Launch Slideshow

Five Solar Decathlon Homes Offering Livable Floor Plans, Cool Design

Collegiate teams used regional vernacular for inspiration.

Five Solar Decathlon Homes Offering Livable Floor Plans, Cool Design

Collegiate teams used regional vernacular for inspiration.

  • Appalachian State

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    Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy

    Seen at night, the Appalachian State Solar Homestead featured one of the strongest designs in the competition.

  • Appalachian State

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    Brittany Young/The Solar Homestead

    The Solar Homestead consists of six outbuilding modules that connect to form the Great Porch.

  • Appalachian State

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    Brittany Young/The Solar Homestead

    The Homestead’s appealing interior is light-filled and airy.

  • Appalachian State

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    Brittany Young/The Solar Homestead

    The bathroom features corrugated metal walls.

  • Appalachian State

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    Brittany Young/The Solar Homestead

    The Homestead’s outdoor living space is protected by an 8.2-kilowatt trellis of bifacial solar cells. Bark siding covers one of the Flex-Outbuilding Modules.

  • Maryland

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    Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy

    The students designed WaterShed with a strategy that balanced tradition and technology. Inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, the home is a model of how the built environment can help preserve watersheds by managing stormwater on site.

  • Maryland

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    Shelley Hutchins

    A large window in the bathroom offers a view to the outdoors, while an on-site wetland helps filter and recycle greywater from the shower, clothes washer, and dishwasher.

  • Maryland

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    University of Maryland/WaterShed

    The home also features a green roof that slows rainwater runoff to the landscape and improves the house's energy efficiency.

  • Massachusetts

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    Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy

    Team Massachusetts’ 4D Home integrates efficient technology and passive strategies without compromising simplicity.

  • Massachusetts

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    Team Massachusetts/4D Home

    The home’s living room features a movable storage wall and exposed framing.

  • Massachusetts

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    Team Massachusetts/4D Home

    The open kitchen is surprisingly spacious and bright.

  • Massachusetts

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    Team Massachusetts/4D Home

    The exposed framing can also be seen in the hallway.

  • Middlebury

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    Middlebury College

    Middlebury College’s Self-Reliance incorporates the best features of the New England farmhouse into a design for the 21st century. The gable roof helps shed snow and rain.

  • Middlebury

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    Middlebury College

    Self-Reliance uses natural finishes and paints, such as linseed oil from the flax plant, natural hard waxes, and paint made from eggshells.

  • Middlebury

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    Middlebury College

    Using the Vermont vernacular, the students distilled the architecture of the New England farmhouse into a pure gable form. The interior features exposed beams.

  • Parsons and Stevens Institute of Technology

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    Martin Seck

    Empowerhouse by a team consisting of students from Parsons The New School for Design and Stevens Institute of Technology will be expanded into a Habitat for Humanity duplex.

  • Parsons and Stevens Institute of Technology

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    Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy

    The home will consume up to 90% less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home thanks to a high-performance shell and a highly efficient energy-recovery ventilation system that keeps the interior stable.

  • Parsons and Stevens Institute of Technology

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    Lisa Smith

    The home’s triple-glazed windows will help reduce heat loss and heat gain.

  • Parsons and Stevens Institute of Technology

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    Lisa Smith

    A straightforward kitchen helped the home tie for first place in the affordability section of the competition.

  • Florida

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    Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy

    Team Florida struggled in the overall competition, but its house was cleverly designed. The FLeX House is a prefabricated prototype that opens up to take advantage of passive cooling during mild months and closes down to take advantage of the highly efficient mechanical systems during months of temperature extremes.

The Solar Decathlon student home-design competition is an ideal venue for spotting whiz-bang technologies and cutting-edge innovation, and this year’s crop of houses is no exception.

Sponsored by the Department of Energy, the biennial Decathlon is a program that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.

“The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency,” the agency says.

The 19 teams and their solar-powered houses compete in 10 categories (each worth 100 points) that include engineering, hot-water generation, affordability (a new category this year), market appeal, energy balance, and architecture. Because of the number of categories, it’s not unusual for teams to do poorly in one area and make up for it in another.

This year’s architecture category will be judged by a three-person panel that includes architect Michelle Kaufmann of Michelle Kaufmann Studio in Oakland, Calif., Paul Hutton of Hutton Architecture Studio in Denver, and Bob Schubert, a professor of architecture and associate dean for research in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech.

The architectural judges will focus on elements such as the scale and proportion of room and facade features, indoor/outdoor connections, composition, and linking of various house elements; holistic design; and the integration and energy efficiency of electrical and natural light, among other characteristics.

Though all schools employed a number of worthwhile sustainable strategies and cutting-edge architectural explorations, some schools opted for market-driven designs that would appeal to a broader segment of the home-buying population. And many designs were inspired by the regions from whence they came.

Fan-favorite (in the People’s Choice Awards voting) Appalachian State was inspired by traditional Appalachian settlements for its Solar Homestead project, which is composed of six outbuilding modules connected to form the Great Porch—an outdoor living space protected by an 8.2-kilowatt trellis of bifacial solar cells.

Team Maryland’s WaterShed house focuses on protecting watershed environments by managing stormwater runoff. The home “displays harmony between modernity, tradition, and simple building strategies, balancing time-trusted best practices and cutting-edge technological solutions to achieve high efficiency performance in an affordable manner,” the school says.

And Middlebury College  opted for a very recognizable gable roof for its Self-Reliance home. “We have distilled the architecture of the New England farmhouse into a pure gable form,” the school writes. “Tradition guided our design but still allowed us to innovate. We drew primarily upon the gable roof, a regional form, to help us deal with the climatic burden of snow and rain.”

Take a look at these and other cool designs from this year’s competition.