The national competition for the best solar home design under $250,000 is happening this week in Irvine, CA taking advantage of its non-stop sun. I’ve been there twice and will go back again before it closes down next Sunday. There is too much to see in one day.
The solar homes designs have advanced way past the “what if…” demo stage and into very livable and stable structures. Go to the video page to tour each abode if you can’t attend in person.
While the opening day(s) were filled with heat and grit due to the Santa Ana winds, the extreme conditions only proved how solid these structures are – not one solar panel ripped off during some gusts that were clocked at 90 mph in some places and 40-60 mph was the norm.
On the second day the wind drifted back to a refreshing 10-15 mph breeze, but the heat index was still crested 95 degrees with 10% humidity. You would think under those conditions that packing a bunch of touring bodies inside a box wouldn’t be pleasant, but the opposite was true — each home had such excellent air flow that you couldn’t wait to get inside.
Below are the top 10 takeaways as determined during a post tour dinner. (More pictures can be found on the SolarDecathlon.gov site.)
1. Solar is very affordable TODAY and has many creative options to shade the home or become the roofing for outside living space. Solar shingles were also widely used opening up more design options. Part of the competition was to see how much energy your home generated and also used. Check here to see how much power is being generated.
3. Exterior walls – acting as trees providing instant shade for the home or outside space, places to grow food, or as a way to soften up the box-like home. It’s a great way for close-in urbanites to enjoy the outside without being in their neighbor’s space.
4. Transitional furniture and spaces – one piece, many functions. I loved the under-the-counter table that is a snack bar when pushed in or seating for 10 when pulled out. Or murphy beds (seen everywhere in the homes) providing more square feet of living inbetween guests or daily life.
5. CORE “Start home” Stanford University took on the challenge of how to mass produce the technology that these home use and creating a “core” housing for utilities much like a car manufacturer has one mechanical base with different car designs on top. Custom built structures are built around it. Go here for a demo.
6. Interactive art - Stanford went beyond the challenge and created wall art that moved in reaction to the home’s energy use. You could look at the ipad read out on the wall, or learn to understand what the art looks like when the home is in its happy place… that piece of art signifies how far this competition has come from making/saving energy and water to having enough creativity left to come up with this level of thinking.
7. Open showers in a Zen-like water room vs. a tub. First, showers (can) use less water than a filled tub, second it opens up the room visually instead of losing the 18-20 square feet that a tub/shower combo eats up, and lastly it’s ADA compliant. Aging in place is increased when a home is ADA compliant by design instead of being retrofitted later. Add the solar tube natural lighting and live plants that benefit from gray water recycling and morning shower mist and you get a room that turns heads.
8. Pre-heated water (no picture) push a button and wait 30 seconds and then turn on the tap instead of wasting 3-4 gallons down the drain while you’re waiting for the warm water to arrive.
9. Less is more - Make the Kitchen/livingroom/study one, big activity room. By making it cross-functional, it will be a space you can “live in” not just visit when the guests come over.
10. High ceilings are a must for additional light, air flow, and to feel less constricted in smaller square footage. Lighting from two different directions adds dynamic of movement throughout the day ever-changing the feel of the space keeping it interesting and inviting.
This competition is truly ECO-lutionary in its thinking and practicality.
I would love to live in one of these homes and make my own energy for my home and car. If we each produced the energy that these homes are able to generate, think of how LITTLE oil we would have to use… Of course that’s exactly why Big Oil companies are fueling the Climate Change denier conversation, what they are selling has nothing to do with denying Climate Change and everything about them losing their profit margins to those who have embraced ECO-lutionary thinking and can grow their own food and fuel.
Kudos to the winning teams that are showcasing their final projects at the Solar Decathlon. Kudos to the US Gov for keeping this event open during the shutdown. Dodo’s to the deniers who can’t think their way off the bar stools they occupy and be part of the innovation that will drive the next economy. When groups of college students can produce this kind of advancements, what’s holding back mainstream business? Where’s their top 10 advancement list?
UPDATE: For more info on the impact of Solar Energy go to Solar Heating and Cooling Could Save $61B, Create 50,250 Jobs By 2050 - See more at: http://ecowatch.com/2013/solar-heating-and-cooling-could-save-61b-create-50250-jobs-by-2050/#sthash.ruwR3pDm.dpuf