Around 60 percent of the homes in the Netherlands are row house terraces, with around a quarter of those built in the post-war period. While these constructions characterize much of the Dutch urban landscape, they weren't exactly built with energy efficiency as their first priority. A team of Delft University students has developed a concept for a solar-powered skin designed to optimize energy usage, while also preserving this classic Dutch architecture.

The skin covers the exterior of the existing house from font to back, one side fitted with glass and photovoltaic panels to harvest the energy from the sun, while the other contains added insulation to trap the heat indoors. According to team, this concept demonstrates how 1.4 million similarly built Dutch homes could become entirely energy neutral.

Critical to the skin's effectiveness is its adaptability. During winter, the skin encloses the house entirely to contain heat, then in the autumn and spring it opens partially to provide ventilation. In the hotter months of the year, it is opened up completely to maximize airflow using what is known as the "stack effect." This refers to a difference in density between the indoor and outdoor air which in turn creates a buoyancy force, driving natural ventilation through the building.

The team says that for the common Dutch family, improving their home's sustainability is not in itself sufficient reason for a renovation. If the garden and living space were to also be enhanced however, it would make the proposition more appealing. As such, the team incorporated these equally important elements into the functions of the skin.

Because the skin acts as a buffer zone between it and the house during winter, it creates appropriate conditions for a winter garden, while the building itself remains the warmer core. When spring brings with it a warmer temperature again, the space can be used for entertaining or as an extension of the house.

Dubbed Prêt à Loger (ready to be lived in), the team will showcase the project by fitting the skin to a model home based on the typical dutch dwelling. The model house will be constructed in Versailles, France at the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe in June and July, a competition where universities around the world are invited to demonstrate full-scale concepts of functional solar-powered homes.

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