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Stevens Solar Decathlon SURE HOUSE is Superstorm Ready (Video)

Originally published on 1Sun4All.

The student team from Stevens Institute of Technology (SIT) says the SURE HOUSE — their contest entry for the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 — is not only a student design project; after being built, it will be rigorously tested, extensively toured, and finally lived in. And this isn’t their first solar-powered rodeo. The SURE HOUSE is the 3rd consecutive SIT entry in the Solar Decathlon competition. You can see more about the 2011 and the 2013 solar-powered houses here.

SURE HOUSE is built to sustain a coastal storm with deployable shutters that protect the structure, and because the home’s power system supplies more energy than the house needs throughout the year, there is excess energy available to the community during power outages.

The design philosophy of the house is further explained by Ernie Tucker, for the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

When Hurricane Sandy crashed into the East Coast in October 2012, it caused an estimated $65 billion in damages along with untold human misery. But something positive has come from that disaster. The superstorm inspired SIT’s Solar Decathlon 2015 project.

“Sandy devastated a lot of the coast, including Hoboken, New Jersey, where Stevens is located. And many of the students involved on the team are from New York and New Jersey and were affected, or had families affected, by power outages and damage from the storm,” says decathlete A.J. Elliott, a Stevens graduate student.

“We knew at that point that we wanted to address not only sustainability but also resiliency with our design—to combat rising sea levels and increased storm activity,” he says.

The 40-member team came up with a play on words for its Jersey Shore house: SURE HOUSE. The name derives from “SUstainability” plus “REsiliency” and is intended to reflect a structure that can mitigate climate change as well as survive the real effects of global warming such as savage storms.

But the team didn’t want to follow the typical post-Sandy trends. “The general reaction to Hurricane Sandy was to put houses up on stilts. That’s still the practice, so these homes don’t have porches—and feel out of place,” Elliott says.

This is especially noticeable because the Jersey Shore comprises tight-knit communities with towns that typically have open spaces for people to gather. Stilts stifle that characteristic.

By pioneering a different way, “we’re trying to develop a prototype where we don’t necessarily have to do that,” he says. “We wanted to maintain this ’70s and ’80s architectural feel that is the Jersey Shore in combination with 21st-century technology.”

solar decathlon

The 1,000-ft2 living space flows to an exterior deck. Although replicating the cottage style on the exterior, the core building principles result in 90% less energy use through “Passive House” techniques (a German concept stressing tight building envelopes to reduce air conditioning demands), net zero-energy use with solar power, and a resilient energy hub.

That hub is key.

“Solar arrays won’t work when power is out unless you have a battery backup system,” Elliott says—but those backups aren’t allowed in the Solar Decathlon.

Instead, Stevens is equipping SURE HOUSE with a special, commercially available inverter that can continue to produce power even after a blackout. The house will also have an outdoor USB charging outlet that allows neighbors to come by and charge their portable devices.

“That way, they’re not without communication shortly after a storm, when there are a lot of emergencies to be dealt with,” he notes.

And as a final addition, the Stevens team is drawing from the marine industry for its technologies and materials, using composites that can repel storm damage as well as everyday salt water.

solar decathlon

The team hopes that after this year’s Solar Decathlon, SURE HOUSE will find a permanent home on the Jersey Shore — where it can serve as a model for others who want to sustain traditions in the face of changes that threaten to erode not only beaches but also the fabric of community life.

Video and Photo Credit: US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015

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Written By

-- I am an artist, painter, writer, interior designer, graphic designer, and constant student of many studies. Living with respect for the environment close at hand, the food chain, natural remedies for healing the earth, people and animals is a life-long expression and commitment. As half of a home-building team, I helped design and build harmonious, sustainable and net-zero homes that incorporate clean air systems, passive and active solar energy as well as rainwater collection systems. Private aviation stirs a special appeal, I would love to fly in the solar airplane and install a wind turbine in my yard. I am a peace-loving, courageous soul, and I am passionate about contributing to the clean energy revolution. I formerly designed and managed a clean energy website,


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