Solar-powered homes are no longer reserved for the rich. There’s no clearer proof of the future in affordable and attractive solar housing than on the grounds of Irvine, California, where the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2015 Solar Decathlon is currently heating up. The collegiate competition features 14 student teams who have designed, built, and operated over a dozen amazing houses 100 percent powered by the sun. We’ve rounded up eight of our favorites from the competition—read on to get a peek into each of these homes.
Though essential, solar isn’t the star of the sun-powered GRoW home—it’s the thriving all-weather vegetable garden at its center. Part greenhouse and part solarium, this ultra-efficient house runs on solar and thermal energy to achieve near total self-sufficiency. A 24-Silevo-panel photovoltaic system tops the folded roof and produces 9MWh per year, which the designers estimate is nearly double the amount of energy that residents will need.
A great way to cut down on construction costs is by using reclaimed materials. That’s what students at the Missouri University of Science and Technology did for the Nest Home, a net-zero house built out of three disused shipping containers. The home was inspired by the shape of a bird’s nest and includes several energy efficient systems, such as greywater reuse, a hydroponic garden, and a photovoltaic array.
California Polytechnic State University students designed the INhouse, a net-zero abode that lets you keep your garden intact even in times of drought. Shaded by a solar panel-topped structure, the water-smart INhouse drains all of its greywater into a constructed wetland system that then filters and redirects the water into landscape irrigation. The modular home also includes a home monitoring system that tracks and sends real-time building performance data to a smartphone app.
Your future solar-powered dream home could snap together like a puzzle without the need for any power tools. Clemson University students designed and built Indigo Pine, a solar-powered abode constructed from CNC-milled interlocking pieces that can be put together by hand without a single nail. Since plywood can be milled using any local CNC machine, Indigo Pine could be built almost anywhere its digital blueprints are received.
Disaster-proof architecture need not look like ugly concrete bunkers. The elegant Shelter3 (pronounced shelter cubed) is an ultra-strong home that defends its residents in style from big storms. Powered with a photovoltaic system that’ll supply more electricity than it needs, the tornado-proof house ensures self-sufficiency even when the grid is destroyed. Students from Crowder College and Drury University home designed the net-zero.
After Hurricane Sandy devastated the eastern seaboard in 2012, coast-loving homeowners began clamoring for better resilient architecture. Students at Stevens Institute of Technology are rising to that demand with SURE HOUSE, a solar-powered home specifically created for the coastal areas of New York and New Jersey. The 1,000-square-foot home uses 90% less energy than a standard home and will stay running even after the power grid’s been shut down.
Students from the Technische Universität München (TUM) and the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) designed the plus-energy NexusHaus, a 784-square-foot modular home built to LEED Platinum standards. Topped by a 7kW photovoltaic array, the compact NexusHaus is handsomely clad in certified green wood and even grows its own food with an “all-food residential landscape.”
Solar-powered homes are becoming more affordable for the middle class, but what about for lower-income folks who may need those energy savings the most? That’s why UC Davis students designed Aggie Sol, a prefab solar home specifically created for low-income agricultural farm workers on the west coast. One of our favorite green elements of this house is the rooftop sprinkler cooling system that collects and reuses rainwater to naturally cool the home.
Images © Mike Chino for Inhabitat