U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

These four projects are among the 20 entrants competing in the 2013 Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Oct. 3–13, in Irvine, Calif. Collegiate teams are challenged to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winning project should best blend affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. As the next generation remodels and builds its own homes, contractors might look to these innovative designs for fresh ideas.

Urban Eden: This Charlotte, N.C., project is designed as an infill home. The design includes low carbon-emission concrete, highly insulated glass, and recycled steel, yet delivers green space with easy access to a vertical garden. Movable racks of photovoltaic panels on the roof and geothermal tubes embedded in the exterior walls keep temperatures comfortable.

Echo: The Ontario team has high hopes that Echo, pictured above, will change young people’s perspectives on home ownership. Two modules form a 960-square-foot home. A sloped exostructure houses photovoltaic and solar thermal panels. A cutting-edge system checks weather forecasts and building simulation to generate a daily shading schedule to minimize HVAC and lighting loads. Taking into consideration the harsh Ontario climate, the team created an airtight envelope and an integrated mechanical system so that the home will have 150% higher energy performance than today’s standards.

Harvest Home: Through harvesting natural resources, comforting design features, and an innovative biomedical atmosphere that contributes to rehabilitation of body and spirit, Team Capitol DC designed this home for what it calls its “ideal” resident: a wounded American veteran who has returned from war. The finished home has been donated to Wounded Warrior Homes.

Phoenix House: The project was designed to be a permanent solution for disaster relief housing. It uses a prefab Structural Insulated Panel system for quick building. The exterior is built with fiberboard cement panels and has reclaimed wood siding; the articulated butterfly roof is corrugated metal. The house can sleep six and the bathroom is designed as a safe room. 

Stacey Freed is a senior editor at REMODELING. Find her on Twitter at @SFreed or @RemodelingMag.