Solar House Has Brief Broadway Stint

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Yesterday, a solar house landed in New York's Times Square.

Dubbed the Lumenhaus, the high-tech home is Virginia Tech's award-winning entry in the 2009 Solar Decathlon. It was supposed to remain open to the public through Sunday, but it's Broadway debut was cut short when it was dismantled late last night due to permit issues (thanks, Mayor Bloomberg).


Every two years, the Solar Decathlon descends upon the National Mall in Washington, D. C. Twenty national and international teams of architecture students erect solar-powered houses that they have painstakingly planned, built and transported to Washington. For three weeks this U.S. Department of Energy sponsored competition pits the high-tech homes against each other in areas like architecture, market viability, hot water, appliances, and net metering.

The creators of Lumenhaus say that the 600-square-foot dwelling "delivers a brighter way to live, literally and figuratively." Here are some highlights:

• Lumenhaus is inspired by Mies Van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, with glass north and south walls to maximize exposure to light. "Independent sliding layers" on the sides of the house move to filter light throughout the day. The team is proud of the house's pavilion-style design, which makes it open and airy where many energy-efficient homes can feel closed off.

• To make that airiness possible, the house has transparent, sliding panels filled with "aerogel," a super lightweight material that insulates as well as a solid wall would.

• This is a zero net energy house, meaning that it uses no more energy than it creates. The power comes from a single photovoltaic array on the roof, whose panels tilt to take maximum advantage of the angle of the sun.

• The Lumenhaus has a computer that manages all of its systems, and gives real-time feedback about its energy consumption, both on-site and remotely.

• Radiant heating: The concrete floor houses coils that circulate heat gleaned from the earth; in the summer, it makes hot water as a by-product.

• Net metering: If the house produces more energy than it uses, it can feed power back onto the grid, or homeowners could use that power to, for example, charge up an electric car

• Lighting: The house is designed not to require electric light during the day. At night, illumination comes from an efficient LED lighting system. Owners will be able to adjust the color temperature of the lights inside, for a warmer or cooler effect.

• Modular living: The square footage isn't large, but team Virginia Tech calls Lumenhaus a "perceptually generous space." And it's packed with design features to facilitate living small: Sliding doors enclose private spaces or roll away as needed, and a dining-room table on casters can be pushed outside for meals in good weather.

Clearly this eco-themed living space deserves an encore. While many New Yorkers missed the opportunity to tour Lumenhaus, Good Morning America's cheery weatherman, Sam Champion, did not. You can learn more here and here.
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