Changing the World of Construction with Solar-Powered Homes

Students from around the globe are making huge strides toward energy-efficiency as they gear up for this year's U.S. Departmet of Energy Solar Decathlon.

By: Kassondra Cloos

Photo By: University of Maryland

Photo By: University of California at Berkeley/University of Denver

Photo By: Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Photo By: Thomas Kelsey/ U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Photo By: Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Photo By: W. Paige Andros

Photo By: Justin Beach, University of Denver

Team Swiss Living Challenge House Design

Solar panels cover the walls of this home, designed by a team of students from four Swiss universities. It’s made out of laminated veneer lumber, which gives the team more design flexibility. The roof will collect rainwater, and a dry toilet will use worms to treat and recycle waste to help conserve valuable resources.

University of Maryland reACT Design

The University of Maryland’s home, reACT, is a flexible, off-the-grid modular home designed around a central “spine” that allows for relatively easy additions. The team hopes its adaptable model could be scalable to accommodate a wide range of family sizes and other uses. An indoor hydroponic wall, outdoor veggie garden, and movable green wall that can be brought inside in the winter time will help make this home’s future occupants more self-sufficient for food in addition to energy.

University of California at Berkeley and University of Denver’s RISE

Built for long, narrow spaces, RISE has windows on two walls instead of all four. Identical units can be stacked three high without altering the structure of the home, so it can easily become a multi-family home. The large and open staircase was intentional: The team wants to facilitate community between neighbors.

Missouri University of Science and Technology Nest Home

For the 2015 competition, the Missouri University of Science and Technology created a home out of three repurposed shipping containers, covered on the outside by wood from recycled shipping pallets. The Nest Home’s hydroponic garden wall is fed by trip-filtered, recycled greywater from the shower, laundry, and bathroom sink.

Clemson University Sim[PLY]

One of the tasks at this year’s competition is for teams to power an electric car using the solar energy from their home. Here, an electric car sits outside Clemson University’s Sim[PLY] home during the 2015 competition. Sim[PLY] was flat-packed and used a numbered system so it could be rebuilt like a puzzle.

The University at Buffalo, State University of New York’s GRoW Home

The “Growlarium” of Buffalo’s GRoW Home acts as a thermal buffer between the indoors and outdoors to regulate temperature and conserve energy. The house won second place at the 2015 Solar Decathlon. In the winter time, the space acts as a greenhouse.

Building the University of Maryland’s reACT

UMD students Joseph Hood, Eileen Donahoe, and Anil Moore (from left to right) install floor joists for their home, reACT, on hangers. They’re working through the summer to build the home in preparation for the competition in October. They’ll deconstruct it, ship it to Denver, then reassemble it on-site before taking it apart again to ship it to its new home.

University of Denver/UC-Berkeley Team Breaks Ground on RISE

Ruth McGhee and Sam Durkin of University of California, Berkeley, look over tie-in points where they’ll secure the flooring system of their house, RISE. The green paint mark on the left shows where the students plan to put one of the corners of the house. Even though they’re building the home at the University of Denver, they’ll still have to take it apart to ship it to the competition and rebuild it there.