by Mike Love
The 2011 Solar Decathlon in Washington D.C .was very well attended the day I visited, with a significant number of teenage groups from schools not in the Washington D.C. region. I spoke with a group from Richmond, VA and another from Roanoke, VA. The weather though overcast with passing showers did not dim people’s attitudes about the event. I was surprised by the engagement the school groups showed in asking detailed questions of the competitors in various houses… such as their reasons for competing, design philosophies etc.
The competitor’s I spoke to were extremely well prepared, either answering my questions directly, or steering me to an individual who could better address my question. I found many of the students were pursuing Engineering and Science disciplines in college in addition to the expected Architecture graduate and post grad students. Most groups had their houses set up to direct traffic along a defined path to encourage traffic flow, so the long lines kept waiting in line to a tolerable 5 minutes on average.
There were a lot of signs explaining unique features of the houses design which I found very beneficial, as well as brochures being handed out to visitors, as well as a system in which the numbers of people in the house were limited to avoid overcrowding, for which I was very grateful.
A wide range of styles were represented, with some embracing the clean industrial look to others with a very polished Marta Stewart style down to the details of linens, china and rugs. I was impressed to learn that as part of the competition they were required to actually exercise the houses by cooking meals, and running clothes washer and dishwasher accessories in addition to the air conditioning and lights. This was while they were monitored and graded by the competition’s inspectors to see how they really performed in various metrics ie: water usage, power usage, power generated, both by wind and obviously solar systems integrated into the home’s design. They really showed me both how nice as well as efficient homes can be made without excessive cost’s. In many cases the home’s were completely able to function while generating excess energy for return to the grid, as well as storing enough to run the homes systems overnight in periods of darkness or overcast weather.
My personal favorites included the overall winner from U. MD, (and no, I’m not biased, I’m from VA) designed to be on the shores of Maryland and the people’s choice winner Appalachian S. U. from Boone, NC as well as foreign attendees from China with a shipping container based home system. The New Zealand home was probably the place I most wanted for my own personal use, for being a surfer’s beach house design. Lastly, the NJ all concrete design was really unique and beautiful, even among all these wonderful designs, it stood out for it’s radical roofline and overall shape. Congratulations to all the competitor’s, you’ve all done a remarkable job and I believe will take these experiences on to greater careers. For full details of each building visit the 2011 Solar Decathlon website.
Photo Credits Mike Love