Decathletes, Start Your Solar Panels

Decathletes, Start Your Solar Panels

On press day, the student teams were still finishing up the installation of their solar houses. (Courtesy Stefano Paltera/U.S. Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Yesterday was press day at the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C. The student teams were still scrambling to finish up their installations when Team Archpaper arrived on the scene, but we still managed to talk our way into a hand full of the 20 solar houses that will go head-to-head in open competition. As in past years, the students will be go about the work of every day living—doing laundry, washing dishes, cooking—and will be judged based upon the energy efficiency, as well as architecture, engineering, comfort, and marketability of their houses. While each of the entries evoked aspects of their respective regions, they fell to either side of a line that ran between off-the-shelf affordability and high-tech über-design.

Rice University's Zerow House. (Courtesy Stefano Paltera/U.S. Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Rice University’s Zerow House shot for bottom-budget affordability. The school has teamed with Project Row Houses, a non-profit that fixes up shotgun shacks in Houston, Texas’ 3rd Ward. The Zerow House will wind up there after the decathlon, where it will become the home of a low-income family. The team used off-the-shelf furniture from Ikea and The Container Store and all of the construction materials were selected to be widely available and easy to install by contractors. The house offered a great deal of privacy on the interior as most of the envelope is solid corrugated iron, but a light well let in plenty of daylight. A 4.2 KW solar array on the roof was paired with a solar hot water array.

Cornell University's Silo House. (Courtesy Stefano Paltera/U.S. Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Cornell University’s Silo House went further than any entry in subverting the elongated box aesthetic. Three distinct circular volumes of CorTen corrugated steel (the silos) wrap a deck that maximizes livable space. This entry went took opposite rout of Rice’s, as almost every aspect of the project, from the dish rack to the floating bed, was custom designed. The solar array, which shaded the house on a tube steel structure, is capable of generating 8 KW, more electricity that the house is expected to use.

Team Germany's Sur+ Home (Courtesy Stefano Paltera/U.S. Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon)

2007 winners Team Germany (Technishe Universität Darmstadt) turned in what will probably be judged the most technically advanced project, which comes as no huge surprise. The team combined standard polycrystaline solar arrays on the roof with building-integrated thin film solar panels that make up the exterior walls. This glassy black box is interspersed by panels treated with acrylics to add a bit of color. All of the windows were either outfitted with integrated shading systems or exterior louvers. Inside, the house is a single voluminous room with a lofted sleeping area that covers the bathroom.

Team California's Refract House (Courtesy Stefano Paltera/U.S. Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Team California (Santa Clara University, California College of the Arts) brings the outside in by breaking its volume into three boxes that wrap a central courtyard. In addition to the solar array, the roof captures rainwater, which feeds a garden and a pond.

The decathlon also features entries from Iowa State University, Penn State University, Virginia Tech, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Team Boston (Boston Architecture College, Tufts University), Team Ontario/BC (University of Waterloo, Ryerson University, Simon Fraser University), The Ohio State University, The University of Arizona, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Minnesota, University of Kentucky, Team Missouri (Missouri University of Science & Technology, University of Missouri), and Team Alberta (University of Calgary, SAIT Polytechnic, Alberta College of Art + Design, Mount Royal College).