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Solar Decathlon Entry Uses iPad To Monitor House

Friday, September 2, 2011

By Erik Hyrkas

Editor’s Note: This entry has been cross-posted from DOE’s Energy Blog.

In honor of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon—which challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive—we are profiling each of the teams participating in the competition.

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is participating in its first Solar Decathlon with Living Light. Named for its brightly sunlit, double-facade glass system, the house’s blueprint was inspired by the cantilever barns of Southern Appalachia, which feature giant eaves to provide shade and a two-core design.

The floor plan revolves around the two wooden cores at the base, which allow for an open living space in the center. The house includes one bedroom, one bath, a living room, and a kitchen. More space is available for dining and recreation, along with an outdoor patio area and garden for growing small crops.

The double-facade glass system is used for natural lighting and to keep temperatures cool in the summer and warm in the winter. The facades are built with an inner insulated glass panel and an outer pane with an air barrier, which also holds the windows’ blinds.

Living Light is engineered for a two-season setup. In the summer, the ventilation system uses the facades to take in cool air from the north and exhaust warm air out the south. In the winter, this is reversed so preheated air is brought in through the south facade and cooler air exhausted out the north. Two mini-ductless heat pumps located in each of the cores and an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) also facilitate this process.

Of course, the real engine of Living Light is its 10.9-kilowatt solar array atop the roof that also acts as a shading trellis. This array powers all of the electric appliances, including an oven, cooktop, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer, home entertainment systems (television and sound system), the mini-ductless heat pumps, and the ERV, along with the most exciting feature—a home automation system that can be run from an iPad. Tennessee expects the house to require just half the electricity generated from the array and suggests using the rest to charge an electric vehicle or even sell back to the utility company.

As mentioned, the home automation system brings a digital flare to energy efficiency with a state-of-the-art iPad application. The interface allows the homeowner to manage mechanical systems, lighting, and even the home entertainment systems—all while tracking Living Light’s energy usage using only her fingertips.

Living Light is less than 750 ft2, as it’s designed for easy transport. The one-piece house will be transported to Washington, D.C., for the Solar Decathlon by becoming its own trailer via attached wheels and a gooseneck. Post-competition, Tennessee will use the house for further research on energy efficiency at the university.

Erik Hyrkas is a correspondence writer for the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

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