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Solar Decathlon Highlights

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From September 23rd to October 2nd, Washington D.C.'s monuments to presidential greats and civic leaders, museums of art and history, and houses of government were juxtaposed with houses of another breed: the green and technologically-advanced. Once every two years since 2002, teams of students from all across the United States (and now all across the globe) congregate on the National Mall in a Department of Energy-sponsored competition to design and build energy-efficient, solar-powered homes. This year, in the Solar Decathlon's 5th competition, 20 teams from five countries presented their designs, which ranged from SCI-Arc and Caltech's highly conceptual "outsulated" CHIP house, to Appalachian State's Solar Homestead influenced by vernacular typologies, to the University of Maryland's WaterShed whose micro-wetland helps reduce water pollution. I toured the homes this weekend and share a few of my favorite designs.

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  An aerial view of Potomac Park where the 2011 Solar Decathlon was held. Photo by: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.  Courtesy of: Stefano Paltera/US Dept. of Ener
    An aerial view of Potomac Park where the 2011 Solar Decathlon was held. Photo by: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

    Courtesy of: Stefano Paltera/US Dept. of Ener

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  Inspired by traditional Appalachian settlements, Solar Homestead by Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, won the People's Choice award and was my favorite design, too. Each element of the design, from the furniture, to the Trombe wall, to the bifacial solar panels, to the staggered stud construction were incredibly well thought out. But what set this design apart is its reproducibility factor: as high-tech as the design sounds nearly all of its materials are available at Lowes stores (the school's sponsor) and are accessible to builders all across the country.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    Inspired by traditional Appalachian settlements, Solar Homestead by Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, won the People's Choice award and was my favorite design, too. Each element of the design, from the furniture, to the Trombe wall, to the bifacial solar panels, to the staggered stud construction were incredibly well thought out. But what set this design apart is its reproducibility factor: as high-tech as the design sounds nearly all of its materials are available at Lowes stores (the school's sponsor) and are accessible to builders all across the country.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  Along the large porch/breezeway are bifacial solar panels (and a few Bertoia chairs). The panels collect direct sunlight from above and reflected light from below to increase the amount of energy created, which compensates for the flatness of the roof (not the optimal angle for typical solar panels). "One concern people have about solar panels is that they often look like an afterthought," says Davd Lee, one of the students who designed and built the home. Here they're integrated with the overall design and don't stick out like a sore thumb.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    Along the large porch/breezeway are bifacial solar panels (and a few Bertoia chairs). The panels collect direct sunlight from above and reflected light from below to increase the amount of energy created, which compensates for the flatness of the roof (not the optimal angle for typical solar panels). "One concern people have about solar panels is that they often look like an afterthought," says Davd Lee, one of the students who designed and built the home. Here they're integrated with the overall design and don't stick out like a sore thumb.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  The home consists of one main building and three outbuildings that can be configured in many different ways. This outbuilding clad in poplar bark is an office. The poplar bark shingles are maintenance-free for up to 80 years and are a Cradle to Cradle gold certified material.Photo by Diana Budds.
    The home consists of one main building and three outbuildings that can be configured in many different ways. This outbuilding clad in poplar bark is an office. The poplar bark shingles are maintenance-free for up to 80 years and are a Cradle to Cradle gold certified material.Photo by Diana Budds.
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  Here's the combined kitchen, living room, and dining room. The two wooden living room chairs in the foreground were designed by the students to be the same height as the dining chairs in the background. If extra seats are needed at the table, everyone would sit at the same level. A small detail, but an important one if you have limited room for extra furniture and often have guests.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    Here's the combined kitchen, living room, and dining room. The two wooden living room chairs in the foreground were designed by the students to be the same height as the dining chairs in the background. If extra seats are needed at the table, everyone would sit at the same level. A small detail, but an important one if you have limited room for extra furniture and often have guests.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  Here's one of the bedrooms. I really liked the soft quality of the recessed lighting (a Wrightian technique) and the LED-illuminated plastic wall.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    Here's one of the bedrooms. I really liked the soft quality of the recessed lighting (a Wrightian technique) and the LED-illuminated plastic wall.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  The University of Maryland took home the first place in the Decathlon with their WaterShed design that was inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The Chesapeake has long been fraught with water quality issues and this home attempts to quell future pollution by filtering wastewater produced by its inhabitants. I really liked the fact that the students thought of the home as a compete ecosystem and tackled local environmental issues. The exterior is finished in thermo-treated poplar; the double shed roof houses both a 9.2 kW solar array and a living roof.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    The University of Maryland took home the first place in the Decathlon with their WaterShed design that was inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The Chesapeake has long been fraught with water quality issues and this home attempts to quell future pollution by filtering wastewater produced by its inhabitants. I really liked the fact that the students thought of the home as a compete ecosystem and tackled local environmental issues. The exterior is finished in thermo-treated poplar; the double shed roof houses both a 9.2 kW solar array and a living roof.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  A solar thermal wall heats the Maryland home.
    A solar thermal wall heats the Maryland home.
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  Here's the bathroom. Water flows through the floor into a series of constructed wetlands that filer the water for future non-potable uses. The ceramic tile is by Emil America.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    Here's the bathroom. Water flows through the floor into a series of constructed wetlands that filer the water for future non-potable uses. The ceramic tile is by Emil America.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  Here's a model of the plants in the artificial marsh surrounding the home and the various states of water as it flows through system. I thought that the Maryland home had the most interesting and technically challenging use of landscaping. The plants were also quite beautiful.Photo by Diana Budds
    Here's a model of the plants in the artificial marsh surrounding the home and the various states of water as it flows through system. I thought that the Maryland home had the most interesting and technically challenging use of landscaping. The plants were also quite beautiful.Photo by Diana Budds
