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

Solar Decathlon 2013

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Team website: www.solardecathlon.uncc.edu

UrbanEden, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's entry to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013, is a series of four connected indoor and outdoor spaces that create a unique urban living environment. The interior adapts to maximize comfort year-round and opens to a private, plant-filled exterior living area. Innovations in concrete and glass technology, combined with the creative use of simple technologies, nurture a healthy urban lifestyle that is powered, heated, and even cooled by the sun.

Design Philosophy

Inspired by Charlotte's reinvestment in its urban core as the focal point of a thriving region, the ultra-efficient UrbanEden signifies a commitment to sustainability, vibrancy, diversity, and technological innovation. The house provides sophisticated urban ambiance while helping occupants reduce their carbon footprint by fusing enthusiasm for the city with respect for and intimacy with nature.


  • The pre-cast geopolymer cement concrete structure reinvents a historic building material to provide a sound barrier to city noise and a 90% reduction in carbon footprint over conventional concrete.
  • A retractable solar photovoltaic panel rack, which remains over the roof in winter to allow the sun to stream in through the southern window wall, extends over the patio in summer to provide shade and cool the outside living space.
  • Four rooms include both an indoor and outdoor component to maximize efficiency, comfort, and flexibility.
  • Reconfigurable spaces and elements include a living room and home office. The living room features an entertainment center that transforms into a Murphy bed to accommodate overnight guests.
  • An exterior living wall, or vertical garden, offers privacy while providing food, flowers, and the ambiance of a plant-filled room.


  • A hybrid passive-active hydronic radiant cooling system uses only pump energy to control temperature, unlike conventional hydronic systems.
  • A system of embedded "capillary" tubes circulates cool water through the high-mass, pre-cast concrete walls and up to a heat exchanger mounted on the roof, removing heat accumulated in the walls and resulting in cooling without the use of compressors or refrigerants.
  • The use of geopolymers produces a unique concrete binder that contains no Portland cement and is one of the first-known uses of a geopolymer mix in a building envelope.

Market Strategy

Originally envisioned as an urban infill project, UrbanEden is designed to appeal to both young professionals and empty nesters who value convenience of location, innovative technologies, balance between urban and natural settings, and sustainable features. The target market will enjoy a convenient location within walking distance of many dining, shopping, and entertainment attractions and close proximity to the city's light rail system.

What's Next

After the Solar Decathlon, the UrbanEden House will return to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus to serve as a living and learning laboratory, allowing for further research, demonstration, and monitoring of the house's innovative technologies.


Meg Whalen
Phone: 704-687-0878

Photo of members of the University of North Carolina at  Charlotte Solar Decathlon 2013 team standing in front of Grigg Hall on campus. Enlarge image

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Solar Decathlon 2013 team (Courtesy of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Solar Decathlon 2013 team)

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte audiovisual presentation

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