At the 2011 Solar Decathlon in Washington D.C., a turtle-shaped house stands out from the masses of rectilinear homes currently on display in West Potomac Park on the National Mall. Looking somewhat like an elongated teepee with solar panels, Team Canada's TRTL house fuses traditional Native American tribal traditions with twenty-first century technology. The zero-energy sun-powered prefab was designed and built by students from the University of Calgary, and it is currently competing with 18 other homes in the biennial design-build competition. Featuring a tight, highly insulated envelope, TRTL can withstand frigid northern temperatures and functions using only the energy provided by its rooftop solar array. Click through our exclusive gallery to learn more about the TRTL, whose name stands for "technological residence, traditional living!"
Building on the importance of family and community gathering, the open plan TRTL house features a flexible dining and living area that fosters family relationships. The two bedroom home can be assembled quickly and can also be easily modified to accommodate more space. The modern kitchen encourages family cooking, and it is outfitted with energy-efficient appliances and ventilation to discourage humidity when cooking.
The home’s distinctive turtle-shaped “shell,” is made up of highly durable steel and TitanWall SIPs (structural insulated panels), which are fire and mold resistant and can last 75 to 100 years without maintenance. While we like the rounded shape of the house, the judges seemed to be less enthused, as TRTL placed at the bottom of the pack in the architecture category. The SIP panels encase the rounded solar panel array that covers the south-facing portion of the curved roof. The 8.7kW solar array produces enough energy to power the home all year round with excess energy to boot, making TRTL a net zero home. The photovoltaic system is made up of 37 P235PA panels by Conenergy, and it operates at 93 percent of its optimal efficiency.
Interestingly, one of the stipulations for building on Native American reservations is that if the building has a permanent foundation, it becomes the property of the government, which gives residents of reservations little reason to invest in building a home. Team Canada wanted to use their Solar Decathlon house to create a structure that would encourage Native Americans to build their own homes, so they partnered with the native tribes that of Treaty Seven to ensure that the house would be suitable for reservations in Canada. To avoid the issue of a permanent foundation, TRTL is based on a system of screw-piles for its foundation, making it a temporary modular home that can be removed with no effect on the land.
Many of the homes on reservations in Alberta are powered by coal burning power plants, which are responsible for tremendous amounts of CO2 emissions each year. TRTL eliminates the need for this polluting power source while encouraging Native Americans to own their own homes and foster family relationships.