"Our team really wanted to think about solar houses in a way that's very familiar to people," says Shengyin Xu, the student project manager for the University of Minnesota and a graduate student in architecture. "So we started with a gable but began to play with the shape." The result is a home profile that's skewed to the north in order to increase the south-facing surface area for solar panels.
Inside the Icon home, the living, dining and kitchen areas are open to increase ventilation through the home's 500 square feet of interior space. Above them, engineered wood beams reinforced by steel trace the angle of the ceiling. Vents for the mechanical system are built into the soffit.
But the real heart of the mechanical system is situated in a shed and closet outside, where passers by can see how the house works. Long clear tubes contain calcium chloride and lithium chloride, the basis of a desiccant dehumidification system that helps maintain comfort levels in the home. The desiccant removes humidity from indoor air--important during summers in Minnesota--and is rejuvenated by hot water from six flat-plate solar thermal collectors. Interior cooling is left to a mini a/c.
The Minnesota business community pitched in to help the students--one used five flatbed trucks and two trailer boxes to transport the house from Minnesota to D.C. Other local companies provided countertop made from recycled glass, the reclaimed wood floor and LED light fixtures. The budget for functional and mood lighting for the whole house is only 500 watts.
"Not many projects cross as many disciplines as ours," Xu says. Students from the architecture, graphic design, computer science and civil engineering programs, as well as the business school, participated in the Solar Decathlon. "In some meetings, you couldn't tell who was from each major," Xu says. "We've really broken the silo mentality of the university." Read more about the house .