Sunday, October 11, 2009

Some beautiful photos of the Solar Decathlon from flickr

Click here and select slideshow.

Penn State’s nifty “Get Ready to Own” pages

Penn State has done something special with their contest entry in this year’s Solar Decathlon. I found it very helpful. They created part of their website so that customers, or the curious, can get a handle on what the “Natural Fusion” home would cost in various sizes, with different options.

Surely this will help them earn some extra points in COMMUNICATIONS but it also shows how their house design is adaptable and affordable, even when made larger. More interesting to me, is how it shows things like the difference in cost between new wood and reclaimed wood. (Reclaimed wood is more expensive.) It also gives a person a grip on the cost of many other green features.

Just from photos and video, the style of their home looks attractive and marketable, although I question the roof pitch for areas that get snow. A foot of snow would block the clerestory windows.

Solar Decathlon 2009 kicks off

Dig this bathroom from the solar house from Alberta, Canada. (Click photo to enlarge.)

The 2009 Solar Decathlon is off and running on the mall in front of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

Here are video tours for all the homes on one page.

For ten days, zero-energy houses from twenty different universities will be scored and monitored in ten different categories, competing for the prize of best solar house.

Held every two years, this is the fourth such competition, and to say it’s the best would be an understatement. The homes this year are more well thought out than ever, building on what schools learned from previous competitions as well as the latest technologies and advances in building and materials.

The houses are designed and built by student teams, each team comprised of dozens of students in different disciplines, which may include: architecture, engineering, solar energy specialties, materials sciences, design and business.

It would be easy to dismiss the marketability of some of the features found in some of these homes, because of price, or the level of technology used, but when you consider that each home is being built with the aim of producing all the energy necessary to run a home, and producing no pollution, it is a worthy goal. Some teams have focused on affordability and a home of right now, instead of a home of the future.

One student explains that their house is built to passive house standards, which means that even without the solar panels or any electronics, their house is nearly twice as energy efficient as the average house built today.

From the standpoint of exterior architectural appearance, I think the homes from Alberta (Canada) and Santa Clara, CA are probably the most attractive, but with the Rice U. ZeRow House costing only $80,000 (w/solar system, but one that is much reduced from the one they use for the competition), sticks in my mind as being very well designed for that price. For city dwellers, the “light core” or indentation of windows on three sides of the ZeRow House, would offer light and a view on a private space. The house can be expanded with the use of modules.

The Alberta home, with a roof deck, and timber framing and stonework inside , is targeted at the upper end of the green market, costing well over half a million.

If you follow the competition, keep in mind some scores are ongoing, systems that are being monitored. This competition always comes down to the wire, with places changing as the very last category is scored.

I like the interiors of all the homes this year. I was watching a video of a student, Allison Kopf, of the California team, address her fellow students and audience gathered for the opening ceremonies, and she said that their goal is to "make every house under the sun, be powered by the sun." I hope all young people take up that challenge.

HERE is a link to time-lapse photos where you can check out the weather and see the houses on the mall. By clicking on the heading, you can go to a site that allows you to make the photograph a full page, and zoom in, or view snaps from an earlier period.

Rice University's Affordable ZeRow House

Photo by Eric Hester

Click HERE for a video tour of Zerow house

Click HERE for another Zerow house tour video

Click HERE to see icynene insulation blown in

An entrant in this year’s U.S. Dept. of Energy’s SOLAR DECATHLON, (Oct. 9 - 18, Wash. D.C.), the team from Rice U. has built an affordable home; a modern zero-energy adaptation of the traditional row house. Check it out HERE, as well as clicking on the left column to see other entrants.

This competition among 20 universities (architecture and engineering departments) is known more for its cutting-edge technology than for affordability, so it would be something if one of these homes could actually go into production. The one designed by Rice U. for the contest is being given to a low income family.

$145,000 ($80,000 with a reduced set of solar panels) for a tiny 520 sq. ft. home may not seem affordable to most of us, but when you consider that the home is zero energy, it is quite an accomplishment.

Some of the homes in the competition would retail for over half a million, particularly the home from Germany, which will probably win again, for its technological innovation, energy production capacity, and adaptive features. There are several other interesting contenders, including the house from Spain, which features a whole-roof array shaped like an inverted pyramid, that tracks the sun's passage like a sunflower.

Zero energy, or "net-zero" means that 100% of the energy needs of the house -- including heating/cooling, lighting, clothes washing/drying, hot water, cooking, and refrigeration -- are supplied by the solar panels. Most of these houses produce not only net-zero but excess energy, which can be used to charge an electric car.

Homes in this competition range from 500 to 800 sq. ft., for their transportability only. Some are designed with expansion in mind. They are more pre-fab or modular than manufactured, but there is a zero-energy movement which could eventually trickle down to manufactured homes.

Just as conventional builders as well as builders of manufactured homes, are showing a marked increase in producing homes with some green features, it is possible that in twenty years, most new homes will be net-zero energy homes.

I like most of the designs in the competition, particularly the way they have to maximize efficient use of interior space, and energy, of course.

Clayton was cutting edge in its own way, for including something like water catchment in their first green home, the i-house, and it’ll take manufacturers a while to get to zero-energy homes, although there are builders that are doing them across the country as a niche market.

Of course, the i-house could be made zero-energy too, just by buying an expensive array of solar collectors for the yard.
However, the houses in the Solar Decathlon achieve zero-energy through the roof-top solar panels (often side panels as well), super-efficiency, very low energy appliances and lighting (LED), and are sometimes designed for a specific climate.

And for a more elaborate and expensive entry, here's a cool video of Virginia Tech's Lumenhaus.

Another video about the Lumenhaus. I like what these people have to say about designing for space efficiency.

Cornell's entry looks like pieces of a silo. It is for sale, for $200,000. (It cost $725,000 to build.)

The students of Ohio State University explain the many aspects of their house HERE. I like their use of reclaimed barn wood for the exterior. Also, in the last video, there's a good explanation of solar panels. Several of the schools are using the latest panels which also use reflected light from the back side of the panel.

HERE is the main page for the Solar Decathlon. As the competition wraps up, there will be even more videos of the houses available.