We're excited to announce that Middlebury College's Self-Reliance Solar Decathlon house just took took top honors in the communications contest, placing it 4th in the overall competition! If there was a house for the locavore movement, it would be the Self-Reliance house. Solar power is the star of the biennial design-build competition, but the team of students from Middlebury wanted to show that sustainability means a lot more than just renewable energy and efficiency. To do that, the team used local manufacturers and materials, including wood sourced from the College's own forests and insulation made from sheep's wool from a local farm. Living up to it's name of Self-Reliance, the house also boasts plenty of space for residents to grow their own food. Self-Reliance is currently holding steady in the competition, nabbing solid scores in the first few categories, including fourth place in Architecture.
The familiar shape of Middlebury’s home was inspired by New England farmhouses that are ubiquitous throughout the school’s home state of Vermont. The gable shape looks decidedly traditional, but the techniques and technologies make Self-Reliance a very modern home. Given Vermont’s harsh winters, Self-Reliance is built to respond to the environment, with a significant amount of glazing on the south facing- surfaces to maximize solar heat gain. The walls are 11 inches thick, and insulated with cellulose made from 80 percent recycled newspaper. Sheep’s wool from a farmer just down the road from the college was used as additional insulation around the windows.
The 6.75kW rooftop mounted solar array consists of 30 SunPower 225 solar panels that will produce all of the home’s energy. Annually in Vermont, the array will produce about 7930 KWh of AC energy, approximately 1550 KWh that the house’s projected need. Next to the panels is a solar thermal system consisting of two hot water collectors, which will assist the house’s heat pump, helping to heat the water by as much as 50 percent.
But Self-Reliance’s accolades go much further than a powerful solar array. “This competition makes sustainability about just energy,” said team member Addison Godine. “But it’s a lot more than that.” The Middlebury team took pains to keep the carbon footprint of Self-Reliance as small as possible, thus their reason for using mostly local materials.
The woods — sugar maple, spruce, and white oak — were sustainably harvested from Middlebury College-owned forests, and the slate used in the kitchen came from Vermont Structural Slate, located in the southern part of the state. All of the finishes are made with natural materials found close to Middlebury as well. Linseed oil from the flax plant, a crop commercially harvest in the Northeast, makes up the main ingredient in the vertical wood finishes, natural hard waxes coat the flooring, and paint made from eggshells covers the interior walls.
Team also made sure that the home’s inhabitants would be able to live as sustainably as possible, building in ample space to grow food. The kitchen has a large greenhouse wall in the south-facing window that will provide produce year round, and planters line the outside deck, wrapping all the way around the house, allowing for an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and herbs in the warmer months.
After the Solar Decathlon is over, Self-Reliance will be shipped back to Middlebury College, where it will a residence for four lucky students each year. You can vote for the house here, and you can follow the team’s progress here.