This past weekend the public was invited to see the full-sized solar houses built by university students next to RTD’s 61st and Peña Station, as part of the 2017 Solar Decathlon, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy. There will be tours again this coming weekend, from Thursday October 12 through Sunday October 15. Stop by between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Receive a guided tour by a docent or poke around the homes and receive tours from the students who built them, asking as many questions as you might have. Part of the purpose of the competition is to provide the public with insight into the innovative techniques that are possible for renewable energy in our homes. These student teams have worked tirelessly for a few years to build these homes, and the efforts can be easily seen just by strolling through the central corridor of the mini pop-up solar city.
The best way to experience these homes are by taking the tour yourself, but in case you can’t find time to go, 303 Magazine took photos inside and outside each house to show you just how remarkable this competition is.
University of Alabama, Birmingham
The Indestructible Home
University of Alabama, Birmingham created a Surviv(AL) house, a timely and appropriate creation in the face of the torrent of tropical storms and hurricanes hitting the southern coast. Their entire concept centered on making a home that is safe and nearly indestructible (tested by shooting two-by-fours at the walls with high speed) because some of the team members were devastated by tornadoes in 2011. Inside the home, there is a safe room with a water filtration device, capable of filtering 10,000 gallons of water, a crucial tool in times of emergency. Even though their main goal was safety, the team also focused on creating a home that would be suitable for the Alabama heat, with vaulted ceilings and an evaporative cooler robot that you can move around with you so that you are only cooling the areas you are in, rather than the entire house. They also wanted to integrate pieces of southern culture, such as the large front patio with chairs to relax and chat in, as well as making it affordable for their target audience. The projected price of this home is $200,000, though they admitted it could be made cheaper with slightly more run-of-the-mill appliances.
University of California, Davis
Drought Resistant Home
University of California—Davis team was inspired by the ongoing drought crisis in their home state. With that in mind, they created the H2Ouse, with the goal of making water conservation a way of life and not just a temporary practice. Some of the designs they implemented in the house have never been done before— like the gauges which display your water usage, and even break it down to what you’re using the most water with. There’s a “smart mirror” in the bathroom, like something out of a sci-fi movie, where little graphs easily represent where the water is going in the house. Another aspect of their drought-resistant home is that they sourced certain materials—namely, the beetle kill and other trees— which helped drought-stricken areas by removing fuel for the fire. Students in the UC Davis team built the furniture in the home, designed to be used in multiple ways, like stools that can be made into tables.
Living Oasis Home
Missouri University of Science and Technology coined their house SILO, meaning Smart Innovative Living Oasis. Their goal was to make a “transition house”— keeping modern comforts while maintaining sustainability. They were the first ones in the competition to use batteries and solar panels that are not yet on the market, though the spokespeople for the team said they would eventually be available for purchase. SILO looks like a regular house, albeit with more natural light. Meant to be a four-season home, it will be transported back to Missouri and re-constructed on campus, next to the two previous homes Missouri S&T teams have created for previous Solar Decathlon competitions. This mini solar village they are creating is used for student housing and research.
University of Las Vegas
Self Heating and Cooling Home
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas team held a focus group with AARP members in Las Vegas to determine what “empty nesters” would want in a sustainable home. The result is Sinatra Living, a beautiful and classy home that has features such as slip-resistant flooring and fall detection sensors to keep the occupants safe and comfortable without taking away any aesthetics. Designed for Las Vegas, the home has a remarkable passive air circulation, complete with a bathroom door that allows air through even when it’s closed so that traditional air conditioning becomes a thing of the past. It also provides radiant floor heating for the colder months, activated by indoor and outdoor temperature and humidity sensors. The open space of the living room, dining room and kitchen encourage social living and allow for easy movement, while the exterior provides ample shade and seating areas. The home will return to Las Vegas after the competition and reside next to the 2013 Solar Decathlon house in the Las Vegas Springs Preserve.
University of Maryland
University of Maryland students built a house they named reACT. This name comes from their desire for “resilient action” in that they wanted the house to be flexible and adaptable. It’s made of six separate modules that are anchored by a bright red “spine wall” in the middle. The spine wall holds all of the important guts of the house, and the other modules around it can be placed in different ways to customize the layout. Some of their goals were to utilize space with the utmost efficiency, leading them to create innovative systems like the dryer that uses passive heat in the attic to dehydrate herbs and other food. Once the competition is over, the reACT house will be used as a learning laboratory on their campus, where visiting professors can stay in the home and use it for research in renewable energy living.
