ECO-STRUCTURE recently caught up with Mark Taylor, Assoc. AIA, faculty advisor for Re_home, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s entry for the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon.

How is your solar paneling unique? 

We have two types of PV panels on the Re_home. The ones on the roof are mono-crystalline and supplied by Sunpower and can supply 5.5 kilowatts. They’re the most efficient panels in their range. We mounted them in an adjustable rack in pairs so two people can easily adjust them to an optimum angle depending on time of year or where the Re_home is deployed. They are designed to fold flat on the roof for transportation and rapid deployment. The secondary ones could be added over time to provide shading to the interior and an additional 1.2 kilowatts. On both sides of the panels there are bifacial hybrid cells which generate power.

What other sustainable features have you incorporated into your design?

Super insulation and air tightness are the starting points to produce an energy-efficient building. In addition, we have the capability to capture rainwater to be used in the home landscaping and toilet. All our deck and planter finish material came from a recycled source: an old grain elevator for the deck, and an old fence for the planters.

What was the inspiration of your design, and does it display any regional influences?

We wanted a contemporary house that could be used as a new start for those affected by a natural disaster. The horizontal orientation is in part a small reference to Prairie Style architecture, but, as we envisioned the house being deployed to any part of the U.S. where a natural disaster may occur, we didn’t want it to be too strongly tied to any particular regional style.

How has the new affordability criteria affected the design of your house?

We welcomed the affordability criteria. In 2009, we were the second-most-affordable team, and we feel that working within a budget makes the competition more applicable to members of the public that come to the competition to see affordable solutions to the challenge of living a sustainable life.

What will happen to the house after the Solar Decathlon? 

The house will return to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, where it will sit among a cluster of other research buildings. The hope is that the house will supply any excess energy to those other buildings. It will be part of an ongoing program of monitoring of high-performance buildings to see if they perform as modeled and designed.