Each home in this year's Solar Decathlon--the Department of Energy's biennial solar house-building extravaganza--has something unique. Stanford University's, for example, features "the Core"--an "engine" that contains most of the building's equipment in a single modular box. Stevens Institute of Technology's entry has a central management system that adjusts light, temperature and humidity automatically.
With Santa Clara University's "Radiant House", it's more about the bamboo. The building uses the flexible and fast-growing material for its inner structure, as well as its interior walls, floors, and ceilings. The student team behind the design says it's more sustainable than other types of wood, and has a decent strength-to-weight ratio.
Residents of the 980-square-foot Radiant House will be able to control its electric windows and lighting from a smartphone or tablet. There's a electric vehicle charging dock out front to demonstrate a fully solar lifestyle is possible. And on the roof, the students have installed a new type of solar panel mounting system that fits into the building structure, which saves weight, materials and space. The panels themselves generate enough power for the house--like all the entries, the building is energy self-sufficient.
"We wanted to make a house that was aesthetically-pleasing--a house that people wanted to live in--and show that to live a sustainable lifestyle you don't have to sacrifice extra stuff," says Brian Grau, one of the project leaders.
The competition begins in early October. The Santa Clara team is now moving the home, in pieces, to the competition site in Irvine, California. The 19 other teams come from far and wide, including Austria and the Czech Republic.
The Decathlon is made up 10 separate challenges, testing everything from the houses' ability to generate hot water (the Radiant has a separate heater) to its engineering. Grau hopes to do well in the architecture contest, pointing to the home's various curves and angles. He's less confident about affordability. The Radiant cost $340,000 to make--well above the $250,000 recommended limit--though the extra investment should benefit the team in other areas.