The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon judges the twenty solar homes on design, construction, cost-effeciency, energy-efficiency and appearance. And from the looks of the fluxHome design and sustainability elements, it appears that USC is definitely a strong contender in this year’s competition. As the first to fully complete 100% of the design installations, the USC team is to be commended not only for its inspired building efficiency, but also for the project’s strong sustainability profile. The fluxHome is an impressive modular powerhouse of solar power and energy efficiency, as well as an accessible model for smart growth in future housing design.
Designed to be a modern alternative to the typical Southern Californian tract housing, the home’s solar system is found on the flat roof and is responsible for the design’s net zero energy. Of course, the project’s strong solar harvesting capacity is made possible by Southern California’s average of 300 days of sun per year. However, the fluxHome design not only draws on this constant solar source, but also California’s diverse ecology and microclimate to utilize the complete energy resource cycle. In fact, by incorporating a dual mix of passive and active energy systems, this eco-structure has all the elements of an ultra-dynamic, affordable and sustainable home environment.
The fluxHome aesthetic revamps the typical generic four-walled box structure by incorporating an internal thermally-responsive ventilation system, designed to utilize the surrounding environment’s full natural potential. Foldable and sliding doors and screens, along with retractable skylights, can be opened and closed according to weather, temperatures and time of day, allowing residents to fully enjoy natural light and breezes as well as provide shade and privacy when desired. The home’s innovative envelope system regulates sunlight and air circulation and uses a rainscreen façade as an air gap to reduce heat from solar radiation, boosting the exterior wall construction’s R-values.
Interior lighting is an intelligent collaboration between ambient LED lighting and daylight diffused throughout the house, keeping energy costs at a minimum. In addition to the movable skylight, strategically placed light shelves and window “hoods” are used to shade the interior and subsequently, reduce HVAC cooling loads.
In terms of living space, the interior of the 980-square-foot house consists of various “free zones.” In place of conventional room dividers, oversized sliding doors allow for maximum privacy or, alternatively, can be completely opened to create a sense of community. For the current competition, the team has created a single story, two-bedroom space with a large amount of open common space. However, this modular design is incredibly flexible and also serves as a long-term solution for families as they expand and need more space. Down the road, when children will inevitably fly this solar coop and the need arises to down size, this flexible layout can be converted into a cozy, low-cost retirement cottage.
As far as the exterior, the fluxHome forgoes the typical dormant green lawn for a fully functioning, results-driven green space. Inspired as a 20th century version of Marx’s “Machine in the Garden”, the fluxHome team has reworked the home’s ecosystem characteristics by placing the garden within the machine. The idea here is to seamlessly connect the natural outdoor functions with those on the man-made interior, therefore melding the natural with the artificial. Accordingly, the veranda and porch area are installed with vertical green gardens and living walls equipped with a drip irrigation system. This gardening system is instrumental in improving air quality inside and out.
According to the USC Team, the 980-square-foot solar fluxHome meets and rises above many of the requirements of the competition, including coming in under the cost maximum of $250,000. With USC’s innovative design, energy conservation extends far beyond simple, efficient home design. USC’s fluxHome is a net-zero prototype that hopes to serve as a new residential norm for future building standards in neighborhoods and cities.
Photos by Mike Chino for Inhabitat