Gallery: SCI-Arc & Caltech’s Solar Decathlon CHIP House is a Crazy Insi...

At the 2011 Solar Decathlon student design competition currently on in Washington DC., SCI-Arc and Caltech's CHIP Solar Decathlon house is turning a lot of heads with what is, without a doubt, the most uniquely shaped prefabricated house currently sitting in West Potomac Park. The lozenge-shaped, solar home defies every engineering and architectural preconception you might have about green building: it wears its puffy insulation on its proverbial sleeve and features a multi-level, open space interior which is structured more like a mini amphitheater than a home. But don't let the crazy space-age aesthetic deceive you - CHIP House packs a punch with a custom iPad app for energy management and the ability to hold up to 45 solar photovoltaic panels on its puffy white roof.

Currently ranking in at number 8, the net zero prefab heralds a new generation of high-tech solar powered housing. The CHIP (which stands for “Compact Hyper-Insulated Prototype”) impressed us with its compact, puzzle-like interior, which allows for maximum flexibility within the 750 square foot home. The living spaces are built on a series of five platforms that become more private as one ascends into the space – the top floor holds the bedroom. In a feat of organization, soft modular chairs fit together to be tucked away in custom wall holsters, and a removable table saves space. The kitchen even holds a snowboard, which doubles as a decorative element above the sink.

CHIP’s boxy shape and slanted roof were designed to maximize solar collection. The unique outer insulation reminds us of a winter coat in appearance as well as in function – it keeps the inside protected from the elements while providing an uncomplicated waterproofing system. It also allows more living space in the interior than would be possible with insulated walls.

The element of the CHIP House that is generating the most buzz with visitors at the Solar Decathlon is its personal energy management technology, including the iPad app eGauge which allows residents to monitor, and therefore maintain or decrease their energy usage, and the XBox Kinect system which is hooked up to the lights and home entertainment, allowing users to control these devices with hand gestures.

It provides detailed information on the energy consumption of the house and the effects of all the home’s energy saving features, which include a holistic heating and cooling system, wastewater recycling, low-flush toilets, and a 7.8 kW photovoltaic system. The house is also outfitted with a Control4 system that turns off lights when no one is home, runs the drip irrigation system during dry weather, and even closes blinds to shade the home.

CHIP is a comfortable, well-organized house that utilizes a bevy of high-tech systems to maintain energy efficiency and teach residents about their power use. It’s a refreshingly unique design in a sea of rectangular Solar Decathlon boxes, and we hope CHIP’s innovative details inspire architects and homeowners to dream up new possibilities in home design.

+ SCI-Arc/Caltech’s CHIP House

+ US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon


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  1. asj0655 October 26, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    It’s not INsulation . . . it’s OUTsulation!

  2. brendatucker September 30, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Insulation outside the home! That way there’s no mystery, no question, no oversight about “what’s in there.”

  3. d4cfan September 29, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    I’m a 75 year old and I thought that regenerativehomes comments were off base. I could live in this environment.

    PS: Our state flag reads California Republic – no ulterior motive, just a bit of history.

  4. September 28, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    Nice for a dorm project or student housing and we’ve seen similar designs for remote science stations with extreme weather conditions (not to mention amniotic chambers), but the students need to start thinking about providing for adults, growing families, and older adults who actually buy homes. They need to rethink the relationship of the homeowners with the exterior surroundings. Excellent job on the technology but somewhere they lost the heart and soul of architecture or that technology is often a bandaid for a poorly designed building. If this was a stand-alone exhibit or freshman project I would give it some slack and praise it for thinking outside the box. But its not. Passive design concepts should have been embraced. Most of the entries promote the message that living spaces need to connect with their neighborhoods. Hopefully the students will tour some of the other homes on exhibit and really study them, talk to some of their project members and connect with them online, and learn that real solutions need to consider how neighbors interact with their surrounding environment and their neighbors. The irony is that architecture is not about buildings. Buildings are nothing without people. It is always about the people. No matter how well the building relates to the surrounding environment and uses less resources, ultimately the solution demands how well the people relate to the environment.

  5. Diane Pham September 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    love the california flag above the door!

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