Maryland student’s tribute to the Chesapeake wins Solar Decathlon

U of Md's WaterShed home at the Solar Decathlon

WaterShed is the 2011 Solar Decathlon winner

WaterShed, the lushly landscaped energy self-sufficient home built by a team from University of Maryland won first place in this year’s Solar Decathlon, which wrapped yesterday on the National Mall. The nearly 900-square-foot home, complete with rain garden, beat out 18 other entries from universities around the U.S., Belgium, Canada, China and New Zealand.

As the name suggests, the Solar Decathlon is all about building the best dwelling that can be fully powered by the sun, but this year several teams tackled two other issues of increasing concern to commercial builders of “green” homes: air quality and water conservation. In fact, both Team Maryland and the team from Purdue University, which took second place, showcased their original inventions in the air quality arena.

Purdue's entry reflects solid Midwestern tastes

The Purdue INhome’s biowall, a self-watering vertical garden tucked away in what could be the space of utility closet, removes toxic chemicals and other impurities from air, an issue that comes up increasingly in today’s new generation of tightly-insulated homes. The Indianan college students say the wall also saves energy and provides a “calming ambiance” though the biowall is clearly still a work in progress. Growing for just two months, the foliage doesn’t yet cover the entire wall area, sort of reminiscent of a comb-over on a bald man. Still, one of the students told me the foliage is expected to grow in overtime.

Humidity-banishing "waterfall"

Team Maryland’s indoor, “liquid desiccant waterfall” is much more aestically pleasing, though calling it a waterfall seems a misnomer. Nevertheless,  it’s so stylish, designers opted to backlight it and incorporate it into the interior design. It’s funky enough to be confused with a modern art installation but also has a practical function: humidity control that is so important in the Washington-Maryland region’s long, hot and humid summers.

Each team was tasked with building a home tailored to their particular region. Besides the creative approach to addressing the Washington region’s sticky summers (an issue that local green builders often say is their biggest bane), the Maryland students took a holistic approach to reducing pollution runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.  WaterShed’s butterfly roof, was split with enough solar panels to power the entire house on one side and a “green roof” on the other, replete with plants that help absorb rainwater and cool the home in summer. The sloping roof also helps with rainwater collection. The house comes with a filtration system to purify both stormwater and greywater from sinks and shower. The rain garden, or “constructed wetlands,” made up of pink-tipped wispy native grasses, bushes and flowering plants are designed to absorb stormwater runoff that is a huge problem through much of the region, where chemical fertilizer from lawns and motor oil and other toxins from driveways routinely finds it way into the rivers and tributaries that run into the bay.

Appalachian State University’s Solar Homestead took the people’s choice award, though my personal favorite was third place winner, the Zealand Team’s First Light, designed to be a “Kiwi bach,” or vacation bungalow. It had a rustic appeal that, say, the Sci Arc/CALTECH team’s CHIP, a cube-like structure with outer walls of puffy white insulation that was a cool pad too.

This is the fifth Decathlon since the U.S. Department of Energy first started hosting the event in 2002. Teams compete for points in ten categories: architectural qualities, market appeal, engineering, educational/communication effort, affordability, “comfort zone,” hot water systems, appliances, home entertainment and energy balance.

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About greendistrict

I'm Christine MacDonald, a journalist and the author of the book: "Green, Inc., An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone B

Posted on October 3, 2011, in Carbon footprint, Climate Change, Drinking water filtration, Green Building, Green Living, lifestyle, Rain Gardens, Solar, Solar Decathlon. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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