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Science House

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Science House at the Science Museum of Minnesota
(Science House)

This photo shows the building's south elevation.
Photo credit: George Heinrich


  • Location: St. Paul, MN, United States
  • Building type(s): Interpretive Center
  • New construction
  • 1,530 ft2 (142 m2)
  • Project scope: a single building
  • Urban setting
  • Completed June 2003
    Science House became operational on June 24, 2003. The building went into use when the Big Back Yard opened to the public on June 26, 2004.
  • Rating: Zero Energy Building

Science House serves as a public environmental experiment facility, classroom, and special event space for the Science Museum of Minnesota's outdoor science park, the Big Back Yard. Science House was designed to be a zero-energy building: that is, the building generates, through its 8.8-kilowatt photovoltaic system, more energy than it consumes on an annual basis.

Zero Energy Building

Science House requires very little energy because of its design. Additionally, because it is an all electric building, it generates all of its needed energy on-site with a rooftop photovoltaic (PV) system that produces roughly 30% more energy than the building consumes. So, this building qualifies as a net zero-energy building (ZEB). Specifically, Science House is a:

  • Site ZEB: Building produces at least as much energy as it uses in a year, when accounted for at the site. Science House is an all electric building that produces all energy on-site using PV.
  • Source ZEB: Building produces at least as much energy as it uses in a year, when accounted for at the source. Because Science House is an all electric site ZEB it also qualifies as a source ZEB.
  • Emissions ZEB: Building produces at least as much emissions-free renewable energy as it uses from emission-producing energy sources annually. Science House offsets any emissions for which it is responsible through its PV system which produces electricity with zero emissions.

Environmental Aspects

Science House, designed as a zero-energy building, is continuously monitored to publicly demonstrate that it produces more energy than uses annually. Energy modeling was used to refine design decisions to create a building that is 60% more energy efficient than required by code, and building-integrated photovoltaics are used to make the facility a net producer of energy. Key energy-efficiency strategies include: daylighting to minimize electrical lighting loads; ground-source heat pumps to heat and cool the building and to supply its hot water needs; passive solar design to minimize loads on the heat pumps; multi-modal natural ventilation; and continuous computer monitoring and control of mechanical systems to enhance indoor air quality while reducing energy consumption.

Science House was built on reclaimed land over unstable landfill on the banks of the Mississippi River. All stormwater is retained on site, and native species and permaculture landscaping retain and enhance the infiltration of runoff.

A high percentage of recycled-content materials were used inside and out. All wood used in the project was certified according to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards. Construction waste was reused or recycled when possible, and a recycling program was implemented for day-to-day operations.

Owner & Occupancy

  • Owned and occupied by Science Museum of Minnesota, Corporation, nonprofit
  • Typically occupied by 2 people, 14 hours per person per week; and 795 visitors per week, 0.12 hours per visitor per week

The building is typically staffed by two museum personnel per four-hour shift with two shifts per day, seven days a week. Visitors usually spend about ten minutes each in the building, translating to approximately 132.5 total hours of visitor occupancy each week. In addition, the building is open for special events on an as-needed basis throughout the year (averaging eight hours per week).

Building Programs

Indoor Spaces:

Classroom (60%), Laboratory (20%), Office (10%), Restrooms (10%)

Outdoor Spaces:

Other (30%), Golf course (25%), Wildlife habitat (12%), Garden—decorative (10%), Pedestrian/non-motorized vehicle path (10%), Patio/hardscape (8%), Interpretive landscape (4%), Garden—productive (1%)


Integrated team, Design charrette, Green framework, Simulation, Green specifications, Contracting, Commissioning, Performance measurement and verification, Transportation benefits, Brownfield redevelopment, Open space preservation, Wildlife habitat, Indigenous vegetation, Stormwater management, Efficient irrigation, Massing and orientation, Insulation levels, Glazing, Passive solar, HVAC, Lighting control and daylight harvesting, Efficient lighting, On-site renewable electricity, Benign materials, Recycled materials, Local materials, Certified wood, C&D waste management, Occupant recycling, Connection to outdoors, Daylighting, Natural ventilation, Ventilation effectiveness

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