New Norris House becomes a living lab

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - You could say it's a home ahead of its time.

UT students have designed and built a home that's not just energy efficient, it's affordable.

We're taking you on a tour of the New Norris House and shows us how it works to save you money.

The original Norris houses built in the 1930's, like this one, were extremely innovative because of TVA's Norris Dam Project. Now, 78 years later and right next door, the New Norris House is extremely efficient and sustainable for houses of our time.

"This house seeks to embody a lot of the same ideals that model community did back then," says Matt Lyle, the on site coordinator for the New Norris House project.

Built by UT architecture students, the New Norris House is a "living lab" testing energy efficiency, air quality and a rainwater purification system.

The students were given permission to use rainwater to wash clothes, flush toilets and for exterior hoses. Once the rainwater runs out, the system automatically switches over to city water.

"We've really tried to do everything that we can to keep this as green as we possibly can," says Lyle.

The roof and walls are heavily insulated, appliances are energy star rated and most everything is recycled.

The wood for the floors came from a barn in Kentucky and the counter tops are from old truck beds.

It's eco-friendly living perfect for Mary Leverance. She and her husband are the "lab rats."

"They want us to to continue to use energy the normal way that we do and then after a time they'll let us know, ok, here's where your usage is and here's what you could be doing to lower that a little bit more," says Leverance.

There are challenges, including downsizing.

"The refrigerator here is smaller, adjusting to that has been a bit of a challenge, but we're doing well with that," says Leverance.

And Leverance says they're happy with the result: lower energy bills.

"I hope it lets people know that it is possible to live with a smaller footprint and use less energy."

She and her husband will live here for the next 12 to 18 months while the team conducts its research, all in hopes of building more homes like this, in the future.

The project began as a design contest for students in 2009. They were awarded $75,000 from EPA.

Last year, Clayton Homes worked with the students to design and manufacture a pre-fabricated base of the house.

The home is LEED-platinum certified from the United states Green Building Council. It is the seventh LEED platinum home in Tennessee and the first LEED platinum project for UT.

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