Sunday, October 11, 2009

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.

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