Ultra-efficient SURE HOUSE wins the 2015 Solar Decathlon

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2015 Solar Decathlon 1st Place - Stevens Institute of Technology. SURE House is completely solar powered, with excess power to be shared in emergency situations(Credit: Stevens Institute of Technology)

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The US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon has been run and won for 2015. It’s a nationwide contest between collegiate teams to see who can build the most attractive, cost-effective and efficient solar home. Fourteen teams duked it out for this year’s competition, and the winning team from the Stevens Institute of Technology drew inspiration from Hurricane Sandy to create a sustainable coastal home that opens up for entertaining in summertime but locks down to resist severe weather damage in the winter.

The Solar Decathlon is held every two years, and challenges collegiate teams from across America to design and construct innovative, sustainable and marketable solar homes. In a close contest, Stevens Institute of Technology took first place for 2015, scoring strongly in all 10 points categories.

1st place - SURE HOUSE, Stevens Institute of Technology

The SURE HOUSE team placed first in no less than 6 out of 10 categories to take the final prize. Short for SUstainable and REsilient, the home was designed to stand up to the challenges of a changing climate that has seen an increase in extreme weather events in areas like the Jersey Shore.

The design started out with a "quintessential 60’s style modern beach cottage" but updated it with full solar power, fiber-composite armor for storm resistance and energy efficient design.

Beachfront living is all about enjoying summer weather, so the SURE HOUSE opens right up when the weather’s nice, doubling its floor space with several outdoor living areas. But when the weather turns sour, the beachside shades fold down to become storm shutters capable of resisting intense weather events.

The exterior is covered with stormproof armour using several layers of fiber composite glued together over a foam core. Each layer is placed in a different orientation to maximize the strength of the overall piece. The entire bottom level of the house is sealed in such a way as to make it completely waterproof up to a specified flood level, which also helps make it energy efficient for heating and cooling.

To make the most of its solar power, the SURE HOUSE has been designed with ultra-low energy consumption in mind – some 90 percent less than a regular home. This includes highly efficient appliances like a Daikin Skyair zoned heat pump for heating, cooling and dehumidifaction, as well as solar electric hot water and a Zehnder Novus energy recovery ventilation system that recovers heat from the building exhaust and preconditions incoming fresh air.

While the SURE HOUSE’s rooftop solar panels can produce around 10,000 watts of power, it’s still connected to the grid. But unlike many solar systems, in the event of a power shutdown, the transformer switches over to produce some 3,000 watts of emergency power, completely off the grid. The team has also built a public USB charging station outside the house, for community use during emergencies.

It’s an interesting and attractive home design that does a good job of merging twin goals – mitigating climate change through extreme energy efficiency and reduction of fossil fuel use, while preparing for the adverse effects of climate change, including flooding and extreme coastal weather events.

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