If anyone should know about designing a compact space for ultimate comfort, it's the students at the Stevens Institute in Hoboken, NJ. Team Stevens, whose school sits directly across the river from bustling and crowded NYC, brought their Ecohabit house to the Solar Decathlon in Irvine, CA just days ago, and they're already blowing visitors away. The home not only features a stunning prefab design reminiscent of R. Schindler's beautiful California moderns, but also employs a level of technology that we've yet to see elsewhere at this year's competition. From a smart detection system that "learns" from its inhabitants to create a healthier and more comfortable living space to innovative solar shingles developed with Dow Chemical, keep reading to learn more about this amazing Solar Decathlon entry.
The 1,300 square foot home is a simple, low-slung L-shaped construction made up of two modules—a ‘dry module’ that hosts all of the home’s living areas and a ‘wet module’ containing all of Ecohabit’s plumbing and mechanical systems. Though the team came from the east coast, they opted to design Ecohabit with southern California temperatures in mind. The home features a single bedroom, a single bathroom, and places heavy emphasis on outdoor living. Two sizable covered patio and porch areas wrap the home, and a spectacular green wall and green roof provides an area to grow edibles while also doubling up as an extra layer of insulation. Folding glass doors extend the living room and kitchen outdoors.
As a net-zero, passive home, Ecohabit incorporates an innovative bio-phase-change material (bioPCM) throughout the structure. With bioPCMs the house is able to self-regulate its temperatures by harnessing the sun’s energy. As the sun heats up the home during the day, the bioPCM absorbs the energy and enters a liquid state. When things start to cool down at night, the bioPCM solidifies and releases energy. The home also uses Dow Powerhouse solar shingles, which impressively not only look and perform as effectively as regular asphalt shingles, but do not require a racking system to generate its 5.8kW of energy.
To save on water, Ecohabit uses a three-component water harvesting system that includes the roof garden, green wall, and roof drainage system. The home also uses an on-demand hot water system that requires much less energy to heat water and alerts the user when it reaches a comfy heat for showering, washing dishes, etc. This completely alleviates the need to run excess water to reach an optimal temperature.
All of the systems in the home are backed up by a smart detection system that has been developed exclusively for Ecohabit. To gather info, “smart detectors” are placed throughout the home, collecting data such as temperature, humidity, and motion. All the collected data can be accessed through the smart device, and because the program runs on an algorithm, the system will evolve with the homeowners, learning from their living patterns and eventually operating the home autonomously based on their needs.
There’s no question that Team Stevens will be a top contender at this year’s Solar Decathlon, but will they take home top prize? The team is hoping that this year’s win will top their 2011 victory in the ‘Affordability’ category.
Photos by Mike Chino for Inhabitat