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Photo of more than 100 casually dressed college students standing as a group in front of a large building with a glass front.

With more than 150 members, the Cornell University Solar Decathlon team is the largest student-run project on campus. It includes representatives of all seven Cornell colleges and the graduate school of business.

Illustration of Silo House that shows the three silos that form the structure and open onto a common courtyard. Solar panels are visible atop the roof.

Cornell's Solar Decathlon entry is Silo House, which consists of three cylinder-shaped modules that interconnect to form a modern structure powered by electricity from 40 photovoltaic panels.

Construction Costs


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Construction Drawings (Zip 45 MB)
Project Manual (Zip 4.2 MB)

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Solar Decathlon 2009

Cornell University

Team Web site:

A Reminder of the Past and a Glimpse of the Future

This year's competition is the third consecutive Solar Decathlon for Cornell, and the 2009 team decided it was time to do something bold. The result is Silo House, a modular structure with three interconnecting cylindrical rooms.

Hydroponically grown landscaping surrounds the house with specially chosen grasses. The circular shapes reflect the silos that dot the rolling hills of upstate New York, and the team calls the overall effect "post-agrarian," a reminder of vanishing farmland.

The Team

With more than 150 members, the Cornell team is the largest student-run project on campus—a point of pride. "I never thought that in college I'd build a house with solar power and be responsible for so many people," says landscape architecture student Bobby Harvey.

"Interdisciplinary collaboration" is the guiding principle. "It's a team philosophy," says Chris Werner, an architecture student.

"The challenges to engineering are unique," adds Myra Wong, a mechanical engineering student. "We really try and look at the big picture."

The House

Each of the house's silos—kitchen, bedroom, and living room—is 16 ft (4.9 m) in diameter, with about 130 ft2 (12.1 m2) of floor space. "Our initial goal was to move away from the conventional houses that are common in Solar Decathlon," says Irina Chernyakova, an architecture student.

The modules are joined on the southern side, leaving the northern side open. The exterior is covered with COR-TEN®, a corrugated, steel cladding that loses its original sheen as the outer layer oxidizes to a weather-proof ruddy coating.

The Technology

Silo House is a net-zero user of energy. In fact, it is expected to generate more power than it uses. It features:

  • An 8-kW photovoltaic system
  • An integrated solar thermal system, which heats domestic water
  • Evacuated tube collectors that provide space and water heating
  • A home control system, accessible through the Internet, that allows residents to monitor power use and turn circuits on and off remotely.

House Highlights

  • A home control system, accessible through the Internet, that allows residents to monitor power use and turn systems and devices on and off remotely
  • A heating, cooling, and ventilation system that uses two loops, one for heating and one for cooling, to allow for instantaneous switchover
  • An entertainment system that features touch-screen monitors and speakers throughout the house, all of which can be accessed through the control system
  • A building-integrated solar thermal system and a series of evacuated tube collectors along the south exterior of the house that provide thermal energy