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Photo looking down from the air on about 50 members of Team California, who are standing on a green lawn and holding a sign that reads Solar Decathlon 2009 Santa Clara University and California College of the Arts.

Team California applies student talent from two schools to combine art and technology in Refract House.

Illustration of Refract House, which is a bent rectangle shape. The outside of the house has a wood fa├žade. The roof is covered in photovoltaic panels. A wood deck connects multiple entrances and is landscaped with grasses.

Refract House is designed to take full advantage of California's sunny climate.

Construction Costs


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Construction Drawings (Zip 65 MB)
Project Manual (Zip 5.4 MB)

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Solar Decathlon 2009

Team California

Santa Clara University, California College of the Arts

California Living

Santa Clara University partnered with the California College of the Arts to integrate design and technology into a beautiful, functional house. The Santa Clara University team includes volunteers, students who receive course credit, and students hired over the summer to work. California College of the Arts students get credit for work on a semester-by-semester basis. The core team membership is between 20 and 30 students, with about 200 students contributing in some way over the design and construction process.

The Team

The difficulty of the design process taught the team valuable lessons about how different disciplines communicate. "Based on these lessons, the core team is now working very well together," says Santa Clara University student and Project Manager Allison Kopf.

The team designed a unique system to get guests interested in the technology before they even enter the house. Information panels pose questions about the technologies, and guests can text a code or scan a barcode with their phones. They then receive answers as well as more information sent directly to their device.

The House

"The beauty of California comes through in this design and the use of windows," says Kopf. The bent design takes maximum advantage of south-facing vistas from the inside, making it seem larger. The patio area is incorporated visually into the house space.

"During the summer, you can leave the doors open and your 800-ft2 house becomes much larger," says Santa Clara University Engineering Team Leader Timothy Sennott. "The courtyard and the rear deck become part of your living experience."

Refract House, as the team refers to its creation, takes full advantage of the sunny California climate. The passive solar design virtually eliminates the need for heating. A cutting-edge, solar thermal absorption chiller supplies radiant cooling panels. Waste heat from the chiller preheats water for the solar hot water system. And of course, the roof is an unbroken plane of photovoltaic (PV) panels that provides electricity from the sun.

The Technology

Refract House blends beauty with function. It includes:

  • A monitoring system that displays the house's performance and works with an iPhone application to let users control temperature and lighting from anywhere
  • A greywater pond that nourishes the landscape
  • Passive solar gain that almost eliminates the need for heating
  • Windows that are custom-designed for exposure with low-e glass, heat mirror film, and krypton or argon fill
  • A solar thermal absorption chiller that operates radiant cooling panels
  • A solar hot water system that uses waste heat from the chiller to preheat potable water
  • Solar panels in two series that generate up to 8.1 kW of direct current power, which is converted to alternating current for use in the house.

House Highlights

  • An 8.1-kW PV system
  • Solar thermal-powered cooling and domestic hot water
  • Demand management by phone
  • A bent rectangle design that incorporates the patio into the house
  • Passive solar gain for heat and light
  • A seasonal greywater pond
  • Built-in furniture that conserves space