Solar Decathlon 2011: Appalachian State University, The Solar Homestead

[Editor’s Note: This article begins our coverage series on the upcoming Solar Decathlon, set to take place Sept. 23 – Oct. 2 at National Mall – West Potomac Park in Washington D.C. Between now and then we will be profiling each of the 20 university teams and their amazing solar homes.]

Inspired by traditional regional homesteads, and the concept rugged independence they evoke, the Appalachian State University team is bringing the Solar Homestead to this year’s Solar Decathlon. Composed of six outbuildings connected to an outdoor living spaced called the Great Porch, the 833-ft2 Homestead features two bedrooms, one bathroom, a dining/living room, and a separate, 120-ft2 multi-purpose room called the Flex Space, which has its own bath, which can serve several functions, such as office or studio space or guest cabin.

Forty-two bifacial PV panels provide energy to the house, while also allowing sunlight into the living space, while a solar thermal hot water system provides consistent hot water on demand. A Trombe wall, a separate wall which faces the sun with the intent of gathering heat during the day, makes use of phase-change material, in place of the traditional air space, to better absorb solar heat during the day and release it into the home at night.

Image via Appalachian State University

Besides using the sustainable power of the sun, the Solar Homestead’s other main concept is the connection of its residents to nature and the outdoors. Drawing on the outdoorsy lifestyle of early settlers in the Appalacian region, the team designed the building to have sheltered outdoor living spaces like the Great Porch. The outbuildings are inspired by lean-tos, which are open to the air, and the Flex Space features an outdoor kitchen. Its modular design also allows for residents to tailor the Homestead to their needs.

With its emphasis on the outdoors, it’s no surprise that the Solar Homestead is designed for people in warm climates. It is, in fact, designed specifically for people in Asheville, North Carolina, and the team hopes to attract buyers through stressing its sustainable energy and materials as an investment. After the Decathlon, the Homestead will tour North Carolina to promote awareness of sustainable technology. At the tour’s end, the house will take up its own residence back at Appalachian State University, where it will serve as an educational tool for future students.

Laura Caseley is a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and a resident of New York State’s Hudson Valley. She writes for several publications and when she’s not writing, she can usually be found painting in her makeshift studio or enjoying the scenery of her hometown.

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