Gallery: SOLAR DECATHLON 2007: University of Colorado Solar House


One of the biggest highlights from the 2007 Solar Decathlon comes from reigning victor University of Colorado- and the design is proving once again that the team has what it takes to be solar design champions. Committed to defending their 2002 and 2005 titles, the 2007 CU Solar Decathlon team has brought a versatile, modular design that integrates “shining” examples of solar technology, recycled shipping containers, and a super cool aesthetic.

Putting a twist on the competition criteria, CU has designed a 2,100-ft2 house with a central 700-ft2 core. The smaller version meets the Solar Decathlon guidelines and functions as a complete house on its own. However, the team decided to design “a full-size house to make our story more relevant to homeowners as well as the building industry”, said Michael Brandemuehl, an associate professor in CU’s Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering.

At the National Mall solar village, the team has built the smaller version of it’s CORE concept and delineated the full house outline with decking. The larger version uses two conventional shipping containers to take advantage of modular, prefabricated materials. The competition module houses the kitchen, bathroom and a centralized area for mechanicals. The additional module will be constructed after the Solar Decathlon adding space for laundry, a master bathroom and a guest bathroom. The complete concept will become a research, education and outreach facility for Xcel Energy, the team’s primary sponsor.

Solar Photovoltaic
CU’s design uses a building integrated photovoltaic thermal (BIPV/T) collection system, a building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) system and a battery bank. The thermal system collects heat from the backside of the PV array and transfers the thermal energy to storage tanks for a water-to-water heat pump. The PV system was sized to meet electricity needs in Washington, D.C., and Colorado with a battery bank that allows for four days backup during zero PV power.

High Efficiency Water to Water Heat Pump
The EnergyPlus building energy simulation program was used to size an efficient water-to-water heat pump with two thermal storage tanks. More energy-efficient than air-to-air or air-to-water systems, the chosen system also allows use of refrigerant R410A which has zero ozone depleting potential.

Inside, the CU team’s CORE solar house uses environmentally friendly Marmoleum® flooring, formaldehyde-free Plyboo Strand® 100% bamboo cabinetry, Richlite recycled paper countertops and Ecogress mosaics made from eco-friendly porcelain. Several walls and doors are eco-resins from 3Form Material Solutions with 40% post-industrial reclaimed material. The decking is made from reclaimed redwood planks sourced from Boulder-based building material recycler ReSource2000.

Net-zero Energy
Designed to reduce energy loads, the entry from CU minimizes system needs with a well-insulated building envelope, high performance windows, natural daylighting, natural ventilation, energy-efficient appliances and an efficient HVAC system. Even without the BIPV systems or the specified HVAC, the team estimates that the design would use 40% less energy than a conventionally built home of the same size.

Insulation, passive solar design and windows create a 73% savings in heating and a house that requires 60% less electricity throughout the year. As a grid-connected home in sunny Boulder, Colorado, the design would produce 38% more energy than it needs to operate. Even under cloudier skies in Washington, D.C., the home is still a net-zero structure that would produce an energy surplus.

Inhabitat is on hand at the Solar Decathlon 2007, so stay tuned to find out.
And check out our photos of the event here >

+ Solar Decathlon 2007

+ University of Colorado Solar Decathlon 2007

+ Inhabitat photo coverage of the 2007 Solar Decathlon


or your inhabitat account below


  1. Leslie Manhombo November 5, 2007 at 9:38 am

    This is truly a wonderful idea and can work well for us in Africa.
    Only that Solar is stil so expensive.

  2. Vivienda fabricada con ... October 30, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    […] Inhabitat Construcción y vivienda, agua caliente, calefacción, contenedores, energía, paneles […]

  3. Chad Corbin October 25, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    One need only to look at our website for evidence of innovation. The Engineering jury correctly identified our mechanical and combined Building Integrated Photovoltaic-Thermal systems as innovative developments with real-world promise and awarded us third place in Engineering. The thermal-storage-coupled water-to-water heat pump is a first that should be given its due. The two teams placing higher than us in Engineering take a much safer approach with standard split-system HVAC systems — hardly innovative in my opinion.

    We’ve made all of our documentation available on our website (the only team that has chosen to do so) and you are more than welcome to review our designs.

    Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions at all.

    Chad Corbin
    Solar Decathlon Project Manager
    Graduate Student, Building Systems Program
    Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering
    University of Colorado at Boulder

  4. Mark Warner October 20, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    Jill, I’ve appreciated the photos and coverage. I’m sure the complainer feels sorry after you explained the situation. The shots of the Maryland house interior are wonderful and I’m using one as my computer wallpaper. It was my frustration that in previous Decathlons especially, the teams themselves didn’t have someone take quality photos of the interior or their houses. But, I think this year has been the best, by the teams and for outside coverage.

    To hear of the crowds, it must’ve been frustrating. Makes me glad I couldn’t go. There is nothing like standing in a house ALONE, to appreciate its feel and beauty. When I’ve looked at houses to buy, I send the realtor out of the house or in another room. Just having one other person there is distracting.

