MorningStar Solar Home - Tiny House Blog

MorningStar Solar Home

MorningStar home, built by the Penn State Center for Sustainability has been around since 2007, but it will hopefully be the home of the near future. The 799 square foot building is a net-zero home that produces more energy than it consumes, and it has been used for educational and research activities on the university campus. It will also serve has a home for one lucky graduate student who will test the house systems in real life conditions.

The MorningStar not only has solar panels on the roof, but on the east- and west-facing sides of the home. The south-facing windows have sliding exterior shelving to regulate solar gain and the home has a sliding wall of liquid glass containers that, when filled with water, can retain heat during the day and release the warmth into the home during the night.

The home was built with reclaimed black slate shingles, recycled steel and local Pennsylvania hardwoods. The home also has clerestory windows for additional passive solar gain and a heat retaining floor. Tours of the home can be requested from the Penn State website.

Photos courtesy of Penn State Center for Sustainability


By Christina Nellemann for the [Tiny House Blog]

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mike - December 10, 2012 Reply

Great concepts for sure…

Rick - December 10, 2012 Reply

The water jugs are a cool idea. Why are they empty? Does it not quite work in practice? How do they compare to the heat retention of just letting the sun hit those tile floors?
What is the payback timeline for solar on the east and west face of a Pennsylvanian house?

alice h - December 10, 2012 Reply

I’m not so keen on the wall of bottles, looks like more trouble than it’s worth but I bet you could integrate a more functional water storage tank for the same purpose. Net zero is a fantastic thing though.

Mary D. - December 10, 2012 Reply

It’s interesting. I’m not so keen on the water bottles, either. That’s a lot of work. But maybe you only have to fill them once every so often?

    Christina - December 10, 2012 Reply

    Probably. I have a feeling they used the bottles because they are recycled/recyclable.

Macy Miller - December 10, 2012 Reply

Awesome house, I should have gone to school there! Thanks for sharing!

Bryan - December 10, 2012 Reply

I doubt this would compare to an in floor radiant system with a solar hot water heater and an insulated holding tank, but the bottle wall got me thinking.

I’m picturing a window-sized, two-ply curtain made of a strong material (think Camelbak bladder) with a heat welded pattern to help maintain its shape and keep the water evenly dispersed. Put a spigot at the top and a drain on the bottom. Hang it between a south facing window and a black curtain.

    alice h - December 10, 2012 Reply

    That’s got definite possiblities.

      dextertracy - December 22, 2012 Reply

      Would be cool if the water chamber WAS the curtain, letting diffuse light in, but able to block direct sunlight and damaging uv rays. Would be even cooler if it could do all that and look cool, too, like a cellular pleated shade that can be drained, then raised and collapsed. Or, if that is too complex, slid out of the way on a ceiling track.

gmh - December 10, 2012 Reply

I like Bryan’s idea of a “water curtain”. Sure beats unscrewing all those caps and filling all those bottles one by one!
I wish there were more pics of the interior.

bruce farrow - December 15, 2012 Reply

I like this set-up, I what more pictures of this one. Did not do justice.

Sandra Allen - December 15, 2012 Reply

If you look closely, you may find that each bottle has a ring that allows you to simply unscrew the cap and add water. However, once it is sealed it can be left sealed for a very long time.
I do like the concept. You could even be creative and color the water for aesthetic purposes.

Bottom line is, you are heating your home without making some power company that much richer.

That is a win/win in my book.

Kitty - December 16, 2012 Reply

I live a couple of miles from this home. After I toured it I recall reading that it cost some 300 thousand or so to build. I liked the clerestory widows, the kitchen and the bathroom, but the living space with its large table and moveable wall between the table and the bed seemed to me to eat up a lot of the square footage and make that living space seem quite small for its claimed 799 square feet. And at $375 per square foot this particular small home was of little interest to me.

Diane - December 19, 2012 Reply

Ok reality check….this “home” is in PA, solar? I grew up in PA and it was cloudy 85% of the time. And that expense of building….come on, that’s NOT economical. Great ideas but the space was not utilized well and this movement did not start with oodles of $$$ in mind. So where does this fit into the TH we are “green” movement? Who here can afford to build that? Not me, and even if I could I’d rather sink my $ into living a fuller life and a nice, snug, energy efficient home that costs MUCH less.

Susan Juetten - December 22, 2012 Reply

Not that’s a size this packrat could live in, and net zero is my ultimate dream. Thanks, Christina.

Patty Snyder - January 13, 2013 Reply

I think it’s genius! Would LOVE to build one
for myself!!!!! Can’t wait to hear back from
someone to help me tour the home…….I LOVE IT!

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