Solar Decathlon 2011: City College of New York, Solar Roofpod

[Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing coverage of Solar Decathlon entries leading up to the event’s kick off on Sept. 23.]

When faced with the issue of where to build homes in densely populated urban areas, the City College of New York took the logical approach, and used the often overlooked rooftop space as the setting for their 2011 Solar Decathlon entry, the Solar Roofpod. This structure is designed to sit atop preexisting mid-rise buildings in cities, and has the ability to use solar power, harvest rainwater, and create rooftop gardens for its residents.  The Roofpod is modular, and can be customized to the needs of the people living in it. Plus, residents have the added bonus of saying they live in a penthouse.

That would be “a penthouse with a purpose,” to be exact. Rather than a symbol of wealth, the Roofpod is designed to be affordable housing in cities, where rents are notoriously high. The team hopes that their entry will help usher in a new phase of sustainable urban living. The house is designed for a wide audience, for singles, couples, and families alike, including empty-nesters and recently immigrated families. The Solar Roofpod is a one story home composed of poplar wood-framed “building blocks” that make up the envelope. The blocks, which come in a variety of styles, can be assembled based on a the specific location of the house, taking into consideration factors like solar orientation, wind, views, and interior layout. The Roofpod is designed to have a “symbiotic” relationship with the building on which it is constructed. Its roof-mounted solar array protects the house from heat absorption while providing power, and a monitoring system allows residents to track their use of water and power.

Image via City College of New York

Each solar panel on the Roofpod has its own micro-inverter to optimize output, while solar thermal technology captures the sun’s heat and releases it through a radiant floor heating system. Thermal energy is stored in paraffin, which reduces the size of the storage tank by half. The Roofpod also comes with an energy management system that helps residents monitor and regulate their energy consumption.

As of now, there are two possibilities for the future of the Solar Roofpod. It might return to the City College’s West Harlem campus to be used as a visitor center and classroom for sustainability classes, or it might relocate to Pier 26 in Tribeca, along the Hudson River as part of an environmental science center, planned by the school.

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.

    • John Foran

      We would like to discuss possibility of having roof pods on our 3 Manhattan Sofia Storage Center buildings. Please contact John Foran at 212 873-3600