Students from Team ASUNM are sensitive to a special kind of urban sprawl endemic to desert cities such as Phoenix and Albuquerque. So when they designed their SHADE House (Solar Homes Adapting for Desert Equilibrium) for the Solar Decathlon 2013 competition in Irvine, California, they sought to establish a new suburban housing paradigm that promotes self-sufficiency, clever space management, and plenty of opportunities to escape from the sun, while also harnessing its energy for power. Aside from a photovoltaic canopy separated from the home's southern flank, which provides both shade and electricity, we found a unique cooling system to be one of their most impressive selling points. Instead of blowing cool air to cool down the interior, the team from Arizona State and the University of Mexico pump melting ice through the pipes to evacuate heat.
In the desert, sun can be both a blessing and a curse – especially in urban environments beset with a host of other problems such as the heat island effect and pollution. A smart home, like the SHADE House, should take advantage of the blessings and mitigate the curse. Team ASUNM shows us how it’s done by giving what they call a “stick” home super thick natural clay walls that provide excellent insulation and prevent thermal bridging. In so doing, they slashed their energy requirement and in turn the need for excess mechanical assistance. At night the group freezes water so that, if it’s warm out the following day, they can simply melt the ice and pump it through pipes in the roof, which completely saps any residual heat. Louvers pulled out from the 800 square foot home’s skin provide additional shading and cavities allow hot air to escape as well.
Designed for retirees, for which both Arizona and New Mexico are both havens, the SHADE House is incredibly flexible. One room can serve three different functions thanks to shape-shifting (transforming) furniture, and the shading canopy on the southern end extends the interior living space outdoors. Built with local materials and situated in a small ecosystem planted with desert flora that require very little water, the solar-powered prefabricated dwelling recycles its captured rainwater – a seriously precious commodity in the desert. While some teams at this year’s Solar Decathlon have opted to stand out from the crowd with high technology and innovation, this team has produced a solid, sale-able home. In fact, when the competition ends, it will be reassembled at PHX Renews as a model for desert living.