Buildings Solar Decathlon Yale

Published on July 14th, 2015 | by Amber Archangel

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Yale University’s Solar Decathlon Y-House Blends The Outdoors Into Living Spaces (Video)

July 14th, 2015 by  

Originally published on 1Sun4All.

Yale University’s first entry to the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, Y-House, is specifically designed for young professionals who have “rapid and agile lifestyles.” The house was created to respond to the changing needs of the inhabitants by providing adaptability, multi-functionality, and freedom of movement beyond the walls. The team says it wants to inspire social and environmental change by making sustainable housing desirable and marketable to a new generation. Ernie Tucker, writing for the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team, tells us more with the latest news below:

Although founded more than three centuries ago, since this is Yale University’s first Solar Decathlon the team, members had to scramble to make up for lost time. When they began their Solar Decathlon 2015 project nearly two years ago, the team consisted of eight inexperienced freshmen and sophomores.

“None of us has built a house before,” says Kate McMillan, co-project manager.

There were many moments when the crew seemed to hit dead ends — not enough time, money, experience, or backing — and yet somehow plowed through.

“But that’s one of the purposes of the competition. You start out with students who don’t have experience, and by the end of a year and a half, it’s crazy how much you do know,” McMillan says.

The team was fortified last semester by an infusion of grad students who were helping teach a class and then stayed on to advise.

“That really helped us to have people who have built houses,” says team member Thaddeus Lee. “They told us we needed to think about going modular in the design.”

Solar Decathlon Yale

The expanded group of about 15 participants also decided to take advantage of the ambient breezes in the California climate, making the house site-specific.

As a result, there’s nothing elite or Ivy League about the approach to what they call the Y-House. Instead, the compact 750-ft² shotgun-style structure is designed to reduce material costs and energy loads while giving the impression of spaciousness by integrating outdoor space. Natural ventilation will be maximized across the north-south axis of the house. Vents above the kitchen and bathroom areas allow for hot air to escape to lower mechanical cooling loads.

The structure is geared for young professionals, who can enjoy a deck and trellised patio that effectively doubles the indoor space and forms a link to the outside, connecting to the community. Photovoltaic panels will be on the trellis, which can be used separately as a standalone feature in the future.

Solar Decathlon Yale

We entered this competition with the idea that, while the competition is great, we could drive the greater mission of sustainability with our building. Looking past the competition, we wanted a house we could retrofit and bring back to New Haven, Connecticut. —Juan Pablo Ponce De Leon, project manager

Still, gearing the Y-House for California doesn’t mean the influences of New Haven and New England are lacking.

“There’s a large tradition of outdoor patios if you walk around campus and town” that informs the house layout, Ponce De Leon says.

The basic building concept is to employ modular construction by working with a housing manufacturer in Oregon. The team will add components, including a solar panel racking system and lumber from a Yale forestry site to complete the project. Furnishings will be simple to allow for ease of configuration.

All the mechanical equipment will be in a module that will slot into the house. This “technopod” — which includes the bathroom, mechanical room, kitchen, and car-charging station — can be prefabricated and connected to the rest of the structure. And that’s where the fabled Old Blue network paid off. A Yale alumnus in the sustainable housing field is working with them on that aspect of the project.

The team is proud of how far it has come — and how much impact it might have.

If undergraduates with no prior experience can design, build, and ship a net-zero house in under two years, it is exciting to imagine how our current generation might tackle issues of sustainability. —Kate McMillan

In other Solar Decathlon news, the competition has expanded and will now include Solar Decathlon Middle East, to be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The US Department of Energy and Dubai will produce two Solar Decathlon Middle East competitions: the first in 2018 and the second in 2020. A call for applicants for the 2018 competition will be issued this year.

Video Credit: DOE Solar Decathlon | Photo Credit: Members of the Yale University team gather at the Orange County Great Park on January 9, via Carol Laurie/US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon | Illustration is a screen view from the video above





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About the Author

-- 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, 1Sun4All.com.



  • TedKidd

    Looks appealing.

    Their presumption about saving energy using “Vents above the kitchen and bathroom areas allow for hot air to escape to lower mechanical cooling loads” is underdeveloped. But they may figure that out.

    The idealized notion you want a highly outdoor connected house is a bad design premise.

    People want the illusion of connection, while having high quality filtered fresh air, controlled humidity, and comfortable temperature.

    Managing moisture is a bug under recognized opportunity to have much healthier, more durable/robust structures.

    A really well designed structure provides these things with very little energy, automatically, without the requirement that occupants perform complex stupid pet tricks based on weather forecasts.

    We need to build around quality building science and how people really live, not idealized versions of some utopian beach front.

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