Solar Decathlon 2011: Purdue University, INhome

[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.]

Designed for the young, childless professional couple living in the Midwest, Purdue University‘s entry for the 2011 Solar Decathlon is sustainable and highly efficient, while still remaining practical and comfortable, meeting all the criteria that make it a viable contender in the Midwestern real estate market. It’s the INhome–”IN” being short for “Indiana“–and relies heavily on passive methods, where natural processes are used for heating, cooling and lighting and thereby reduce the need for artificial, energy-using technology.

One of the key features of INhome is the biowall, a vertical wall of living plants that serves as a home air filtration system, using the plants to remove impurities from the air. The plants can be used as a food source, and the wall is designed to water itself. Besides cleaning the air, the Purdue team sees the biowall as a key element of the mood they hope INhome imparts to its residents–calming and connected to nature. INhome’s interior finishing also uses pre- and post-consumer recycled material

Image via Purdue University

The heating and cooling systems of INhome are all highly efficient and perfect for residential settings. An air-to-air heat pump is the primary temperature management system, and the hot water heater uses ambient air inside the house to heat water. All of the ducts are placed specifically to maximize conservation of cool and warm air.

INhome makes a point of not sacrificing privacy and comfort for sustainability and energy efficiency.  It features a west-facing porch accessible from the master bedroom, and the bathroom has two sinks so multiple people can use it at the same time. INhome also has a spare room that can be used for a variety of purposes, including another bedroom. Ultimately, INhome will be installed into a neighborhood in Lafayette, Indiana, to provide education for local residents about net-zero energy homes. Though a family will live permanently in it, the house will continue to be monitored to measure its long-term performance and be a part of community education programs.

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.