The fabulous Solar Decathlon just wrapped up on this weekend, and was home to many a shining example in high-tech solar design. The University of Texas at Austin’s Bloom House took 10th place in the solar design competition, but really stood out to us as a paragon of beautiful zero-energy design. The team successfully brought a bit of “don’t mess with Texas” attitude to design, combining a large open plan with a Texas-sized kitchen, the greenest technologies, and warm local materials.
UT Austin’s team based their design on 5 design principles, which they call the five principles of life: community, adaptability, harvest, endurance and delight. The house was designed not only as a showcase of solar technologies, but also as a way of enjoying the benefits of living in a sustainable home.
Externally the residence evokes the aesthetic of an old Lone Star State dance hall, using a modified version of the old Texan shutters. They made this decision both for architectural reasons, but also because they believed that the shutters offered a design with enormous flexibility in controlling heat, light, fresh air, and ventilation. The house is best located to have the large windows facing south, to allow light to go into the building.
Much like most teams in the competition, the team covered their roof in solar panels, to generate the electricity required for powering the appliances, lights, and electric vehicle. Rather than choosing to drive a large air conditioning system to cool down the residence, the team focused on insulating the residence as much as possible, to reduce heat loss and gain, by using SIP panels. The walls were covered with lightweight plastic panels on the outside which move as wind passes through them. These provide further solar shading, while giving the building a dynamic exterior. Radiant floors, environmentally friendly materials like bamboo and solar hot water close the deal. Oh, and they have a hot tub!
One of the most interesting decisions that the team made was the use of standard materials found in most home improvement stores. “We wanted to take the fear of using the technology out of the system and give people a starting point. It’s technical, but you can do creative things with it.” Said Russell Krepart, faculty adviser to the team.