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The North House, Team Ontario/BC’s entry in the 2009 Solar Decathlon, was designed exclusively to face the extreme temperatures in Ontario and British Columbia: frigid, snow-filled winters and hot, humid summers.

“Plus,” says Lauren Barhydt, a graduate architecture student from the University of Waterloo, “there are a lot of overcast days in Vancouver and British Columbia and a lot of rainy days in Ontario.”

So the students from Team North, as they call themselves (University of Waterloo in Ontario; Ryerson University in Toronto; and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver) devised several smart strategies to conquer the provinces’ harsh climates:
--Highly insulated, quadruple-glazed, floor-to-ceiling glass was installed on the south, east, and west sides for passive solar heating during the winter as well as a connection to the outdoors. The windows contain two layers of glass and two layers of mylar and krypton gas, and are thermally broken.
--Automated coverings on the outside of the glass hold heat in during the winter and keep it out in the summer. Meanwhile, a rooftop sensor tracks weather conditions and retracts the coverings when severe conditions arise.
--Vertical photovoltaic (PV) panels form a frame around the top of the windows. Along with rooftop PV panels, the system is optimal for capturing winter solar energy, project manager Barhydt says.
--Salt hydrate encased in plastic was placed under the floors. The change-phase material is light and flexible and absorbs heat during the day and releases it into the house at night. Chris Black, a Waterloo graduate architecture student, says the material has been used in walls, but it’s the first time to his knowledge that it’s been placed under a floor.

These construction techniques and materials, and a clever interior design, placed Team North fourth in the overall competition that included 20 collegiate teams from around the world.

Other aspects of the North House are worth noting. The bright, airy multifunctional space with locally harvested natural maple floors serves as the kitchen, living room, office, and bedroom. Furnishings fold away when not in use, including a bed that retracts into the ceiling and office furniture that can be completely hidden.

In addition, the ceiling is covered with a white fabric shaped into small cones. The material, which is used to fabricate commercial blinds, dampens sound and softens the space, Black notes.

The team first incorporated all LED lights, but Barhydt says that it is not the most efficient source of light for all applications. So, there are a mix of LEDs and tube fluorescents throughout the dwelling.

The home’s other key features include: R-60 insulation; evacuated-tube solar collectors integrated with cascading warm water storage tanks; and an extensive computer system that allows residents to see and control their energy use from a desktop computer or remotely from a computer or iPhone.

Jean Dimeo is Chief Editor, Online for EcoHome.