Team Ontario was just announced as the winner of the prestigious Engineering Contest at the 2013 Solar Decathlon for their ECHO ecological home. Blending technological savvy with cost-saving energy efficiency, Team Ontario's smart prefab house promises to revolutionize the way young prospective homeowners live and think about housing. Hit the jump to learn more about the impressive Solar Decathlon contender.
In anticipation of the next wave of students and young professionals looking to purchase a home in the next ten years, Team Ontario designed ECHO, a starter home that introduces the concept of sustainable housing as the affordable norm of the future. Designed to meet the expectations for the creative generation, ECHO emphasizes affordability, energy efficiency, and easy customization. The modular home combines many modern values shared by “Generation Now,” such as technological innovation, freedom of expression, environmental advocacy, and health consciousness.
To show appreciation for the great Canadian outdoors, ECHO features an open-concept plan and lots of locally sourced and recycled materials that follow the cradle-to-cradle design approach. On the south side, a post-and-beam exostructure provides the architectural focal point for the house, showcasing a 7.8 kW PV array and a solar thermal system. The angle and orientation were carefully calculated to limit snow accumulation and solar heat gain while maximizing south-facing glazing during the summer and passive shading on the deck below.
Inside, the modern living spaces are laid out to encourage a natural flow between rooms. This effective and efficient use of space ultimately defines the shape of the outer building. The team included a multipurpose room that can evolve to either become an office space or a bedroom for small children. The small house is flooded with sunlight, which creates the impression of spaciousness. The beautiful reuse of local materials and up-cycled local accessories add a punch of personality to each room – the hardwood flooring, for instance, is sourced from reclaimed trees from urban developments.
To withstand Canada’s extreme seasonal climates, ECHO is wrapped in an innovative, airtight building envelope that uses cutting-edge vacuum insulation panels (VIPs). Offering 15 times more thermal resistance than typical insulation methods, this new technology reduces energy costs by allowing homeowners to stay warmer in the winters and cooler in the summers. Rainwater channels have also been installed on top of the roof to direct runoff into a waterfall feature where limestone rocks neutralize the acidic precipitation for irrigation purposes.
Throughout the structure, ECHO employs various smart technology systems to optimize energy performance. Using an advanced predictive shading system, the house integrates daily weather forecasts with building simulations to generate a daily shading placement schedule, thus minimizing HVAC and lighting loads.
A weather station is also equipped atop the roof to monitor changes and send signals to the house’s integrated mechanical system, which will automatically manage space heating, cooling, dehumidification and domestic hot water depending on current environmental conditions. A student-developed Android-based mobile app displays ECHO’s energy performance in real-time data and give the homeowner manual controls over the house.
To top off its many eco-friendly and energy efficient benefits, the ECHO home is able to straddle the line between tradition and innovation. By offering familiar and customizable elements with a modern twist, the accessible design can whet our current generation’s appetite and demand for sustainable and affordable housing as the market norm. Poised to revolutionize our housing paradigm, Team Ontario’s stellar entry promises to educate and engage homeowners even beyond the close of this year’s Solar Decathlon.
Photos by Mike Chino for Inhabitat