Solar Decathlon: The future of efficient, solar powered housing

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The biennial Solar Decathlon is in full-swing this week.  Teams from the US and four other countries are competing in ten categories to determine who has constructed the most energy efficient, cost-effective, and attractive house.  While energy efficiency is important, teams also compete in categories such as affordability and market appeal to demonstrate that their ideas could be readily incorporated into the marketplace.  Some of these contests are based on measured results, while others are juried and more subjective.  For instance, to do well in the home entertainment category, teams must host 2 dinner parties and a movie night for their neighbors and are graded on everything from the ambiance to the quality of the meal!  Recipes are posted on each team’s page, with some including the number of kWh required to prepare the meal.  

The amount of time and thought that goes into each team’s house is apparent.  Each is designed for the region that the team hails from and addresses regional challenges, such as termites, water shortages, cold winters, or tornadoes.  Team Maryland’s WaterShed house is a prime example of this.  Due to their proximity to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, water conservation and stormwater management were issues that came to the forefront of the design process.  Their house features everything from a constructed wetland to a liquid desiccant waterfall that helps to reduce humidity.

The most exciting part of the Solar Decathlon is the opportunity to see new technologies in action and existing ones repurposed in innovative ways.  

Team Purdue’s INHome utilizes a biowall to filter the air of the house and is designed to be low maintenance.  Team New York and Team New Jersey use solar thermal to provide radiant heat to the home.  One of the more unique entries is SCI-Arc/Caltech’s CHIP house, which uses low-cost billboard material as an exterior “skin” that also holds insulation. 

If you happen to be in the Washington, DC area, the Solar Decathlon will run through October 2 and is taking place at the West Potomac Park area of the National Mall.