The future of housing? It’s on fire.


future house with young man

The future of housing? It’s on fire.

By Halie Dalton

When you think about the future of housing, what comes to mind? Whatever you are picturing, chances are, Matthew Boys and his team have already thought of it – and taken it off the grid.

I recently sat down with intern-turned-full-time-employee and Virginia Tech alum, Matthew Boys. My goal was to learn as much as I could about his involvement with FutureHAUS, Virginia Tech’s fifteen-years-in-the-making research project that seeks to create the future of housing.

Why now? Matthew departs Nov. 1 for Dubai to compete in Solar Decathlon Middle East with his FutureHAUS team. During the decathlon, the team will compete in ten different contests, ranging from architectural design to functionality. Once they finish putting the house together, they will be asked to complete various tasks, such as running the washing machine or cooking a meal.

The catch, however, is that FutureHAUS’ energy consumption must remain net-positive. By relying on renewables and smart home features, the house will actually generate more energy than it consumes.

Having already won Solar Decathlon Europe in 2010 and being the only team from the United States to compete in Dubai, Virginia Tech’s FutureHAUS has a reputation to uphold. But Matthew makes it look easy.

Coming and going from one meeting to the next and having grown quite accustomed to interviews by this point, he walked in ready to talk business. I prefaced our interview by letting him know that this interview could be different than the others. It could be conversational, unpolished, maybe even a little bit fun.

While it was all those things, Matthew is a pro. His answers to my questions were complete, quote-worthy, and all-encompassing. I could tell that he eats, sleeps, breathes innovation and energy.

Already an engineering major at Virginia Tech, Matthew’s passion for energy ramped up the summer after his freshman year, when he had his first internship with Dominion Energy. He began working in Transmission for two summers, though eventually moved into Facilities Management - Capital Projects for his third and final summer. He remains in that group today as an associate facilities project manager.

He holds that his time with Dominion Energy has been invaluable to his involvement with FutureHAUS.

“There were so many steps along the way, and people gave me the chance. Without those first internships, I would have never joined FutureHAUS,” he emphasized.

Not only did this experience help Matthew grow, but it also enabled him to help the company look toward the future. As he became more involved with FutureHAUS, he knew Dominion Energy should be involved, too.

Acting quickly, he cold-emailed executives that he knew had close ties to Virginia Tech, including David Christian who was, at that time, the company’s first Chief Innovation Officer.

It wasn’t long before Matthew got a response. And it was a good one. Dominion Energy was definitely interested.

I asked Matthew, “How did it feel, receiving that email?”

He sort of paused and put his hand to his chest. “My heart started pumping, you know? I just started pacing around – just thinking,” he explained.

The email ignited Dominion Energy’s involvement in the project, and things started to gain momentum. The Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation took the opportunity to sponsor FutureHAUS, and Matthew was able to share the insights and resources he was gaining at work with his team back in Blacksburg, Va.

The company’s increased involvement wasn’t the only thing that had sparked, however. At the beginning of 2017, FutureHAUS burned down in a warehouse fire.

There was no hesitation from the faculty leadership of the team about what was to happen next. “We’ll make the best of it. We’ll make the FutureHAUS 2.0,” they said

smiling man in future homeHaving an incredible (yet undoubtedly chaotic) opportunity to use all of the data from FutureHAUS 1.0 to inform the construction of FutureHAUS 2.0, the team set out to improve upon every little thing. They had an opportunity to embrace change, and they seized it.

“Almost every single thing can be done better,” Matthew reiterated. “You never know what’s coming around the corner.”

And with that, construction began. Again.

Building a house from scratch that relies on renewables to actually produce more energy than it consumes is no small feat, but every little detail has been thought out by Matthew and his team, and done in a fraction of the time. He spent most of the interview telling me about the ways that the new house was constructed to ensure that it remains net-positive.

“It’s an absolute game of strategy,” he explained, and I could see his gears turning.

From using scanners and UV cleaners to purify and recycle the same shower water you use to bathe, to zoning the HVAC system to avoid unnecessarily cooling unused areas of the house, nothing is wasted in FutureHAUS.

He got out of his chair to demonstrate certain features of the house and spoke animatedly with his hands while emphasizing certain points throughout the entire interview. His belief and excitement around the project and the future of housing was tangible.

One point along the way he sat back, smiled, and took a deep breath. “I told you,” he said. “I could go through the house end to end. I could just go, go, go.”

It took a lot of people, resources and open-mindedness to get to this point, but Matthew is humble beyond belief. He was sure to acknowledge anyone who has laid a finger on the project.

“I’m just a small–,” he paused and reconsidered. “I’m just a person on the team.” This correction was perhaps the most braggadocios Matthew got about his involvement in the project.

“A lot of different people on this team have made it happen,” he said. “I’m just trying to help innovate the future of housing and make sure Dominion Energy isn’t left behind.”

 

Although it may seem as though FutureHAUS – and Matthew, himself – have lived many lifetimes, their time in Dubai is just beginning. Be sure to follow along on social media and check back on You magazine for updates as the decathlon progresses.

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