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  The interior spaces are finished with a combination of southern yellow pine and laminated veneered lumber, which helps reduce thermal loss and also allows for more space between structural supports. The durable flooring is the Bellagio line of engineered wood by the Oregon Lumber Company.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    The interior spaces are finished with a combination of southern yellow pine and laminated veneered lumber, which helps reduce thermal loss and also allows for more space between structural supports. The durable flooring is the Bellagio line of engineered wood by the Oregon Lumber Company.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  Here's the kitchen, one of the smallest in the Decathlon, but it's armed with the essentials: a sink, fly ash concrete countertop, induction cooktop, and cabinetry by Decor.Photo Courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    Here's the kitchen, one of the smallest in the Decathlon, but it's armed with the essentials: a sink, fly ash concrete countertop, induction cooktop, and cabinetry by Decor.Photo Courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  In our May issue, we profiled the OSU Knowlton School of Architecture and their entry to the Decathlon was one of my favorites, both inside and out. The home's living spaces are organized around a central core, hence the name of the project, the enCORE. The house is shielded by an attractive extruded polycarbonate rain screen that protects the home from the elements and increases the home's R-value, a measure of thermal resistance; the screens also hide the angled solar panels. The surrounding decking is made from TimberTech, a composite of vinyl and sawdust, which requires virtually zero maintenance after it's installed.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    In our May issue, we profiled the OSU Knowlton School of Architecture and their entry to the Decathlon was one of my favorites, both inside and out. The home's living spaces are organized around a central core, hence the name of the project, the enCORE. The house is shielded by an attractive extruded polycarbonate rain screen that protects the home from the elements and increases the home's R-value, a measure of thermal resistance; the screens also hide the angled solar panels. The surrounding decking is made from TimberTech, a composite of vinyl and sawdust, which requires virtually zero maintenance after it's installed.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  Here's a view of the multipurpose living space.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    Here's a view of the multipurpose living space.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  Here's a view of the kitchen—tiny, but it's equipped with all the convinces of a larger space. The appliances are by Bosch.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    Here's a view of the kitchen—tiny, but it's equipped with all the convinces of a larger space. The appliances are by Bosch.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  OSU's theme was family-friendliness. Here's the kids' room just off the living room/office. It's separated by a pocket door made from opaque polycarbonate. Like most of the furniture in the home, the bed was custom built by a Columbus-based company.Photo by Diana Budds
    OSU's theme was family-friendliness. Here's the kids' room just off the living room/office. It's separated by a pocket door made from opaque polycarbonate. Like most of the furniture in the home, the bed was custom built by a Columbus-based company.Photo by Diana Budds
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  Parsons, the Stevens Institute of Technology, and the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy partnered with Habitat for Humanity to design and build the Empowerhouse.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    Parsons, the Stevens Institute of Technology, and the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy partnered with Habitat for Humanity to design and build the Empowerhouse.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  After the Decathlon, the site net-zero, 1,000 square-foot home will be donated to a family in the Deanwood neighborhood of D.C., which is something I really appreciated about the design. It's great that the students' hard work will directly benefit a family. The family was at the house during the tour and they seemed to feel right at home.Photo by Diana Budds
    After the Decathlon, the site net-zero, 1,000 square-foot home will be donated to a family in the Deanwood neighborhood of D.C., which is something I really appreciated about the design. It's great that the students' hard work will directly benefit a family. The family was at the house during the tour and they seemed to feel right at home.Photo by Diana Budds
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  The home will eventually become a two-story duplex.
    The home will eventually become a two-story duplex.
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  The focus of this house was on energy preservation over energy creation and was built to strict Passive House standards. It boasts a 4.2 kW solar array, one of the smallest of all the designs entered into the Decathlon this year, which means a lower upfront cost to homebuyers since this technology is still quite costly.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    The focus of this house was on energy preservation over energy creation and was built to strict Passive House standards. It boasts a 4.2 kW solar array, one of the smallest of all the designs entered into the Decathlon this year, which means a lower upfront cost to homebuyers since this technology is still quite costly.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  Compared to an ordinary home, the Empowerhouse uses 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling and 40 percent less that typical high-efficiency homes. Cellulose insulation, which takes 16 times less energy to produce than fiberglass insulation and achieves a thermal resistance value of over R-40, and taped seams cut down on heat loss. Reflective surfaces, shown here in the kitchen, disperse light through the home also helping to reduce energy costs incurred from artificial lighting.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    Compared to an ordinary home, the Empowerhouse uses 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling and 40 percent less that typical high-efficiency homes. Cellulose insulation, which takes 16 times less energy to produce than fiberglass insulation and achieves a thermal resistance value of over R-40, and taped seams cut down on heat loss. Reflective surfaces, shown here in the kitchen, disperse light through the home also helping to reduce energy costs incurred from artificial lighting.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  SCI-Arc and Caltech teamed up to create this uber conceptual "outsulated" home called CHIP, which stands for "Compact Hyper-Insulated Prototype. Underneath the layer of white architectural-grade vinyl is 15 inches of batted denim insulation. By moving the insulation to the outside of the home, there's more space inside, said one of the student representatives. The planters in the foreground are irrigated by the home's graywater system.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    SCI-Arc and Caltech teamed up to create this uber conceptual "outsulated" home called CHIP, which stands for "Compact Hyper-Insulated Prototype. Underneath the layer of white architectural-grade vinyl is 15 inches of batted denim insulation. By moving the insulation to the outside of the home, there's more space inside, said one of the student representatives. The planters in the foreground are irrigated by the home's graywater system.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  The interior is designed for flexibility. The floor of one level becomes a table and the cabinets and shelves can be configured at will.  Courtesy of: ©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photography
    The interior is designed for flexibility. The floor of one level becomes a table and the cabinets and shelves can be configured at will.

