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Orange County Great Park, Irvine, California
October 8-18, 2015

U at Buffalo: University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

Team website:

For its first U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, introduced the GRoW Home, which reconceptualizes sustainable urban living by pushing the conversation toward total self-sufficiency. This small but dynamic house adjusts to seasonal change through operable elements and a spatially flexible design that allows for adaptable living. The Growlarium—part greenhouse, part solarium—supports vegetation year-round and provides an extraordinary living space.

Design Philosophy

The GRoW Home considers four key themes for sustainable residential design: nurture active stewardship, think functional flexibility, live with nature, and recognize energy hierarchy. Sited in Buffalo, a city characterized by relatively sunny, dry summers and mild swing seasons, the GRoW Home seeks to better connect the home owner with the natural environment. A tight thermal envelope encloses the conditioned living spaces to reduce heat loads in the winter, and an intermediary sun space (the Growlarium) changes aperture and program based on weather and user needs.



    • 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.


    • The 7-kW, 24-panel PV system has a rated efficiency of 17.2% and, when installed after the competition in Buffalo, will produce 9 MWh per year—nearly twice as much energy as the house will consume.
    • A four-zone variable-air-volume air-to-air mechanical system ensures maximum energy savings by only conditioning and distributing air on an as-needed basis to individual spaces within the house.
    • "State of the shelf" ENERGY STAR® appliances reduce overall energy use. 
    • A smart monitoring system oversees temperature, humidity, and electricity use and allows the resident to access the data via an online portal.


    Market Strategy

    The GRoW Home is designed for a young, active, "cultural creative" urban gardening couple that seeks to reduce its dependency on large-scale food and power systems. As contributors to the revitalization of Buffalo, the clients will grow their own produce year-round and generate nearly twice as much electricity as they will consume.

    What's Next

    After the Solar Decathlon, the GRoW Home will return to Buffalo, where it will be installed adjacent to the School of Architecture and Planning to temporarily serve as an exhibition facility. By the summer of 2019, the house will be converted to the Multiscalar Energy Research and Education Center with the goals of conducting federal and state grant-funded research, creating education courses to develop expertise in energy systems, and providing consulting services to local professionals for improved energy performance and climate resilience in local communities.


    Martha Bohm

    Neither the United States, nor the Department of Energy, nor the Alliance for Sustainable Energy LLC, nor any of their contractors, subcontractors, or their employees make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness for any purpose of any technical resources or data attached or otherwise presented here as reference material.