SURE House Shines in Solar Contest


Students from the Stevens Institute of Technology are basking in the glow of top honors at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 after designing, building and operating “a coastal home for the future.”

The DOE announced the winners of the global Solar Decathlon competition at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, CA, on Saturday (Oct. 17). The State University of New York at Buffalo took second place, followed by California Polytechnic State University in third.

Designed and built to withstand a hurricane, Stevens’ SURE (sustainable + resilient) HOUSE “stacks up very favorably against many homes designed by seasoned architectural teams, and in fact outstrips the vast majority of U.S. houses when it comes to energy performance,” said architecture contest juror Ann Edminster, a leading international expert on green homes and chair of the Green Building Task Force for the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America.

Among the design features are:

  • A storm-rugged PV system that supplies power when the grid is down without the use of batteries.
  • Working with local topography such as dunes, the SURE HOUSE can be raised slightly to avoid periodic nuisance flooding and encapsulate vital building systems in a storm-resistant shell.
  • Thick insulation and rigorous air-sealing mean the SURE HOUSE is less sensitive to outdoor temperature swings and remains clean, safe, healthy and comfortable inside.

More details about the SURE House design can be read at Students Push the Solar Envelope.

Years of Development

“This prestigious competition to build energy-efficient solar-powered homes helps students prepare for successful careers in clean energy, and I want to recognize all of these teams for their hard work and creativity,” said Richard King, director of the Solar Decathlon for the DOE.

“Today’s results are the culmination of two years of perseverance and dedication. These students have helped demonstrate to thousands of visitors and viewers how to start saving money and energy in their own homes today.”

The teams competed in 10 contests over nine days that measured each house’s performance, livability and affordability. The teams performed everyday tasks, including laundry, cooking and washing dishes in measuring the energy efficiency of their houses.

Stevens earned 950.685 points out of a possible 1,000 to win the competition, followed by The University at Buffalo with 941.191 points and California Poly with 910 points.

Full competition results and details about the individual contests may be found at Solar Decathlon results.

Second Place

For its entry into the competition, the Buffalo team introduced its GRoW Home, an abode that reimagines sustainable urban living by pushing the conversation toward total self-sufficiency.

Solar Decathlon
Thomas Kelsey / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The State University of New York at Buffalo gave tours of its GRoWlarium, a combination solarium and green house.

The design features include:

  • The building envelope employs structural insulated panels, two high-performance sliding glass doors, and a series of fixed superwindows to reduce heating loads.
  • The GRoWlarium, a passively conditioned space, acts as a thermal buffer between the outside environment and the actively conditioned interior space and serves as a greenhouse during the winter.
  • A canopy covers the enclosed portion of the house, serves as a trellis for plants, shades the house and deck to reduce cooling loads, and provides infrastructure for outdoor living items.
  • Custom-designed furniture pieces fulfill added functions—such as providing thermal mass, drying food, and storing objects—in addition to their nominal roles as planters, benches, and tables.

Third Place

California Polytechnic State University’s submission for the 2015 competition was a house designed for coastal California—INhouse.

Solar Decathlon
Thomas Kelsey / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The teams performed everyday tasks, including laundry, cooking and washing dishes in measuring the energy efficiency of their houses.

The INhouse design includes a number of special features, including:

  • Through use of a folding window-wall, the public module blends into a generous outdoor area, doubling the public space.
  • The walls and roof of the public and private modules are made of structural insulated panels (SIPs), which offer higher R-values and faster construction than traditional materials.
  • The elongation of the house along the east-west axis takes advantage of passive solar design principles to harness and control southern solar exposure while minimizing overheating on the east and west sides.
  • INhouse harnesses solar energy through conventional photovoltaic panels, solar thermal water collectors, and bifacial panels.
  • A constructed wetlands system cleans and recycles all the greywater the house produces and directs it to be used for landscape irrigation.

The DOE invites entries for the eighth Solar Decathlon, scheduled for fall 2017. Applications for the collegiate teams are available here.


Tagged categories: Awards and honors; Building Envelope; Building operations; Energy efficiency; North America; Passive house; Residential Construction; Solar Decathlon; Solar energy; U.S. Department of Energy

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