University of Maryland Wins 2011 Solar Decathlon

The University of Maryland WaterShed. Photos by Jim Tetro, U.S. DoE.

Of the 19 university teams that came to a rain-soaked Washington, D.C., September 23 to October 2 to compete in the 2011 Solar Decathlon, the University of Maryland claimed first prize. The team from College Park earned 952 points out of a possible 1,000 in 10 competitions for performance and aesthetics. Maryland also placed first in the juried architectural-design competition, edging out Appalachian State University by two points.

The Appalachian State team, from Boone, N.C., won the People’s Choice design award, though, a balloting separate from the decathlon competitions. This year, a total of 92,538 votes were cast for that award, which is very popular among the visitors. Despite the clouds and rain, the total number of house tours conducted by the student teams was 357,000, and 7 of the 19 houses produced more energy than they consumed over the 10-day event, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The Tidewater Virginia team placed 14th. The team, comprising Hampton and Old Dominion universities, also received commendation for construction safet y excellence during t he seven-day assembly period leading up to the competition.

In other news of regional interest, the team of Parsons the New School for Design, New York City, and Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J., donated their $250,000 net-zero- energy home to a family in Washington, D.C., as part of the Habitat for Humanit y program. That home came in at 13th place overall.

PV-panel shaded breezeway of the Appalachian State U. Solar Homestead.

This year’s was the fifth Solar Decathlon since its inauguration in 2002. The competition, organized by DOE and its National Renewable Energy Laboratories (the AIA is a co-sponsor) involves events judged by juries and/or meter measurements. For the 2011 teams, those contests (potentially worth 100 points apiece) were:
• Architecture (juried)
• Market Appeal (juried)
• Engineering (juried)
• Communications (juried)
• Affordability (juried)
• Comfort Zone (measured)
• Hot Water (measured)
• Appliances (measured)
• Home Entertainment (measured and juried)
• Energy Balance (measured).

Affordability was a new challenge this year. Because teams in the past had spent as much as $800,000 in donated funds, material, and in-kind services, the sponsors limited the cost of the homes to $250,000. The multi-discipline preparations involved the work of about 4,000 students (from five countries on four continents) in architecture, engineering, business, and communications, according to DOE. The competition’s goal is to demonstrate that net-zero-energy homes can be comfortable in day-to-day use, affordable, and beautiful.

University of Maryland WaterShed

Inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, this home focused particularly on energy conservation and stormwater runoff control and purification. Spatially, the house is designed as two shed modules slid apart along the central, water-collecting axis and connected by a third module. The two larger modules express the programmatic intent of a live/work environment by physically separating the private and public realms. The central module houses the bathroom and highlights the connection bet ween interior water uses and the artif icial wetland just outside. The split butterfly roofline highlights storm water collection from each module to the core of the house.

The house’s constructed wetland filters and recycles gray water from the shower, clothes washer, and dishwasher. Its green roof insulates the interior as it slows rainwater runoff to the landscape, which includes a garden, an edible wall system, and a composting station to illustrate a complete carbon-cycle loop. Technologies include a liquid desiccant waterfall for humidit y control; an energy-storage system for the solar thermal array; and a system to monitor and adjust temperature, humidity, lighting, and other parameters to provide maximum building-performance efficiency.

The team envisioned WaterShed as a home and office for a working couple, which fits a common demographic in the Baltimore/ Washington area where telecommuting is an attractive alternative to daily commuting. Plans for the house after the Solar Decathlon are uncertain as the team seeks a buyer.

Appalachian State University Solar Homestead

Tidewater Virginia Unit 6 kitchen.

This house, which placed 12th overall in the competition, is inspired by the pioneer spirit of the early settlers of the Blue Ridge Mountains whose isolation necessitated self-reliance. The home honors these principles by integrating renewable resources and innovative technology into a prototype that is adaptable, self-sufficient, rugged, affordable, and attractive. In addition to its placement in the design awards, Appalachian State took second place in the communications contest. The Homestead’s on-demand hot water system and its Trombe wall use phase-change materials to store daytime heat and discharge it at night. The team will take the home on an educational tour throughout North Carolina before taking it back to their campus as an educational tool.

Tidewater Virginia Unit 6 Unplugged

This modular house is conceived as one part of a six-unit multifamily building for a center-city Norfolk neighborhood. Notable features include photovoltaic modules that convert 18 percent of sunlight to electricity, window and door sensors for security and HVAC-system control, in-line water heating, and light switches powered by remote, self-charging transmitters. Unit 6 will return to Norfolk as a design studio shared by the school’s architecture and engineering students.

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