Solar Decathlon 2011 Turns Up Green Living

Some 20 teams around the world converge near the U.S. Capitol September 23–October 2, 2011, for a competition that brings together the best in sustainable yet comfortable dwellings.

Aug 15, 2011
  • Shipping Container Dwellings from Team China
  • "Self Reliance" by Middlebury College
  • "Kiwi Bach" designed by the Victoria University of Wellington
  • Dwelling by Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology
  • Design by the team based at Canada's University of Calgary
  • Dwelling design by City College of New York
  • WaterShed by University of Maryland
  • Inhome by Perdue University
  • Ohio State Solar Decathlon house
1/9
China: Team China recycles their country's signature export—drab, utilitarian shipping containers—into an affordable, high-style dwelling. Inside, movable walls can reconfigure the living space in a flash. Students from Tongji University in Shanghai created a home that collects sunlight for its power and rainwater for its plumbing and landscape needs.
Photography courtesy U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
2/9
Middlebury College: Vermont's Middlebury College has dubbed its house "Self Reliance." Styled like a traditional New England farmhouse, it collects rain and solar energy like many of the other Decathlon houses, but it also includes vegetable garden beds and a greenhouse wall in the kitchen that can provide fresh produce all year long.
Photography courtesy U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
3/9
New Zealand: In New Zealand, a beach house is called a "kiwi bach." The bach design by the Victoria University of Wellington blends relaxed inside and outside living spaces into an ocean-front dwelling for a couple and their guests. Another kiwi touch: The home's insulation is made from recycled sheep's wool.
Photography courtesy U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
4/9
Southern California Institute of Architecture: In Los Angeles, Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology have teamed to create an eco-friendly house with a place for an eco-friendly car. A dwelling with more hidden space than a Japanese puzzle box, this house allows furniture to be tucked into walls that also offer storage.
Photography courtesy U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
5/9
Canada: Native peoples once lived in harmony with the earth. Now, many of Canada's 1.1 million native peoples face a housing crisis that forces them to live in substandard homes that can be a danger to their health. The affordable design by the team based at University of Calgary honours the tribes' traditional ethos in form and function, and offers a blueprint for change.
Photography courtesy U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
6/9
City College of New York: In New York, solar energy isn't the only wasted resource. There is 1.6 billion square feet of rooftops that could be turned into living space. By combining a solar-powered house with a roof garden, CCNY offers a dwelling that could mitigate the carbon footprint of current urban construction without adding to demand on the energy grid.
Photography courtesy U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
7/9
University of Maryland: Maryland brought a home to its fourth Solar Decathlon that honours the state's fragile wetlands as much as the sun. Dubbed WaterShed, it was designed near Baltimore to mimic the water cycle in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The house can filter both storm water and grey water to minimise the impact of residential construction on a water system.
Photography courtesy U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
8/9
Purdue University: The ultimate goal of any Solar Decathlon team is a "net zero energy" house: One that consumes no more energy than it produces. The Inhome from Perdue University achieves this through a design that provides shade and air flow according to Midwest seasons, as well as an air-to-air heat pump for heating and cooling, and a heat pump that provides hot water.
Photography courtesy U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
9/9
Ohio State University: Sunlight can provide powerful energy but too much can make any dwelling unlivable. The Ohio State Solar Decathlon house comes with a "shade shield" that wraps the house, as well as the well-insulated shell that doubles the insulation of a conventionally built home.
Photography courtesy U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Lights. Computers. Living. Modern life requires a lot of energy. Electricity consumption in the U.S. totaled early 3,884 billion kilowatt/hours in 2010. And most of that energy used comes from fossil fuels.

A little more than a decade ago, the U.S. Department of Energy decided it was time to spur some new thinking about energy consumption at home, time to start looking at making dwellings more sustainable, time for solar-powered homes. It challenged universities in the United States and around the world to build the houses of the future.

The DOE held its first Solar Decathlon in 2002, with subsequent competitions in 2005, 2007 and 2009. For this year’s decathlon, September 23 through October 2, some 20 teams will converge near the Washington Monument to display work that pushed engineering and design to even greater limits. (If you’re in town the week prior, you may even catch the teams setting up.) Those who visit during the decathlon can tour the homes and vote for their favourites alongside professional judges.

The Solar Decathlon itself has won awards and sparked spinoffs. There will be a European competition in Madrid in summer 2012 and an Asian competition in China in 2013. If you can’t catch the houses in competition, you may still be able to enjoy them: Many of the homes have been sold and are in use as private residences around the world.

Some houses from prior competitions remain available to touring.

See this year’s houses during the decathlon from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on weekdays and weekends from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.

Virginia Citrano is a freelance writer for a wide range of national and international publications and web sites.


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