Last week an opening ceremony kicked off the Solar Decathlon in sunny Irvine, California. While the crowd listened to the major sponsors of the event welcome us, we heard excitement and anticipation in their voices. After all, this has been an event two years in the making.

Usually held in Washington, D.C., the mayor of Irvine, Steven Choi, was proud to welcome this international event to his home. “Even though the federal government is shut down, the Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is very much alive in Irvine,” he exclaimed. And aside from the Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, only making an appearance via video, there was nothing else amiss.

The Solar Decathlon is a competition that challenges collegiate teams to design and build energy-efficient houses powered with solar energy. Nineteen total teams have successfully assembled their homes on site at Orange County’s Great Park—9 of which have participated in a Solar Decathlon before. They will show off their homes to the public and to various judges over the next 10 days, proving the worth of their entries in 10 different categories. The 10 competitions they will partake in are as follows:  

  1. Architecture
  2. Market Appeal
  3. Engineering
  4. Communications
  5. Affordability
  6. Comfort Zone
  7. Hot Water
  8. Appliances
  9. Home Entertainment
  10. Energy Balance

While all of the categories are relevant to the housing industry and the (hopefully) mass market of new, energy-efficient homes, there are a few that stood out to me while I toured the homes: affordability and market appeal.

Because affordability is a factor in the judging, all of the homes are required to be available at $250,000 or less. That doesn’t mean, however, that homes here don’t cost more than that—it means, rather, that homes that are higher are deducted points. While touring, I was in a home that costs $350,000 and one that costs $165,000. Both were pretty amazing in their own way. The philosophy of the $165,000 Delta T-90 home, built by Norwich University (pictured at left), is that they can offer an affordable home with a base price that’s suitable for various families. There are, of course, opportunities for homeowners to upgrade, by adding tile in the kitchen for example, which would allow them to both customize their home and give it the amenities they prefer. The higher priced homes, on the other hand, come with those flashy amenities and systems that get people to buy. And once they do, the energy efficiency is built in.

That leads me into market appeal. There are some crazy homes here, including one that literally sits on tracks and moves to give homeowners a yard or patio space in the middle of their house. The Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology’s DALE (Dynamic Augmented Living Environment) home has also got built-in hammocks and adjustable walls for every room. (See photo, right.) It’s impressive. People have been gawking at it. But is this the kind of market appeal that will get homeowners to buy into energy efficiency? Maybe.

All of the entries here are stunning in their own ways. They are considerate, they have smart systems so that occupants don’t have to think about saving energy if they don’t want to, and they adapt to seasons and environments extremely well.

One of the homes that caught my attention today for adaptability is Stanford’s Start Home. They’ve come up with a model based around what they call a “core.” The core of the home is made up of essential systems: mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. These systems are stored in a pod-like space that can fit into various modular homes. Meaning you can order your core and adapt it to the size and layout of the home you prefer. I asked one of the engineers how easy it would be for a homeowner to receive their core and effectively do something with it. Because of the advanced, in-place systems, he said that any general contractor would be able to “hook it up” so that the home was working at its most efficient. It seems like a rather cool idea.

Not surprisingly, there is a ton of innovation here. A lot of young, bright minds working hard to change the face of the housing industry. It’s both extraordinary and inspiring. It’s the future.  

This blog originally appeared on HomeEnergy.org. 

Views: 371

Comment

You need to be a member of Home Energy Pros to add comments!

Join Home Energy Pros

Comment by Linda Wigington on October 14, 2013 at 10:31am

I love the idea of the building core - seems like that could be adapted to home renovation. Ideally it could also be used if you would incorporating an extra living unit within an existing home.

Home Energy Pros

Home Energy Pros was founded by the developers of Home Energy Saver Pro (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy,) and brought to you in partnership with Home Energy magazine.

Latest Activity

Tom Mallard replied to Hal Skinner's discussion Rooftop A/C units and exposed ductwork in the group Radiant Control Coatings
"Right, that reinforces my understanding of how it works, I was after what to plug in for values in…"
1 hour ago
Hal Skinner replied to Hal Skinner's discussion Rooftop A/C units and exposed ductwork in the group Radiant Control Coatings
"Products like these dont have an R-rating. You still have to have the R-rated insulation to meet…"
2 hours ago
Graham Irwin replied to Tom Conlon's discussion Whole House Fans - Love 'Em or Not?
"Thanks for the input. The next question to ask is "how much cooling power is delivered in each…"
2 hours ago
Brandon Walton commented on Brandon Walton's blog post 12 Things Every Home Performance Contractor Should Have on Their Work Truck
"Totally off topic William, but yeah could use a bit more I suppose "
2 hours ago
William H Nickerson commented on Brandon Walton's blog post 12 Things Every Home Performance Contractor Should Have on Their Work Truck
"One more thing...you need a little more bend in that cap"
4 hours ago
Tom Mallard replied to Hal Skinner's discussion Rooftop A/C units and exposed ductwork in the group Radiant Control Coatings
"Sounds like the perfect, thin insulator adding enough thermal inertia to separate two masses and/or…"
4 hours ago
Hal Skinner replied to Hal Skinner's discussion Rooftop A/C units and exposed ductwork in the group Radiant Control Coatings
"OK Tom, I think I am on the last questionow,,,I think.  LOL Going under the building and…"
5 hours ago
Hal Skinner replied to Hal Skinner's discussion Rooftop A/C units and exposed ductwork in the group Radiant Control Coatings
"Tom, sorry for having to break this up but my responses I guess are too long. You talking about the…"
6 hours ago
Hal Skinner replied to Hal Skinner's discussion Rooftop A/C units and exposed ductwork in the group Radiant Control Coatings
" "
7 hours ago
Hal Skinner replied to Hal Skinner's discussion Rooftop A/C units and exposed ductwork in the group Radiant Control Coatings
"I guess I got too mlong winded ther, it cut me off. 1.  Spray the coating on the ducts, plenum…"
8 hours ago
Kurt Shafer replied to Tom Conlon's discussion Whole House Fans - Love 'Em or Not?
"Jan, Here are some facts. the 30 inch fan from Home Depot (not one I would recommend) is rated at…"
8 hours ago
Hal Skinner replied to Hal Skinner's discussion Rooftop A/C units and exposed ductwork in the group Radiant Control Coatings
"Hi Tom. It looks like I will have to start off most of my answers to questions with this…"
8 hours ago

© 2014   Created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service