Last September 29th to October 2nd, the US Department of Energy held its biennial sustainable design competition, the Solar Decathlon, in Washington, DC. The competition challenges collegiate teams from around the United States and the world to design and build homes that are affordable, energy efficient, and attractive.
While usually held on the National Mall in the center of Washington, DC, the Solar Decathlon this year took place in West Potomac Park, a short shuttle ride away from the Smithsonian. A number of people complained about the location this year as it was not as accessible as previous years.
All of the houses were rather interesting and had unique interpretations on a low-cost solution for well-designed energy efficient homes. There were 19 houses total, from five countries, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Belgium, and China.
Each of the houses had a limit of 1,000 square feet and was constructed on-site prior to the actual event. I didn’t get to see all the houses because of the number of visitors to the event, but I did see a few of the interesting entries.
Possibly the quirkiest of the lot was team California’s entry, which consisted of a pod wrapped in an insulating skin the team called “outsulation.” It supposedly is a better way of reducing heat transfer to the outside of the structure.
Team Belgium’s entry was from Ghent University, and was the only two-story structure in the competition. The main innovation was in its construction – you could supposedly put the house together like something from Ikea, and customize the inside space configuration according to your needs. The walls were made of an insulating material that was also structurally sound. The crates the structural panels came in were also converted into the water tank!
Team University of Maryland won the competition overall. Their design was called Watershed, and was inspired by the Chesapeake bay ecosystem that Maryland is a part of. It took a very environmental approach as well, incorporating lanscaping around the house that replicated the wetlands of the Chesapeake.
Although the house doesn’t look that large from the outside, the interior space was actually quite sprawling and very liveable. From the inside you could also see through to the constructed wetlands, which made it seem like the connection with nature was something that really took precedence for them in terms of how they thought about sustainability.
My favorite house was the house by Parson’s and Stevens Institute of technology, called Empowerhouse. The house was built and designed not only with the competition in mind, but also with its future residents involved throughout the process. Following the competition, the house was going to go to a family in Washington through Habitat for Humanity.
My favorite feature of the house was actually in its exterior design – the porch was definitely a hot spot for visitors and staff alike. The interior of the house too was also spacious and liveable, I could very well imagine people living in the space.
Apart from the houses themselves, there was also a lot of other types of programming during the event, like exhibits about energy and sustainablity in tents and displays alongside the actual houses.
Despite the unusual location and the fact that it rained for most of the event, the Solar Decathlon this year was a success. People from all over the country came to see it and to learn more about affordable sustainable energy methods, implemented in well-designed strucures. This event really showcases how creativity and resourcefulness can lead to improved standards of living for us and the environment.
All images original – by Renée Alfonso