    Courtesy of: ©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photography

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  The vinyl furniture is easy to move and neatly stows away in a wall shelf when not in use.  Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog
    The vinyl furniture is easy to move and neatly stows away in a wall shelf when not in use.

    Courtesy of: Foto©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photog

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  Here's the kitchen. The students also thought about keeping the house clean—a nice touch. The idea is that you can sweep everything into the area covered by the teak grate, lift the grate, and hose all the dust and dirt out.Photo courtesy of the DOE.  Courtesy of: ©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photography
    Here's the kitchen. The students also thought about keeping the house clean—a nice touch. The idea is that you can sweep everything into the area covered by the teak grate, lift the grate, and hose all the dust and dirt out.Photo courtesy of the DOE.

    Courtesy of: ©Jim Tetro/Jim Tetro Photography

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  A parting shot of the Parsons and Canadian designs with the good ol' Washington Monument in the background. We toured on a day with more drizzle than sizzle, but the ingenuity and enthusiasm of the students more than made up for the long queues and damp weather.Photo by Diana BuddsDon't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!
    A parting shot of the Parsons and Canadian designs with the good ol' Washington Monument in the background. We toured on a day with more drizzle than sizzle, but the ingenuity and enthusiasm of the students more than made up for the long queues and damp weather.Photo by Diana Budds

    Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

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