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Solar Decathlon 2013

Tidewater Virginia: Hampton University and Old Dominion University

Tidewater Virginia's U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 entry paid homage to the Emancipation Oak, the historic tree where the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation took place, on the campus of Hampton University. The Canopy House is named after the tree's safe, protective canopy.

Unfortunately, the Tidewater Virginia team withdrew from Solar Decathlon 2013.

According to Robert Easter, chair of Hampton University's architecture department, the team is continuing to build Canopy House and plans to display it on the Hampton University campus, where it will be used as part of the university's sustainability and architecture curriculum. In addition, Canopy House will be one of the 2013 stops on an annual solar house tour sponsored by the local chapter of American Institute of Architects.

Design Philosophy

The house is a sustainable environment that provides shelter and independence to its occupants and grants them the freedom of self-sufficiency. The Canopy House's smart home technology allows its owners to live an independent lifestyle and "age in place." Incorporating universal design principles, the house allows occupants to transition safely into old age and remain at home.

The house is composed of public and private spaces and a core mechanical systems wall. In tribute to the Emancipation Oak in design, the I-beams underneath the foundation act as roots, which support the core mechanical systems wall, or trunk. This supports the branches that frame the solar panels overhead—seamlessly integrating function with an innovative, holistic design.


  • Reclaimed wood, overhanging pergolas, and materials and textures are inspired by the diverse beauty of the land and sea.
  • The accessible architecture and layout accommodate wheelchair-bound occupants, with features such as adjustable bathroom and kitchen fixtures, grab bars, high color contrast, and acoustic panels.
  • A data-integrating engineering and mechanics wall runs the length of the house and connects all of its mechanical systems.
  • A folding glass door system fosters connection between the indoor and outdoor living environments.
  • A vertical garden outside the kitchen holds herbs and small vegetables.


  • A solar thermal system with a domestic hot water tank and a phase-change material tank can heat the living space and store thermal energy for later use—maintaining the operating temperature of the hot water tank for extended periods of time and supplying heat to the radiant flooring.
  • The HVAC system uses a mini-split system, which is both cost-effective and energy-efficient.
  • Outer walls are made of load-bearing composite structural panels, which are lightweight and highly resistant to heat transfer.
  • A tablet-based energy management system helps occupants make educated decisions about their energy-using activities and learn how the house gains or loses energy during the day and how much energy is accumulated during the month.

Market Strategy

The Canopy House is designed for either young professionals or retirees interested in downsizing and living sustainably. The universal design features of the Canopy House accommodate the needs of aging individuals. The flex space provides extra sleeping space that can accommodate visiting family or caretakers.

What's Next

The Tidewater Virginia team partnered with the Hampton Roads Green Building Council to complete construction of Canopy House. It will be used as a demonstration project to educate the public about design principles that sustain a clean environment and universal design.


David Peronnet
Phone: 757-352-0748

Photo of members of the Hampton University and Old  Dominion University Solar Decathlon 2013 team. Enlarge image

The Hampton University and Old Dominion University Solar Decathlon 2013 team (courtesy of the Hampton University and Old Dominion University Solar Decathlon 2013 team).

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