Team website: http://solardecathlon.osu.edu

Driving across Ohio, you're likely to follow miles and miles of the rolling greens of farmland. Drawing inspiration from this familiar landscape, the barn-like qualities of Ohio State University's first-ever Solar Decathlon entry is designed to show fellow Buckeyes that sustainable building can be a practical choice and is a wise move for the future.

"We're putting in a big push to Ohio that solar can be done—and should be done—in Ohio," says team member Rob Hedge.

Clad in siding reclaimed from a nearby barn and surrounded by native plants—including common wildflowers and cattails typical of the region's farmlands—the house demonstrates the adaptability of sustainable homes in a traditional community like Ohio. But with its energy and mechanical technologies and an interior consisting of a centralized multipurpose room, it's also meant to challenge locals to rethink their vision of a home's space.

The interior's open floor plan is designed around a flexible, central area that transitions from dining room to living room to bedroom. Creative modular components maximize space, including a large entertainment unit that also holds two dining tables, chairs, and a couch. Though not separated, the bedroom is set apart in a far corner; when not in use, the bed folds into the wall Murphy-style, and then slides over and is closed off to make room for the home office.

Most of the materials were made in Ohio, including its Energy Star-rated Whirlpool appliances and wood furniture crafted by the students using locally obtained wood.

The space-maximizing interior is powered by a 5.1-kW photovoltaic system of 27 Sanyo bi-facial solar panels; an operable frame system allows for seasonal adjustment for optimum collection based on the sun's angle. The students designed an iPhone app that the homeowner can use to monitor and control temperature.

The home's design brings daylight from multiple sides and allows for cross-breezes in warmer months. Triple-pane windows ensure maximum efficiency, while exterior louver panels swing open to let in more light and radiant heat in the winter.

Amid all of these techniques, the team strove to control costs, which remained on the lower-end range of $250,000 to $450,000, compared to some of the other projects. "Affordability is going to be the key for this to work," Hedge notes.

This attainability is one more component of the team's education mission, which began by initially building the house near the school's storied football stadium where it could receive maximum public exposure. Following the competition, the dwelling will temporarily reside in a new area of the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo, where it will be open for public tours.

The high profile will hopefully continue to spread the word to OSU's community that sustainable features are not only practical, but attainable today with traditional aesthetics and off-the-shelf materials. "We're trying to show that we're not rocket scientists and we can do it."

Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome magazine.

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