Our SIPs panels got delayed again! Well, without panels to put up a house, Charlie (Intellistructures) and I decided to check out the Solar Decathlon. The rain fell relentlessly the entire day, it felt like a tropical storm. The rain did not dampen the spirit of the schools or the visitors, hundreds of people showed up to see the houses.
Due to some judging activities, weather and other reasons we couldn’t see all the houses. Gonna have to go back next week for more!
Here are some of my initial thoughts about the houses I saw.
Compact Hyper Insulated Prototype (CH:IP) by SCI-Arch/CalTech
The CHIP has a unique shape. The space under the rear of the house creates a covered parking space. On the inside, the shape encourages for natural ventilation. Instead of configuring the interior horizontally into different spaces, they utilized a vertical configuration. This results in a large usable interior space while taking up a very small footprint.
The insulation is probably the most intriguing part of the house. They truly take the term “outsulation” seriously. In fact, as you walk-in, someone will hand you a postcard for you to send to the Oxford Dictionary to petition that “Outsulation” be a word. I wholeheartedly agree! The outsulation “blanket” is made of recycled denim (blue jeans) clad in vinyl (10 year warranty) that can be patched and can be easily replaced. The team also devised the quilt-like fastening system. Not only does the blanket looks awesome, it also serves to prevent the denim from settling and keep the blanket puffy. I like this idea because this can really save a lot of time and money installing exterior cladding.
Being from CalTech, they also built some really cool controls that allows you to control many aspects of the house using an IPad (many teams have this but I think CHIP’s is the most extensive). They also have a great hack of the XBOX Kinect. See the video.
More on CHIP:
Living Light By University of Tennessee
Video of Living Light
I like Living Light primarily for its double facade.
The double facade moves the thermal envelope to the inner layer, which has operable windows. This makes the already very energy efficient windows (notice the quadruple pane window!) even more efficient. The outer layer is single pane glazing that protects the thermal envelope. The blinds though on the exterior of the thermal envelope are behind the outer layer, therefore, protected from the wind, rain and snow.
The video does a good job illustrating what it does to help ventilate and heat the house. Although I wonder if there is too much glazing on the north side.
Another cool feature is the way the home deals with water. At the entrance and the backdoor of the house, a deck-like flooring continues from the outside into the house. This allows for water, dirt, etc. to drop down into a space coated with EPDM (This worked great today because of the amount of muddy foot traffic). Also, the bathroom floor is made with the same decking that allows gray water to drain down directly into that EPDM coated space. The accumulated water is drained out to be reused in the garden. I think that is brilliant.
Self-Reliance by Middlebury College
Without an Engineering or Architecture program, this project was led by some physics and biology majors. I couldn’t help but root for these guys! The team puts it focus on affordability and self-reliance. See video for details:
My favorite part of the house is their indoor green house/wall in the kitchen.
Having a greenhouse right in the kitchen is just the coolest!
INhome by Purdue University
I found this home to be very livable but perhaps lacking in innovative ideas.
The floor plan of the INhome feels like regular home, which is probably what they were looking for. I think this is a very practical approach to the project and makes the home instantly livable. However, I felt that they did not spend too much time thinking about some issues that a high-performing builder should consider. For example, the house is built with SIPs, which gives a high insulative value but thermal bridging is still a concern due to the dimensional lumber between the panels. When I asked what they did to minimize the thermal bridging, the response was basically, “oh, it’s not that big of a deal.”
Another issue that was not mitigated was the attached garage. The INhome is the first entry ever to the Decathlon to have an attached garage. I think this is a great inclusion. However, the garage is attached directly to living space (separated by a rather standard wooden door) without any sort of additional measure to prevent or minimize automobile fumes from entering into the house. With a tight home, I worry about indoor air quality.
INhome features a Biowall which is basically a green wall that is connected to the HVAC system. This is kind of cool but I think no one really knows how to measure the effectiveness this air purification system, which is probably why they also have an ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilator). I believe that plants cleanse air but I don’t think blowing clean air thorough growing medium makes the air any cleaner.
I don’t mean to slam it but I really think other than the readily livability, there wasn’t anything really remarkable about it. I am no expert but just my two cents.