Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Solar-Powered Homes You Want to Live In

Last night, News Hour had an excellent report on the Solar Decathlon, a yearly competition by colleges from around the Globe to build completely solar-powered homes on the National Mall in D.C. Suffice it to say, the homes were spectacular, innovative - and many can even be built at the same cost of a regular, highly-polluting house. Take, for example, the winner of the prize in Market Viability: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's home. The construction costs are similar to the market rate, but they're also modular homes that can be built quickly and shipped around the country.

All that said, it was innovation that makes the Solar Decathlon worthwhile. The University of Illinois, for example, developed a brilliant way to heat and cool the house - ceiling panels that sort of work like a refrigerator. Ever notice how the back of a refrigerator is hot, while the front (inside) is cool? That's a principal they ran with.

All that said, my favorite design element came from the University of Maryland's "LeafHouse." Here's just some of the cool things UM did with their home:
Team members are particularly proud of their smart—house system called SHAC (for Smart House Adaptive Control). Two undergraduate computer engineering majors built a sensor network to bring the comfort level of the home to the ideal. The network monitors humidity, temperature, light, and whether the doors are open or closed-it's a Web-enabled system that can even factor in weather forecasts.

The most innovative feature of the Maryland house may be the indoor waterfall—a liquid desiccant wall system that's used to control humidity. As far as the team knows, such a system has never been used for a home.

My favorite, though, was their garden wall. Outside of the house, there's plenty of room for a handy garden - not only on the ground, but on the walls of the outside. The water comes from the rain; all the water that hits the roof is caught and directed to an irrigation system for the garden. How's that for simple, but brilliant, innovation?


joe said...

UMass Dartmouth participates in the solar decathalon every year. When I was a freshman, they stuck me in a gen ed called "habitat for humanity and the solar home". It was pretty awesome.

Cynthia said...

A friend of mine from Clean Power Now runs this site - - and is now managing the organization, both of which are fascinating.

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