The 19 dwellings that competed in the 2011 DOE Solar Decathlon were confined to floor plans from 600 to 1,000 square feet. These compact footprints had to contain "holistic, safe, functional, convenient, comfortable, and enjoyable" places to live as well as mechanical systems that generated more power than team members consumed during a battery of tests and myriad other sustainable technologies. Several design solutions met this multifaceted challenge by expanding habitable areas with outdoor rooms.

The resulting spaces highlight diverse approaches to outdoor living that work in harmony with adjacent interiors. Oversized decks with innovative screening, all-season porches featuring retractable windows, flexible patios strategically protected from and open to certain elements, social courtyards with integrated seating, trellised porticos shaded by food-producing vines, and numerous variations on built-in planters doing much more than enhancing views are just some of the ways teams maximized their homes' indoor-outdoor connections. These thoughtful exterior areas also had a limit of 1,000 square feet, some of which was used for mandatory ADA-compliant ramps. Many teams also needed exterior square footage to meet other contest requirements such as food production, rainwater collection and filtration, or power generation.

Scroll through our slideshow to explore six inventive solutions to functional and elegant outdoor living that enhances and enlivens neighboring interior spaces.