    Colorado’s smartest move was making this from the start as a module for a larger project, so it may have legs, so to speak. However, I happen to love small houses, and its not like there’s no market for houses for single people or childless couples, and as stated in much of the literature for the contest, the houses are small for transportability only and also to keep construction costs down. All their designs are supposed to be expandable.

    I think one of the problems in the marketability of any state-of-the-art zero energy home, is that people are afraid that it will devalue as the technology or design advances. However, I think it would help their penetration into the market if they looked a little cleaner, and simpler in design, than that of the fun, wacky and wild Colorado assemblage. I was very impressed that in 2005 Cornell’s effort was a house that they claimed could be mass produced for around $120,000. I don’t think that could be said of the 1.5M German house.

    I dream of a Model T of the housing industry, sort of like Fuller’s vision for Dymaxion house, but instead of a house full of flaws or ultra unorthodox in design, this one would be very energy efficient, tested for a year or two, improved and then mass produced on a huge scale to keep the cost low. I guess the problem in that fantasy, is that houses need to be designed according to the specific locations where they are built.

  5. Jill October 20, 2007 at 3:28 pm


    There are no interior photos (except for the shot of the cooling system/screen & lamp) because the house was always SO PACKED with people that it was not possible to take any decent interior shots. Believe me, I tried – and I also tried to find interior shots from the designers. The houses were only open each day for 5 hours, and during the time they were open, they had hour-long lines snaking around the houses to get inside, and once inside people were packed like sardines.

    Considering I went to D.C and spent three days at the Decathlon on my own dime – and have been reporting live from the show – within hours that things have been announced — it is frustrating to hear you say that my coverage was disappointing. If you have been following the site at all over the past few days, you will see that we have published over 60 photos of the event and of the houses — and we have done extensive articles on FIVE houses already, with several more to come. We have photos of almost every house in the competition. I’m not sure how much more I can do than that. I only left the Solar Decathlon yesterday and it takes time to download photos and write articles. Thanks for your patience.


  6. What’s Green Buil... October 20, 2007 at 4:54 am

    […] More than just energy-efficient, the green designs at the 2007 Solar Decathlon are filled with ideas and materials that promote healthy indoor spaces. The low-toxic, renewable and recycled finishes are as beautiful as the designs themselves. Inhabitat has been covering the Solar Decathlon all week and has great pictures and articles about many of the designs. See University of Cincinnatti’s colorful contribution here, Darmstadt Germany’s stunning design here and University of Colorado’s CORE concept here. […]

  7. stephanie esposito October 19, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    why are there no interior photos ? i hate to say this because i love the site, but i am also disappointed in the coverage. i had hoped to see the event in person, but tornado warnings kept us at home. i know you all must have seen alot more than 3 houses, why cant we ?

  8. Jackson October 19, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    Cool Colorado! Hook up with the architect in Southern California, DeMaria Design, they are way out there when it comes to successful container projects. Maybe some type of collaboration can unlock some new ideas. Fantastic project.

  9. The Revolution Corporation October 19, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    As well… The Colorado entry most successfully integrated Universal Design (accessibility for all).

  10. The Revolution Corporation October 19, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    The interesting idea behind this house is that the shipping container houses all the mechanicals of the house.
    The idea is that a land owner could buy the up-fitted shipping container and build the rest of the house in their preferred style, using a regional contractor & material suppliers. Modular and Pre-Fab houses have been called “modern trailers” by many because they are cookie cutter. This house makes the statement that a hybrid of Pre-Fab & Site Built may be the solution. I haven’t seen a more practical, or better looking use of shipping containers in residential architecture.

  11. jim October 19, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    Having just returned from a 28 hr round trip from the West Coast in order to see the Decathlon, I am surprised that you picked one of the least innovative (and to my knowledge, not a major prize winner by the time I left yesterday afternoon) to feature. Yes, every entry had unique features and made my sojourn worthwhile. But, I would have liked to have your readers see some of the more feasible entries. I hope that you will do all of us a favor to continue to bring us more details of all of the entries. Jim

  12. Eyesack October 19, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    I think that is a great idea to make it as a small part of a bigger house. I was out at SolarD in 2005 and when I would talk to others looking at the houses, the biggest complaint was they were all to small, yes I know that we should all live in smaller homes but we don’t. And Colorado made a house that I could have my family in.

  13. Gallery of Contemporary... October 19, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    […] SOLAR DECATHLON 2007: University of Colorado Solar House (Inhabitat) Our sister institution to the north, CU, defended their title in the 2007 Solar Decathlon with a “modular design that integrates ’shining’ examples of solar technology, recycled shipping containers, and a super cool aesthetic.” (tags: eco.arts architecture University.of.Colorado design) […]

  14. Chad Corbin October 18, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Thanks for the excellent write-up. Great summary of our systems and design. Cheers!

get the free Inhabitat newsletter

Submit this form
popular today
all time
most commented
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
Federated Media Publishing - Home