An exciting update this morning on the current Solar Decathlon standings - Purdue University's very traditional looking INhome has stolen the #1 spot! We love how this seemingly bland and modest suburban style home is shaking up the contest. Rather than going out on a limb aesthetically to try to impress the architecture judges with design innovation, the Purdue student team instead focused on energy efficiency and mass 'marketability' by using tried and true green building techniques. The team of student architects and engineers from Purdue appears to have chosen a solid strategy, as their pointedly suburban INhome has jumped into the top three in the first few days of the biennial Solar Decathlon competition. Undoubtedly the carefully created SIP wall construction and efficient cooling system tied to a huge solar array account for their surge to the front of the pack — we'll keep an eye on the team when the 'marketability' and 'architecture' judging takes place to see if the conservative design (clearly aimed to appeal to middle America) wins points with the judges.
The two-bedroom house is a cute little bungalow with an inviting front porch and a tract home-like façade — a characteristic that, we’ll admit, had us brushing the house off at first. Inside, the kitchen takes center stage; the living and dining room are set to the front of the home. Two bedrooms are located in the back of the home, which can open up to extend the living space outdoors. The team was even able to add a man cave (aka connected garage), a must for most American families.
The most innovative feature of the home is the biowall located in the middle of the living space. Built-in to the home’s structure, the biowall adds greenery to the interior while filtering air to remove harmful chemicals that can accumulate in tightly insulated homes. The wall requires very little maintenance and even waters itself. While definitely a feature you won’t find in most Middle America homes, we were hoping that the biowall would be a little bigger — it’s about the size of a full length mirror.
The home’s large south-facing windows are set high along the front, adding warmth in the winter months. These windows are well-shaded for the summer months and they also provide a great source of indirect daylight. When the sun begins to set, LED lights automatically brighten just enough to keep the interior gently illuminated. The entire lighting and HVAC system is centrally controlled and can be adjusted via a wireless device from anywhere in the house. A 9kW solar array keeps the house humming with the help of a sophisticated energy load management system.
The core HVAC system is somewhat conventional, consisting of an air handler hooked to a 19 SEER air to air heat pump. An ERV (energy recovery ventilator) is plugged into the duct work for fresh air. The home also features a heat pump hot water heater – a relatively new product. And the system certainly seems to be performing at the top of its game — INhome is currently holding second place (by a hair!) in the Comfort Zone category.
The verdict is still out on its effectiveness, but kudos to the team for stepping out of the Modern design box and working to make solar design palatable to a mass market of mainstream consumers. Without marketable approaches like this, solar innovation will never be able to move past its ‘crazy inventor’ connotations — but we must admit, we prefer the latter.
Photos © Amanda Silvana Coen and Jill Fehrenbacher for Inhabitat