For the past few weeks, Inhabitat has featured a number of student-designed homes that will compete in the upcoming 2013 Solar Decathlon competition. But while we wait for final judging of that event to take place in October, the first-ever Solar Decathlon China 2013 is about to take place on the other side of the world. One of the most promising entries in the competition is "Etho," which was designed in collaboration between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Peking University. The international team hopes that their house will increase public awareness for solar technology and promote low-carbon development.
China’s Solar Decathlon presents a different set of challenges than those faced by students working inside the U.S. To achieve the proper perspective, members of the UIUC team traveled to China several times for observation and planning.
“Today’s young Chinese families have grown up in the midst of massive industrialization and have witnessed firsthand the effects it has had on their surroundings,” reads the project website. “The time they have spent growing up in overpopulated cities has also instilled in them a desire to get away from the chaos that comes with urban living and find a peaceful oasis of their own.
This realization led the team to design a single-family dwelling that, while reminiscent of traditional Chinese architecture, will allow its residents to thrive in a rural environment.
“We greatly appreciated the entry sequence with a courtyard and wall to privatize the house, physically and emotionally removing the residents and visitors from the busy public space beyond,” notes Project Architect Zachary Hemlick. “In many homes, there were exterior courtyards, either within the home or just out back.” When designing Etho, the students sought to recreate this feeling with a dining room acts as a courtyard during the day and transforms into a dining room when needed.
Structural insulated panels, or SIPs, are used on all of the home’s exterior walls for super-insulation. “These SIPs replace conventional framing and insulation by “sandwiching” a thick layer of foam between two structural boards. These panels may only have an R-value of 24, but they eliminate thermal short-circuits and create a better seal around the house. SIPs are used in the walls, floor, and ceiling of Etho,” explain the designers.
The center module of Etho is meant to blur the lines between interior and exterior by continuing the same bamboo flooring material through the center, using skylights to let in natural light, and using a GreenWall to bring vegetation into the home.
Solar shading, while a passive element, goes a long way toward increasing the energy efficiency of Etho by alleviating summer heat. “The Southern wall in the living room of Etho is mostly made up of triple-pane windows that, if exposed to direct sunlight, would be a significant heat gain. To mitigate this heat gain during the summer months, Etho’s roof has an overhang large enough to block the sun during the summer, but small enough to let sunlight in during the winter.”
Right now, the Peking-Illinois team is on the ground in Datong, China, gathering last-minute materials and reassembling the house. Etho will compete in 10 contests throughout a week of competition that begins July 13th.