By Carol Laurie
A house is just a building until people live in it. Then it becomes a home.
Although U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon houses are not lived in during competition, Solar Decathlon visitors may ask themselves whether they could be comfortable homes when stepping through their thresholds.
Could I live here?
From a competition standpoint, this question is answered through the Home Life Contest, which measures how well each house accommodates comfortable living—including aspects such as sharing meals with friends and family, watching movies, and using a computer. The Home Life Contest also simulates taking a warm shower and spending time in a well-lighted space.
For this contest, teams receive points for:
- Hosting two dinner parties for neighboring teams
- Hosting a movie night for neighboring teams
- Turning on all interior and exterior house lights during specified time periods
- Operating a television and computer during specified time periods
- Producing 15 gallons (56.8 L) of hot water (110°F/43.3°C) from the shower in 10 minutes or less several times during the competition.
Teams plan their dinner party menus in advance, and each menu must feature food and beverages prepared in the house. (See the 2013 University of Las Vegas team’s menu for an example.) For the movie night, guests from neighboring teams watch a movie with the host team on its home theater system. Together, the dinner parties and movie night evaluate the functionality of each house while simultaneously providing an opportunity for competing students to get to know one another.
Completing these tasks brings teams together and provides an indication of whether each Solar Decathlon house could be considered a home.
Carol Laurie is the communications manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.