Gallery: SOLAR DECATHLON 2009: Team Ontario/BC’s North House For Cold C...


We’ve been bringing you breaking coverage of this week’s Solar Decathlon in Washington DC throughout the week and one of the most interesting homes to emerge from the competition is the North House, a super sleek, high-tech solar powered home designed to generate more energy than it consumes – an especially impressive feat granted that the home was designed for the extreme climate of Northern Canada. Currently in 4th place at the Decathlon, Team Ontario/BC is exhibiting an incredibly impressive showing. With two days left of the competition, they still have a good chance to eek out some more points in the categories of Engineering, Lighting and the biggie, Net Metering, which could still put them in the lead.

Most of the competing teams at this year’s Solar Decathlon hail from more moderate climates, so Team Ontario/BC should garner considerable respect considering the climes they’ve designed for. Taking the cold weather into account, the North House has paid particular attention to tight insulation and a high-performance glazing system, which wraps the house and manages passive heating and cooling of the building by providing different configurations – from full shading to full sun.

The high-tech North House was built right next to the low-budget ZEROW House from Rice University that we covered last week, and the two designs couldn’t have been more contrasting. While the ZEROW house utilized passive design techniques and was designed to be as affordable as possible, the North House spared no expense in the high-tech automated systems for the home. As you can see in our photos, the entire exterior is clad in the most state-of-the-art ‘building-integrated-photovoltaic’ (BIPV) tiles.

The interior furniture and finishing also feature a lot of interesting high-tech design choices, such as a space-saving bed that automatically lowers from the ceiling at night, and folds back up into the ceiling during the day to maximize the living room space.

The North house was designed to use customizable and interchangeable components, which will aid in the fabrication of the prefab home when it comes to market. They have also worked hard on their layered approach to envelope construction, designing, what they call, DReSS (Distributed Responsive System of Skins). DReSS consists of an inner layer of ‘thin’ skin information systems, responsive to touch; a middle layer that is a highly insulated glazing system that can maximize solar gain combined with a shading system for privacy; and finally an outer layer of thin-film photovoltaics.

Jill and Rebecca visit the North House

The team designed the North House to offer “an attractive high performance home that sets a new standard for solar design in Canada’s northern climate.” The North House took 1st place in the category of Comfort Zone and 2nd place in Communications, which, combined with their other scores, means they not too far behind Team Illinois, Team Germany and current leader Team California. Keep it tuned to Inhabitat as we follow their progress this week and see who take the ultimate prize of the 2009 Solar Decathlon.

+ North House

+ Solar Decathlon Standings & Scores

+ Inhabitat Solar Decathlon Coverage

+ Inhabitat Solar Decathlon Photo Gallery >


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  1. sharon mintz March 20, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    could i come to visit you in Waterloo. I would like to see the structure. I was in washington when you were displaying it but you were closed.

  2. TN January 26, 2010 at 2:06 am

    I beleive that what sebastien meant to say is that the windows were a net gainer.. not as insualting as a wall.

  3. Sebastien October 22, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Hi, I was part of the engineering team on the north house. The windows are as insulating as a regular wall. They are quad panes.

    As for the comment about the roof, this particular house will be located in souther Ontario, and the roof, and PV panels will be able to take the load. This house is a concept, and could be slightly modified for different locations. For example, if we wanted to place this house in a more snowy location, the PV racking system would need some kind of slope.

  4. RobMacKenzie October 17, 2009 at 11:47 pm


    I am part of the team that built this house. I wasn’t one of the architects, but I can answer some of your questions. You’re right, the glass windows are very high insulation value. I have the stats on the insulation values at the end of this post. They are 2 sheets of glass sandwiching mylar films.

    As the article stated, the glass is used to heat the area. We pull in free heating by letting the sun shine through the windows.

    Through simulations we’ve found the interior glass temp. to be approx. 18 C (64.5 F). The North Wall is also highly insulated. The glass and shades work together to provide free heating throughout the winter, this system is more effective than having an opaque insulated wall.

    The floor has a phase change material to buffer the heat inside.

    Yes, it is a bit higher end then zerow house is, but that was our target.


    Window: R-8 (RSI 1.4) with frame

    Glazing: Solar Heat Gain Coefficient: 0.4

    R- 12.5 (RSI- 2.2) U= 0.454 W/m2 K

    Roof: R- 80 Nominal (RSI-14.2) R-73 Actual (RSI-12.9)

    Floor: R- 51 Nominal (RSI- 6.3) R-36 Actual (RSI-6.3)

    Wall: R-64 Nominal (RSI-11.3) R-47 Actual (RSI-8.2)

  5. Zard0z October 15, 2009 at 6:03 am

    “the North House has paid particular attention to tight insulation”

    Where? Most of the facade is glass! This was designed for a Northern Climate? I’d like to see the numbers on this one. Either they are WAY off base or they are using some cutting edge (and ridiculously expensive) materials. They are counting on their PV siding to make up for all the heat loss through their curtain walls. That my friends is not “passive” design. That is the definition of active design. They wanted the modern look and climate be damned, we’ll just throw money at it until our numbers look right. Wrong. I’m sure they put a lot of effort into this but without looking at the data I’d say that they are over looking something. Either this isn’t affordable and marketable or its an icebox.

  6. heylookitsjames October 14, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    Now maybe I’m just speaking through ignorance, but how would a flat roof handle a snow load associated with such a cold climate?

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