Solar Decathlon's Latest Designs for Affordable, Efficient Homes

2013 solar decathlon irvine calif
Department of Energy/Flickr

By Diana Olick

Nineteen collegiate teams are in a tough competition to see who can design, build and operate the most energy efficient and affordable home of the future. From solar technology, to sustainable building materials, to futuristic heating and cooling systems, these teams are using the latest innovations from companies across the globe, while pushing the envelope of energy efficiency with their own new ideas. The homes are fully built and decorated, and the student teams are performing all kinds of tasks within the homes, from washing clothes to boiling water; whichever team does it all best wins.

The competition, which is called the Solar Decathlon, started in 2002, occurring biannually in Washington, D.C. This year, the Department of Energy-sponsored event moved to Irvine, Calif., to bring its homes to a wider audience. Irvine is the perfect place, as new construction is booming again after a lull during the housing recession. A big emphasis in this year's competition is affordability.

The homebuilders are watching, especially Lennar, which has a major development going on near the site of this year's competition. Lennar is building homes with solar standard.
Below are some highlights of this year's decathlon.

Homes of the Future
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Solar Decathlon's Latest Designs for Affordable, Efficient Homes

House: Delta T-90

Cost: $168,385

Team website:

The Delta T-90 house was built at the Huntington Homes factory in Vermont. Norwich University is the first team in the history of the decathlon to partner with a home builder, which means in the future the homes could be made commercially available.

The DOE judges estimate this home would cost $168,385. Along with two others, the Delta T-90 is a winner in the competition's affordability category.

The house uses the "Big Ass Fans" brand and a smart e-monitor system, allowing homeowners to stay informed about their home's power usage and production.

The "Big Ass Fan" helps maintain a comfortable 70-degree temperature inside when the outside temperature is below 20 degrees.

Five teams competing in the decathlon use the "Big Ass Fans" brand.

House: Start.Home
Cost: $234,092
Team website:

The Start.home is built around a core: like the engine of car, it runs the home. Designed to be low cost and efficient, the core can be shipped to home builders as a self-contained unit, so they can build their own custom home around it.

The house features energy efficient appliances from General Electric and the roof is lined with energy efficient ceiling material developed by DuPont. Homeowners can control and monitor energy consumption using an Apple iPad.

Stanford students also developed a proprietary track pad "home switch," to control electrical outlets and lights with the swipe of a finger.
House: DALE
Cost: $274,263
Team website:

The Southern California Institute of Architecture and the California Institute of Technology came together to create the DALE house, which splits in half to triple its living area.

Sliding on rails like train tracks, the house expands from 600 to 18,000 square feet, opening up to make the most of California's sunny climate.

Inside the home, the walls move to maximize or minimize different living areas, depending on what the homeowner is doing.
House: UrbanEden
Cost: $350,686
Team website:

The cement used by UNC-Charlotte to make this house is generating a lot of buzz. The geopolymer cement concrete is made up of fly ash, which is a waste byproduct of coal-burning power plants.

This entirely new type of cement is far more environmentally friendly than traditional Portland cement, which contributes 5 percent to 8 percent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions. The team behind this home estimates their new cement reduces the home's carbon footprint by 90 percent.

The other unique feature of this home is its use of outdoor space. The walls move to turn the living room into a bedroom and transform the outdoor deck into a living area.

The deck is lined with plants—a different variety for each room: Outside the living room are flowers, by the kitchen are edibles and alongside the bedroom are thicker varieties for more privacy.
Home: Harvest
Cost: $280,952
Team website:

The Catholic University of America, George Washington University and American University joined forces as Team Capitol DC to build this home, which features sliding blinds along the front. Strips of metal called "lulvers" adjust, opening or closing to maximize energy from the sun's rays.

Each blind has a Flexinol wire built in, a heat-sensitive black wire which expands or contracts to open or close the blinds automatically at certain temperatures. Right now the system is set to close the blinds at a comfortable room temperature of 75 to 85 degrees.

Like all the homes here, The Harvest House is entirely solar powered with energy efficient appliances and a small physical footprint.

House: The Phoenix

Cost: $248,423

Team website:

Team Kentuckiana—the University of Louisville, Ball State University and University of Kentucky—designed the Phoenix House with victims of natural disasters in mind. It is constructed with a roof that easily pops back into shape after it is demolished.

The bathroom doubles as a safe room for a homeowner to take shelter, with a strong metal outside door and shatter-proof window.

In the kitchen, the table collapses down and in the bedrooms, like many of these energy-efficient homes, Murphy beds maximize space and minimize energy needs.

For a complete list of all the Solar Decathlon Teams competing this year, click here.


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