Solar Decathlon 2011: Middlebury College, Self Reliance

[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.]

Calling to mind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous essay that promotes self-reliance as a starting point to personal happiness and success, Middlebury College’s sustainable home prototype, Self-Reliance, is a super-efficient home designed for a family of four living, as Emerson did (as it were) in a self-reliant and individualistic way. Based on the traditional New England farm house, the 990-ft2 home features the traditional peaked roof with a 21st-century twist: a 7.2 kilowatt PV array.

Self-Reliance is built for the sometimes inhospitable New England climate, with a gable, or peaked, roof to shed snow and rain. Besides promoting sustainability, the house also reflects concepts of family and community, featuring adjoining living, dining and cooking spaces that promote togetherness and family activities like communal cooking and eating. Meanwhile, these spaces are specifically designed to minimize the energy and materials needed. A “green wall” in the kitchen provides food and flowers year round.

Image via Middlebury College

The roof-mounted solar panels on Self-Reliance can produce 7,930 kilowatt hours per year. In the harsh Vermont winters, insulation is a must, and the house’s windows are triple-paned, with cork frames that actually allow the house to have a net gain in heat over the course of a year. And there’s good news for people doubting their gardening skills: an air-to-air heat exchanger feeds condensed moisture, taken from the air, into the green wall, watering the plants growing there.

After its stint at the Decathlon, Self-Reliance will return home to the Middlebury College campus in Vermont, where students can apply to live in it, four at a time, for a semester. While living there, the students will participate in community outreach programs dealing with sustainability and green, energy efficient homes, and host visitors from the architectural an d environmental fields.

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.


  • Reply September 18, 2011


    Amazing! A real house, good architecture, great systems, strong solutions. I could live there with my wife and two kids.n

  • Reply September 19, 2011


    So many mistakes in the article… 7000 kilowats per year? Makes no sense, kilowatt is an instantaneous unit, maybe they meant kwh…

    • Reply September 19, 2011


      Thanks for catching that. Corrected to kilowatt hours.

  • Reply March 3, 2012


    Amazing and beautiful. Proud of you guys! Waldo Emerson would LOVE your creation!

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