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The two most interesting aspects of the Team Alberta entry in the Solar Decathlon are that it packs a whole lot of living space into less than 800 square feet, and it reflects the landscape of Alberta and Western Canada by synthesizing four elements: wood, water, stone, and light.

The Team Alberta’s SolAbode includes a vaulted-ceiling living room and kitchen area; a relatively large bathroom, bedroom, and office space; a rooftop deck; a keyway dividing the bedroom/office from the public areas; and even a space to practice yoga.

Because the interior is so small, the team representing four schools--Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Mount Royal College, the Alberta College of Art + Design, and the University of Calgary--moved most of the mechanical components to the roof, creating a spacious feeling throughout.

Most notable about the net-zero-energy house is its dramatic use of native wood, stone, metal, and other natural materials on the exterior and interior, and its post-and-beam construction.

On the inside, deep charcoal-colored stone covers some of the walls, including in the bathroom. Besides adding to the home’s rustic feel, the stone absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night–a huge benefit because of Western Canada’s frigid winters, notes Daan Murray, a graduate architecture student at the University of Calgary.

Because the dark, rich stone could create a dreary interior space, the team built a glass wall in the middle of the house that lets in sun as well as heat, notes Marc Haberli, a Calgary architecture student.

Despite its woodsy appearance, the home’s heating, cooling, lighting, and entertainment systems are high-tech and all operated by a programmable logic controller. The Internet-accessible controller would allow the owners to “check out the house systems from around the world,” Murray says.

The team also evaluated both commercially available and custom-designed components that would allow the house to produce electricity and extract usable heat from the same surface. It opted for a prototype insulated window blind that’s hung on the outside of the window that optimizes daylighting and solar heat gain.

The central control and blinds are the most interesting high-tech features, but the house does include many energy-efficient systems and green products, including: * a crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) system mounted on two tilted rooftop structures
* structural insulated panels (SIPs)
* a solar-assisted, ground-source heat pump with both air-side and water-side economizers
* energy-efficient LED lighting that’s designed to provide interesting visual effects and accent artwork
* exterior blinds that stop the sun from heating up the windows and interior space
* FSC-certified fir cabinets in the kitchen and bedroom
* cork flooring

Jean Dimeo is Chief Editor, Online for EcoHome.