In the biennial Solar Decathlon house design competition, the sun's energy takes center stage, but this year the University of Maryland team created a house that also highlights our water usage – a characteristic that has no doubt helped the team jump to first place in the esteemed design-build competition put on by the US Department of Energy. Nineteen eco-friendly prefab houses are currently competing on the National Mall in the 2011 Solar Decathlon, and Maryland’s WaterShed house has led the pack through the first week, as judges awarded points in a variety of categories. Just yesterday, WaterShed took first place in Architecture! WaterShed was inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and focuses heavily on managing storm water, treating greywater and minimizing water usage. Constructed wetlands around the house and the inclusion of a green roof further help to increase energy efficiency and manage water runoff. We’re excited to see that the beautiful and thoughtfully designed WaterShed is on the road to win!
Before one even enters the Watershed house the lush green native landscaping and natural siding stand out. The University of Maryland architecture students made a conscious effort to source local plants that could survive with little extra care. The ash siding on the house is also locally sourced from Maryland and treated to be durable in various weather conditions.
The Watershed house is designed to call attention to our dependance on the natural water cycle, while helping conserve and filter water through clever design details. The butterfly roof helps direct rainwater into the constructed wetlands located along the entrance to the house, which filters and stores rainwater for use in irrigation and other non potable functions. The two modules that make up either “wing” of the butterfly are connected by a third, smaller module where the bathroom is located. The bathroom has large windows on either side which has the effect to make residents feel they are in an outdoor environment. The visual emphasis offers a subtle reminder about water usage and how it directly affects the surrounding environment.
Greywater, that is water that comes from the shower, clothes washer or dishwasher, is recycled by the Watershed home’s artificial wetlands that line the house. In seven days, microbes are able to filter out nutrients and the water can be re-used for irrigation or other non-potable needs. There are also pipes that direct storm water from the roof into cisterns where it can be retained and used for irrigation purposes.
The other two “wings” of WaterShed provide private and social areas which are partitioned by the smaller, bathroom module making for a comfortable work and living environment. The more private living quarters serve two functions thanks in part to well-designed convertible furniture. A working table transforms into a bed at night and several tables fit nicely under one another and can be re-arranged depending on how much workspace is needed.
The kitchen also boasts custom built furniture that helps maximize the use of space. Short stools on wheels are accommodated under a bench space in the living room, and in the kitchen, non-wheeled tables fit snugly over tables on wheels which also have storage space for the stools underneath. A patent-pending University of Maryland student design, the liquid desiccant waterfall is arranged into the wall and helps provide high-efficiency humidity control. A salt solution flows over the small, white balls capturing moisture in the air which is then evaporated outside. Energy efficient Miele appliances, such as the dishwasher and stove are not only resourceful but also fit in well with the modern, sleek design of the kitchen.
Abundant deck space located directly off the kitchen offers additional space where residents are encouraged to interact with nature. The team included a compost bin on the deck that is easily accessible from the kitchen. An edible garden is planted just off the deck and there is also a vertical wall making it easy for residents to grown and harvest produce from the garden each day for use in the kitchen.
Further harvesting the sun’s natural energy, the WaterShed solar thermal panel on the back side of the house comprises 60 evacuated glass tubes that use solar energy to heat water for domestic use. And of course, what would a Solar Decathlon home be without photovoltaics? 42 Sanyo HIT220A 9.2 kilowatt photovoltaic panels on the roof of the WaterShed home provide 100% of the electricity needed to power the house; running everything from the air conditioners, lighting, and appliances down to water pumps and the garbage disposal.
The Maryland student designers intend their house to be suitable for young, working couples in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas. While the upfront investment is slightly higher than other housing options, the long-term benefits of naturally generating all of your own power, combined with the increasing cost of utilities make the design a good option for an energy-strapped future.
Images © Amanda Silvana Coen and Jill Fehrenbacher for Inhabitat