Up until October 22, 2012, the Jersey Shore was a place you'd go to have a pretty predictably good time. Then uncertainty hurtled into town along with a hurricane named Sandy. The SURE HOUSE, Stevens Institute of Technology's entry into the 2015 US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, is a prototype for a solar-powered, storm-resilient home that aims to bring a level of security back to the New Jersey coast and other vulnerable areas. Combining sustainability (SU) and resiliency (RE), the super energy-efficient, passively cooled and heated residence features a breezy and open 1960s-style beach cottage vibe that is SURE to make a splash at this year's Decathlon next month. We headed over to Hoboken, New Jersey in August to walk through the structure as final touches were being completed before its big trip over to California. Come along on our photo tour to learn more about this marvel of resilient engineering.
The SURE HOUSE is a shore house built for a post-Sandy world. Designed with coastal communities in mind, it combines an open beach house floor plan with a super-insulated envelope, a 9kW solar power system, energy-efficient appliances and a hybrid PV electric/integrated heat pump hot water system that allow the home to consume a whopping 90% less energy than a typical residence. According to the Stevens team, the rooftop solar array can generate enough power to supply all of the home’s energy needs over the course of a year.
In addition to the rooftop solar array of traditional glass PV panels, the home also incorporates custom-fabricated Building Integrated Photovoltaics that have been fitted onto its storm shutters, which collect sun in their horizontal open position during fair weather. The flexible thin-film BIPs are capable of providing up to 70% of the home’s hot water needs without a bulky racking system, and have the added benefit of being much more impact-resistant than traditional PV panels. Plus, it’s just plain cool that the storm shutters can serve a secondary purpose as solar panels.
Stevens team electrical engineer and public relations manager AJ Elliott explains how the SURE HOUSE’s hot water tank works.
Though the SURE HOUSE’s energy-saving tech specs are impressive, what really sets it apart is its focus on resilient design. Instead of simply raising the house on stilts or boarding up windows, the Stevens team created a comprehensive storm-proofing strategy that incorporates a composite sheathing that wraps the entire underside of the home up to its FEMA Flood elevation level (FEMA 6/7 Zone), a rainscreen system that allow drainage and evaporation, an open web wooden truss floor system that lets air pass through to minimize mold damage, water-resistant panelized cork board and recycled vinyl tile flooring, as well as an electrical system that has been raised above the FEMA AE Flood Zone to keep wires away from water.
The SURE HOUSE’s adherence to the Passive House Standard in order to reduce energy usage also has an added benefit in terms of protecting the home from inclement weather. The same measures that have been designed to keep the house airtight to control inside temperatures also keep water out.
Schüco Lift and Slide doors let breezes in when open but create an airtight seal when closed.
And if a storm were to hit and cause the power to go out, the SURE HOUSE would be prepared with its transformerless inverter PV system designed to provide electricity and hot water off-the-grid, and even help out neighbors by allowing them to charge their devices at indoor and outdoor charging stations.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is with a typical solar installation, unless you have a battery backup system, when there’s a power outage, your house is going out of power just like the rest of the neighborhood would be,” Elliott explained to us. “That is until this transformerless inverter technology has been made available. What it’s able to do is it’s detecting whether or not the power grid is available and it’s actually able to island or isolate itself from the grid to protect utility workers that may be working on the grid but still able to produce backup power for use in the home so long as the sun is shining. So around that we’ve designed a few systems. We’ve designed an outlet inside the kitchen to allow people to plug in whatever small appliances they may need, as well as a few charging stations both inside the home as well as outside the home to allow neighbors to come by and charge devices during a power outage.”
Photos: Stevens Institute of Technology and Yuka Yoneda