HU University of Applied Science Utrecht traveled all the way from the Netherlands for this competition. As the first team from their school to compete in a Solar Decathlon, there were many challenges that needed to be overcome for them to arrive in Denver with a full-sized solar-powered home. At the time of transportation, some of their shipping containers were partially delayed by hurricane Harvey, leading to a new set of problems in the assembly of their home. However, they overcame those challenges and presented a fully-built home by October 5. The home is called Selficient and is designed around the concept of LEGOs. With pre-fabricated modules that almost snap together, the Selficient home is affordable and easy to build, making it a possibility for mass production. Unlike any other home in the competition, their energy systems to run the house are located on the exterior, so that technicians could repair any part of it without needing to be inside your home. This particular home will go back to Utrecht in the Netherlands as a model home, but the team is hoping to be able to commercially market the prototype soon.
The Swiss Team is made up of students from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, School of Engineering and Architecture Fribourg, Geneva University of Art and Design and University of Fribourg, and their concept was for more than just a house. The Neighobrhub, as they coined it, is a place for “building and sustaining the community around it.” Instead of a single-family home, the Swiss Team created a facility for sharing in the discovery, planning and implementation of renewable practices in business and personal life. The Neighborhub can be used for cooking shared meals, conferences or meetings, social activities, research, bike repair and more. Furniture can be moved easily, stored tightly, and used in a variety of ways. Outside the Hub, there are recycling containers that are unlocked and accessible for the entire neighborhood, as well as herb and vegetable planters. Part of the striking visual design comes from the team’s idea to use solar panels in the facades, which also open and close like garage doors.
Home for Retirees
Northwestern University, near Chicago, created a home for the aging population. From studies of Evanston, Illinois, they realized that large numbers of baby boomers were looking for places to age in comfortably, while still holding values of sustainability. From that, the team created Enable— a home that adapts while being easy to maintain and is also visually pleasing. Their concept was fueled mostly by their desire to create a home which fit the needs of their target audience at the same time it was innovative in construction and energy conservation. By using computer programs to pre-fabricate wall panels, for instance, there was no waste in construction because there was no human error to deal with. Because the home will return to the harsh Chicago climate, the team made sure there was a garage and a three season sunroom with glass paneling (a feature that also allows in ample natural light.)
UC Berkeley and University of Denver
The collaboration between University of California, Berkeley and University of Denver, called RISE (Residential, Inviting, Stackable, Efficient) was created in order to be used for “urban infill lots.” Their target audience was Richmond, outside San Francisco, where residential living needs are ever-increasing but space is limited. With the RISE design, each unit is stacked upon the other, with equal outdoor/indoor living space for each apartment. The walls within the homes are all movable, and the general layout is created to allow for more space if needed (with murphy beds and streamlined storage spaces.) With a moss wall on the back, the team hoped to create a natural air filtration system, and with sheep’s wool used as insulation, the house is truly all natural. Though the team’s original plan was to use this as one of three or five stacked units in Richmond, California, someone offered to purchase the home and keep it in Denver, to be placed on an infill lot somewhere in the city. The team, according to their spokesman Sam Durkin, is “excited to have someone actually use the house and look forward to seeing the development of it as a home.”
Washington University, St. Louis
Washington University in St. Louis Missouri created the CRETE House, in the hopes of sending a message about the viability and sustainability of concrete as building material for homes. With a sleek overall look, the home is created with pre-cast insulated panels that are made in a factory and assembled on site. The gutters from the roof are made into areas that can water plants that are in vertical hanging systems, and these assemblages soften the look of the concrete. Inside, the kitchen and dining room are warmed by light wood and natural light is allowed in through various shapes of windows and skylights. The transportation of this house took 10 special flatbed trailers to haul, and then cranes to assemble because each panel of the house is 15,000 pounds. Part of the benefit of using concrete like this is resiliency, and through rigorous testing, the team believes a house like this would have stayed in place in Puerto Rico.
The Daytona Team, composed of students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Daytona State College, wanted to build a home that combined South Florida history with the increasing demands of Gen-X’s. Conceptually, the team was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s home on Key West— simple, elegant and a little relaxed. Their incentives to create a beach house also came from their desire to revitalize the Daytona Beach area, which has been destroyed by tourists in the last few decades, and to allow for retired populations to easily access and use the house. Unfortunately for the team, Hurricane Irma presented their biggest challenge, delaying their schedule by 10 days and preventing them from completing the house before the tours began this past weekend. They still gave tours and explained their process.
For more information about any of the teams or their houses, visit this page.