily renewable materials were used throughout, including bamboo flooring, FSC-certified wood, and recycled glass tiles. It also features LED light fixtures, no-VOC paint, fiber-cement siding, biocomposite countertops, an Energy Star-rated dishwasher and refrigerator, air filtration, and spray-foam insulation. Low-flow showerheads and toilets save water; a greywater system recycles wastewater for use in toilets and irrigation.

In addition to green elements, the Smart Home showcases the latest in technology, including a home automation system and a digital music server. Technology and efficiency work in concert through features such as digital sensors that detect when house plants need water and an energy dashboard that lets homeowners monitor and adjust consumption. 

"When [builders, remodelers, and architects] come to see the exhibit they see the people interested and see there is a need for this," Rashford says. "They see this is how people want to live. If they come here they learn about new products, but the curiosity of the people on these tours and their knowledge level will help educate [pros] on the marketplace."

The exhibit runs through Jan. 4, 2009.