Net Zero x Twenty = Solar Decathlon
By J. Michael Welton / Published by Dwell
SolAbode by Team Alberta.

SolAbode by Team Alberta.

Cornell University's Silo House.

Cornell University's Silo House.

For the 2009 Solar Decathlon, the U.S. Department of Energy selected 20 college teams to compete in designing, building and operating the most attractive, energy-efficient, solar-powered, and net-zero energy homes.

Solar village entries compete in ten categories: architecture, engineering, graphics/communication, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, energy balance, lighting, marketing, and getting around.

“We’re expecting to sell energy back to that mini-grid on the Mall,” said Chris Werner, team leader for Cornell University. His team started designing its 800-square-foot home in 2008. They took design cues from grain silos outside Ithaca, New York, using three cylinders of Cor-Ten steel for a bedroom, a living room and a kitchen.

They mounted 40 GE solar panels, at 200 watts each, four feet above the roofline. Solar thermal provides hot water and heat; cooling is achieved with a reverse cycled chiller.  A 16-foot-long accordion-fold window, called a NanaWall, opens up the living room to an outdoor courtyard. “The house doubles in size when it’s open,” Werner explained.

Ciick here to check the various teams' progress. All entries are open October 9-13, and October 15-18, 2009.


Another view of Cornell University’s Silo House.

Another view of Cornell University’s Silo House.

To see our coverage of the Decathlon from years past, click here and here.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s BeauSoleil House.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s BeauSoleil House.


J. Michael Welton


Mike Welton writes about architecture, art and design. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Interior Design, Inform, Modern and Artworks. He also publishes an online design magazine at

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