Solar Decathlon: The Search for
The Best Carbon-Neutral House
20 August 2015
What’s the latest in well-designed, energy-efficient solar homes? The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has invited teams from colleges across the country to design and build solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The model houses designed by 15 collegiate teams will be on display and open for public tours this October
in Irvine, California, where the DOE’s seventh Solar Decathlon will be taking place. In addition to functioning as comfortable homes — each must produce plenty of hot water, for example, and have working appliances for cooking, cleaning, and entertaining — the houses must produce at least as much energy as they consume. This year's competition will, for the first time, also emphasize affordability. To earn the highest marks, each team is aiming to build a home that costs less than $250,000.
Below are renderings of some of this year's entries. These houses have been engineered to not only embrace energy efficiency and sustainable design, but also to meet the diverse needs of their future inhabitants, from food production to storm protection.
The Solar Decathlon team at Sacramento State University
aims to rethink the American starter home. They have designed an affordable, efficient, and modern house that incorporates traditional architectural elements such as a deck, porch, and gabled roof.
With a structure based on repurposed shipping containers, the home designed by the Missouri University of Science & Technology
team can expand as a family grows. Containers can be added or subtracted to accommodate up to two children and their parents.
Students at the Stevens Institute of Technology
are constructing a resilient house suited for the rising tides and strong storms inherent to coastal environments. The house sits on a bed of pilotis or piers, which raise it slightly above floodwaters, and the outer layers of the house create a waterproof shell.
Inspired by the need for secure emergency housing after a deadly tornado struck their state, students from Crowder College and Drury University
in Missouri are developing an emergency response home that can be delivered to disaster sites and assembled quickly.
The team from New York City College of Technology
is also working on emergency housing — their house is suited to a high-density urban environment. Stackable units are designed to quickly provide low-cost, single- and multifamily housing after disasters such as catastrophic storms.
The Yale Solar Decathlon
team is building a home that blurs the lines separating indoors from outdoors and public spaces from private areas. It features adaptable rooms and movable walls to improve ventilation and help transform the house into an open, social space.
The house designed by students at the University at Buffalo
in New York aims to grow most of the fresh produce its occupants will need. It features a glass-enclosed solarium that creates ideal growing conditions for plants and vegetables, while also passively heating the house in winter. Cloth shades on the roof and southern façades will help cool the home during summer.
Drawing inspiration from California's state flower, the drought-resistant and diurnal California poppy, this home designed by a team of college students from Orange County
opens during the day to let in light and increase living area. It then closes at night to maintain a comfortable temperature more efficiently. The house also has a rainwater collection system that stores water for use during earthquakes and other emergencies.
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Tribal people and ranchers join together to stop a project that would haul coal across their Montana land. Watch the video.
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An aerial view of why Europe’s per capita carbon emissions are less than 50 percent of those in the U.S. View the photos.
Ugandan scientists monitor the impact of climate change on one of Africa’s most diverse forests and its extraordinary wildlife. Learn more.
video series looks at the staggering amount of food wasted in the U.S. – a problem with major human and environmental costs. Watch the video.
video goes onto the front lines with Colorado firefighters confronting deadly blazes fueled by a hotter, drier climate. Watch the video.
A three-part series Tainted Harvest
looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup. Read the series.