It comes as no surprise that the Solar Decathlon team from Middlebury College, where 350.org's Bill McKibben is a distinguished scholar, has produced one of the most socially-conscious of the solar-powered prefabricated homes on display. Driven by five key principles, the InSite House features 14-inch thick walls stuffed with blue jean (cellulose) insulation, three separate modules, including a mechanical chimney, and a solar canopy on the south side that provides a solar path for pedestrians.
The five points of InSiteful design include: create a walkable community, provide ample social space, centralize energy systems to reduce waste and enhance efficiency, engage the street and use local materials, and they have managed to hit their target with each principle. The photovoltaic solar path is probably the most unique aspect of this design. Instead of mounting the home’s energy source on the roof, they have offset it on the street to create shelter for pedestrians cruising along Shannon Street in Middlebury, Vermont – Insite’s final destination.
Instead of creating luxurious bedrooms, this team sought to emphasize the social life by establishing a larger, open plan living and dining area and shrinking private spaces. The innovative steel structure remains visible throughout, which was fairly risky move for this team because some might consider exposed steel to be unsightly, and yet their intention has always been to create an educational model that can be replicated. A mechanical chimney at the core not only evacuates hot air, but also houses all of the mechanical systems – including the plumbing.
We were deeply impressed by the super thick walls stuffed with blue jean insulation (look for the image of a jar of cellulose in our gallery). These keep the home warm during Vermont’s bitterly cold winter months, but the team has also used the wall thickness to create window seats and even shade windows on the southern end of the home that have the most glazing. An overhanging roof entrance creates a transition zone between the street and the interior, and a north-sloping sedum roof provides further insulation, sequesters carbon and manages storm water runoff. Among the top six performers at the Department of Energy’s intercollegiate competition in Irvine, California and a public favorite, Team Middlebury has produced a sensible and scalable design we could certainly live with.
Images © Mike Chino for Inhabitat