To the extent they try to squeeze a lot of innovation into small packages, all Solar Decathlon entries reflect a pioneering spirit. But Appalachian State University’s entry, the Solar Homestead, also reflects homebuilding strategies that arose from the pioneering spirit of an entirely different era – that of Appalachia’s early settlers, whose houses and outbuildings were designed to help them cope with isolation and wilderness conditions in the mountains of North Carolina. To be sure, Solar Homestead is not a cabin-in-the-pines replica. At just under 1,000 sq. ft., the two-bedroom home features contemporary lines, a solar thermal skylight, and an array of energy efficiency features designed to address all the performance standards that Decathlon competitors hope to meet. But the project does quote explicitly from the pioneer era with its Great Porch, a separate flex-space shelter, durable construction, and simple, practical layout.
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Detachable arrays The modular flex-space, for example, was inspired by pioneer-era lean-to sheds, and can be modified for any of a number of purposes, including office space, guest accommodations, outdoor cooking, a carport, or storage. Perhaps most prominently, the project features a large deck area canopied by what the Appalachian State team calls outbuilding modules: 18 by 8 ft. detachable, bifacial solar panels that can be configured both to shade a particular area and to serve as stand-alone solar collection sites for photovoltaic electricity and solar thermal energy. “You could actually put that into the back of a small pickup truck and drive off with it. You could drive to a campsite, construction site, music concert, festival.
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You could have a covered patio,” Ed Pavia, an Appalachian State graduate student and team member, tells Justin Fink in the accompanying video. The solar thermal skylight embedded in the main building’s roof, meanwhile, is intended to cover all of its hot-water needs in addition to brightening the interior of the building. Appalachian State says it is striving to make at least some of walls in the interior of the house movable to accommodate changing needs of the occupants. The team expects Solar Homestead’s price to fall between $250,000 and $350,000 (the Decathlon limit is $600,000 per entry). Once the competition is over, it could be adapted by the school as an academic facility or used by one of the project’s sponsors as a model for a line of similar homes. “We like to say that winning this competition will be more influential and world-recognized than our win over Michigan in 2007,” Pavia told The Appalachian, Appalachian State’s campus newspaper, for a recent story on the project and the team’s ambitions. “This will elevate the value of every degree from Appalachian State and help us become recognized as one of the world educators in sustainable tech.” For an overview of the Solar Decathlon teams, see GBA’s 2011 Solar Decathlon Resource Guide
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