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

Solar Decathlon 2013

Team Alberta: University of Calgary

Borealis, the University of Calgary's entry to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013, addresses the housing needs of professionals working in remote locations, such as the northern regions of Alberta, Canada. This modular house is easy to transport and assemble, it's affordable, and it provides a comfortable and sustainable home away from home.

Design Philosophy

Borealis was designed in consideration of the housing shortages and high housing costs driven by northern Alberta's resource industries (energy, mining, and forestry). It provides an alternative to crowded work camps and brings a solution to the difficulty of finding labor to build housing in these areas. Named after the iconic Northern Lights and lush Boreal forest, Borealis is designed to be sustainable and ecologically sensitive.


  • The three-module design features a core shared module with a kitchen that separates two private modules that can be configured as work or rest spaces.
  • A living wall in the bathroom hosts plant life for cooling, air purification, and connection to nature throughout the year and is sustained by large sun-tunnel skylights.
  • Exterior cladding uses sustainable products such as responsibly sourced, naturally moisture- and rot-resistant cedar wood siding and fiber cement boards that use post-industrial waste wood fiber.
  • Large, south-facing windows provide natural light and views to the outdoors and open to provide passive cross-ventilation.


  • A roof-mounted solar photovoltaic array is controlled by a system that monitors individual panels to allow site-specific array optimization. Micro-inverters allow maximum production of electricity from every panel without the array being dependent on any one panel.
  • Light-emitting diode fixtures are used throughout the house to achieve ultra-high efficiency and use 10 times less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • A custom energy monitoring system provides feedback on the lighting, appliance, and mechanical loads and enables optimization of the mechanical system at any location using a simple Web interface.
  • The central mechanical room controls all activity within the house from one location.
  • A solar water heating system harnesses the sun's energy to heat domestic hot water.

Market Strategy

Designed for workers in remote resource industries, Borealis provides a sustainable housing option that easily integrates the local geography and delivers a high quality of living. Borealis is designed to be easily transported and constructed on site and benefit the surrounding cities economically through the creation of green jobs.

What's Next

After the Solar Decathlon, Borealis will travel to its permanent home at Mount Royal University, where it will serve as a demonstration house and reception area. Construction is planned to begin in summer 2014.


Vishal Saini
Phone: 403-478-9324

Photo of members of the University of Calgary Solar  Decathlon 2013 team standing at the mouth of an elevated tunnel. Enlarge image

The University of Calgary Solar Decathlon 2013 team (Courtesy of the University of Calgary Solar Decathlon 2013 team)

The University of Calgary audiovisual presentation

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