Sunday, October 11, 2009

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.

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