The Kentucky/Indiana "Phoenix House" is designed for quick assembly in disaster situations.

The "Team Capital DC" house, built for returning veterans.

The entry from Southern California Institute of Architecture/California Institute of Technology splits into two pieces, if needed.

The University of Nevada Las Vegas's entry.

2013-09-30

Co.Exist

5 Inspiring Solar-Powered Homes, Designed And Built By Students

One splits into two pieces to let the warm weather in. Another is designed to house veterans. All are a testament to the creativity that arises when young people brainstorm about sustainability.

The Solar Decathlon—the U.S. Department of Energy's biennial solar home-building jamboree—kicks off shortly in Irvine, California. We've covered a few of the 20 homes already, including entries from Stanford University and the Stevens Institute of Technology.

In this slide show, you can take a peak at the other schools' inspiring designs.

There's the "Phoenix", a home that can be quickly fabricated in the wake of a disaster, courtesy of the University of Louisville, Ball State University, and the University of Kentucky. One house from Team Capitol DC (Catholic University of America, George Washington University, and American University) is intended to help returning military veterans "adjust and flourish in a sustainable civilian community." And there's the building from Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology, which literally splits apart to let the outdoors inside the living room on warm days.

All the houses generate their power from solar panels, and meet criteria related to affordability, home entertainment, and other factors. The teams are currently heading to California, ahead of the contest launch on October 3. Find out more about them here.

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2 Comments

  • ben_marko

    I live in the desert, and one thing I noticed about all of these homes - none of them seem to use any trees close to the house to help passively cool it.  That is a great way to cool a house in the desert.  More than a few plant trees close to their homes here to  get that effect.  Cooler house = less $$$ spent on A/C.  Even Swamp cooler bills can add up.

    And why does everyone think that solar PV panels will save them lots of money?  These panels typically cost a lot of money to manufacture, and whether you are buying or leasing, the money you save on your electric bill will be obliterated by the bill you have to pay for the panels, inverter, etc.  Plus don't forget labor.

    All of the houses look like variations on a box.  It looks like a lot of schools don't incorporate a lot of very original design work into their programs, instead focusing on making interactive technology the goal.  Original design may fall by the wayside.  They all kind of look alike.

  • William

    Hi Ben, I'm one of the student who participated in the design of one of the competition houses.
    I would like to address your comments with some information not covered in the article. Each house was designed for the DOE competition. As such we were extremeley limited in our options due the standards, rules, and circumstances surrounding the competition. First was the location, the competition was held on an airstrip of a decomissioned air force base in the desert. We could not penetrate the ground for any reason other than to secure the house's foundation for earthquakes. We had limited water resources, each house could hold no more than 1500 gallons on their premises for use during the entirety of the competition. That water goes towards the contests of the competition as well some flora for each house. But to have a tree that provides worthwhile shade would have been too large and too tall (We had to ship all of our materials to the competition site. We also had a vertical limit of like 18 ft to build under) and would have required, most likely, too much water to keep it from dying in the desert climate. In short it just is not feasible given our circumstances within the competition. Outside of the competition however I beleive all if not most houses will be located nearby some beautiful, shade providing trees. Every house had plenty of plants, but the largest thing I remember seeing was a 10ft tall or so Cactus and or some big bushes.

    PV does save a person money. Please talk to a friend or colleague who owns their own PV installation, or just about anyone who deals in money regarding PV. I'm sure they'll agree that a PV installation is a smart home investment if you live in a sunny climate (so especially a desert). Payback is typically less than a decade for a system that should last upwards of 20+ years. Also, the competition is about Solar systems. So a PV system is kind of the point here. Trust me it is frustrating (its a rule, no energy can be produced by anything but solar power) since I wanted to install small wind turbines on my team's house. But rules are rules. No use in entering a competition just to be disqualified.

    Lastly, as I've mentioned, each house had to be shipped from their location to the competition. Without taking the house completely apart (which some teams did). A box is the easiest thing to ship and put back together. I was not an Architect (I'm a Mechanical Engineer) so I really can't speak on the design aspects of each house. IMO all the architectural teams like to keep up with whats desirable in the architecture industry, kind of like fashion, so I was not surprised how alike all the houses were. Being too avante garde is a high risk given that Architecture is one of the competition contests. If the design is crazy, you might win, or lose, thats a huge risk. Better to be conservative in design and place middle of the pack.