For those brave enough to test the limits of desert living, the payoff can be spectacular when a home is properly sited to deal with the harsh weather conditions. The University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Solar Decathlon team took their knowledge of the dry and sunny Mojave and created a spectacular prefab home that pulls the beautiful desert landscape indoors for a fully immersive experience without all of the heat. The home's dynamic shape and subtle details connect beautifully with the outdoors while creating an ultra-efficient, net zero home that educates and inspires its inhabitants through the use of solar energy and water conservation. Keep reading to learn more about UNLV's stunning DesertSol.
Though DesertSol was developed as a second home, or “base camp” for an adventurous couple between the ages of 35 and 75, the home is well-suited to serve as a full-time residence for those with minimal space demands (and no kids — it’s only 735 square feet, after all). The house boasts a sizable kitchen, generous living and dining area, a large bedroom, and a partially covered wrap-around deck. But what makes the home’s design truly stand out is the way it blends with the landscape through its material palette and the play of light through the scattered windows and perforated screens.
There is also plenty of function to the home’s form, and the design moves far beyond aesthetics. DesertSol is a highly energy-efficient home with a minimal footprint. The exterior’s pre-weathered steel and silver wood are capable of enduring the harsh desert environment, and the home’s non-traditional framing techniques have been used to reduce construction materials (an estimated 20%) and to create a more efficient thermal envelope. DesertSol also boasts an array of 30 solar panels that can generate 7.5 kilowatts of electricity—enough to power the house’s LED lighting, heating and cooling systems, and all of its appliances with energy to spare.
DesertSol also copes well with the Mojave’s water scarcity by collecting rainwater and moisture, then reusing it for evaporative cooling as well as irrigation for landscaping. But UNLV didn’t stop with collecting water. The home uses the thermal properties of water in a hydronic radiant floor heating system. Water transfers heat approximately 20 times more efficiently than air, and this is one of the most cost-effective and efficient type of heating systems available, providing a distinct upgrade over standard forced-air system. Additionally, solar thermal energy is harvested and used to heat domestic hot water, and low-flow ultra-efficient fixtures have been selected to further water conservation.
Though the home produces more electricity than it needs, power consumption is monitored down to the individual circuit. A customized app provides detailed feedback on how much each load truly uses and where the parasitic loads and inefficiencies lie. And even if the whole system may sound a little tedious at first, you’ll be happy to know that it can also be used to customize the home’s entertainment system (sure to bode well when the students take on their dinner and movie night challenge).
There are still two weeks to go until the winner is announced, but Team Vegas already has big plans for their DesertSol. The house is currently awaiting LEED Platinum certification, and once the competition is over, the student team plans to return the home to Las Vegas where it will become a public exhibit prototype that educates Las Vegas Valley residents and children about sustainable living.
Photos by Mike Chino for Inhabitat