U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon | Powered by the Sun

Solar Decathlon 2011

Tidewater Virginia: Old Dominion University and Hampton University

Unit 6 Unplugged

Tidewater Virginia's Unit 6 Unplugged, designed for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011, is a modular house that blends seamlessly into a historic center-city neighborhood. Unit 6 is conceived of as part of a larger, six-unit multifamily building. By sharing infrastructure costs between units of the building, this energy-efficient house is made more affordable.

Design Philosophy

The architecture of the house draws inspiration from the arts and crafts-style homes found throughout the center-city neighborhoods of Norfolk, Virginia. The house consists of three sections: a pergola integrated into the utility core, a main module with the solar panels and porch, and a living space that features nearly floor-to-ceiling windows.


Although Unit 6 integrates easily into existing neighborhoods, the solar-powered house is special in many ways. Notable features include:

  • A small circulation corridor that divides the service and work section of the house from its relaxing and living areas

  • A transformable porch with motorized windows that allow it to be open to the outside or an enclosed sunspace

  • A rain screen cladding made of medium-density overlay plywood panels and vertical battens.


The technical design of Unit 6 is focused on value engineering using technologies that achieve high performance at relatively low cost. The key technological components of Unit 6 include:

  • Highly efficient photovoltaic modules that convert more than 18% of sunlight into electrical energy

  • Window and door sensors that provide security system information and prevent the HVAC system from operating when either is open

  • A hot water storage tank that replaces the auxiliary heating coil with an inline heater to minimize losses

  • Light switches powered by remote transmitters that can be placed anywhere in the house and never require replacement batteries.

Market Strategy

The team selected Norfolk's young professionals, which include substantial numbers of recent graduates and military personnel, as its target market for Unit 6. However, the appeal of living in a walkable historic center-city neighborhood is large. The project's parallel development as a model for multifamily residential design appeals to a much larger market of older professionals and young families interested in moving to or staying within the partner neighborhood.


Mujde Erten-Unal
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Old Dominion University
Kaufman Hall, Room 135
Norfolk, VA 23529-0241
Phone: 757-683-4412

Photo of a group of people in matching blue and orange shirts. Enlarge image

The Tidewater Virginia Solar Decathlon team (courtesy of the Tidewater Virginia Solar Decathlon team).

Illustration of Unit 6 Unplugged in a neighborhood setting. Several silhouettes are on the sidewalk outside. Enlarge image

A computer-generated rendering of Tidewater Virginia's Unit 6 Unplugged (courtesy of the Tidewater Virginia Solar Decathlon team).

A video walkthrough of Tidewater Virginia's Solar Decathlon house.

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