Things really heated up this past few days as we inched closer to finding out who the winner of this year’s Solar Decathlon would be, and in the end Team Germany’s surPLUShouse stole the show. We were sad to see that Cornell University’s Silo House did not place in the top 3, but we still love this totally unconventional and clever home which held steadfastly in the ranks as part of the top 10 throughout the week. As a compact modular structure, the Silo House proves that impressive green, energy-efficient things do come in small spaces!

Continue reading below
Our Featured Videos
Cornell Silo House, solar decathlon, green building, sustainable building, green houses

With only 800 sq feet of space, the Silo House is a unique arrangement of circular and orthogonal elements, giving a nod to the upstate New York architectural vernacular that surrounds it. The house is primarily composed of three cylindrical “living” modules – bedroom, kitchen and living room – which are positioned around a central square courtyard, shaded and powered by canopy of 40 photovoltaic panels able to produce 8 kilowatts of power.

The containers derived their inspiration from industrial agricultural materials, and the circular shapes allow for an advantageous diffusion of light and promote stack ventilation through operable Velux® skylights. By employing a CorTen corrugated steel cladding to the exterior, the façade not only takes on a unique color and rural aesthetic, but the CoreTen steel envelope provides a considerable solar gain by creating a skin-integrated solar thermal system that is able to pre-heat hot water. Interior materials have been locally sourced, and sustainably forested hardwoods form the home’s sleek, yet warm and welcoming palette, complemented by the use of zero off-gassing finishes throughout the interior.

cornell house, solar decathlon, solar power, department of energy
Photo Credit: Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon

But most impressive is the Silo House’s complex, highly controlled electrical, HVAC and land irrigation systems. The electrical which is comprised of solar panels, two grid-tied inverters, and a smart load panel by C-E-Systems Inc. which tracks the home’s energy and consumption rates in real time. The data recorded by the smart load panel is then uploaded to the internet, generating detailed reports that can be accessed anywhere. The software that runs in conjunction even allows the homeowner to turn off circuits remotely and to set power consumption limits based on current solar generation rates or the cost of electricity.

The HVAC combined systems of water tanks for thermal storage, advanced computer automated controls, and two solar thermal systems provide continuous indoor comfort that is reliable, finely controlled, and incredibly energy efficient. Each room has the capability to regulate its own air delivery allowing for individualized temperature adjustments, and in turn energy savings from “islanding rooms.” 

The Silo House is a collective effort of faculty, staff, alumni and 150 of Cornell’s most creative and talented minds descending from the Colleges of Engineering, Architecture, Human Ecology, and Agricultural and Life Sciences, and the Johnson Graduate School of Management.

+ Cornell University Solar Decathlon