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Students from the Universidad de Puerto Rico have participated in the previous three Solar Decathlons, and they always hear one complaint: “People were saying that they can’t tell it’s a house from Puerto Rico,” says David Ramírez, who recently graduated with a master’s degree in architecture. “We wanted to make more of a Caribbean house and design.”

With this in mind, the team built the CASH House--the Caribbean Affordable Solar House for this year’s entry into the bi-annual Solar Decathlon competition.

To evoke a Caribbean feeling, the students integrated the outdoor and indoor spaces of the home, which has 450 square feet of conditioned space and 350 square feet of unconditioned space.

A system of screens surrounds the house, allowing it to open to the outdoors for cross ventilation and reducing the need for air conditioning. The entrance is an unconditioned area that can be contained by the screens and holds appliances such as a washer and dryer as well as a cot so residents can enjoy the outdoors from a sheltered location.

“In the Caribbean, we have a lot of cross ventilation and homes that connect to the outdoors,” says Zoé Galan, an architecture student. “That’s why we wanted a porch entrance. That way, it’s livable as an alternative dining space.”

The house is arranged in an L shape circle by a deck and surrounding a courtyard, further allowing each part of the residence to connect with the outdoors. The short leg of the “L,” which contains the multipurpose porch room, is oriented south, shielding the sun’s heat from the rest of the house. The team also maximized shading by arranging solar panels to block 80% of the sun’s rays.

Along with the natural cooling that comes from shading and cross currents, Team Puerto Rico included a radiant system. Unlike most of the radiant heating and cooling products used today, the house’s Climacustic system,  is based in the ceiling instead of the floor.

The interior of the CASH House complements the versatility of the screen system. A bright-green central module in the conditioned area of the home can be moved to expand the bedroom or bathroom area. At night, a Murphy bed lowers from the module, which also contains storage.

“My favorite part is the Murphy bed,” says Ramírez. “You can hide it when you don’t need it, and it frees up space during the day.”

In the bathroom area, slats in the floor capture shower water for plant irrigation. The house also captures rainwater for this purpose.

In addition to new technology, the house sports reclaimed materials. The redwood exterior comes from a campus building that is being remodeled, and the teak flooring and bathroom wall were recycled from discarded park benches.

Ramírez says the Solar Decathlon event shows that there is growing interest in integrating high-performance technology into future houses.

“Just looking at The [National] Mall and seeing so many people interested, it’s breathtaking,” he says. “They want to see something different from the way they are living now.”

Victoria Markovitz is Associate Editor for Custom Home magazine.