Sci/Tech

Designing the Next Wave of Solar Homes

Students have developed an award-winning model solar home that combines technical innovations, livability and green design.

University of Maryland architecture and engineering students have developed an award-winning model solar home that combines technical innovations, livability and green design. Their work drew high honors from the public and the judges in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon.

The Maryland students’ entry surpassed those from other U.S. schools to place second in the select international competition. A student team from Darmstadt, Germany came in number one.

The Maryland team also received the most votes from visitors to win the BP Solar People’s Choice Award.

Among the students’ technical innovations is a waterfall built into one of the home’s inside walls. It’s not only attractive and peaceful, it also helps remove indoor moisture, thereby helping reduce air conditioning costs.

The Solar Decathlon is an international competition encouraging students to build and design innovative homes that fully utilize solar power. The homes operate entirely on solar power, with enough energy left over to run an electric car. The competition ended Saturday, Oct. 20.

“We are changing the rules by which buildings are designed and built, and showcasing the tools available to do so now,” says Amy Gardner, architecture professor and lead faculty member on the team. “The Solar Decathlon is an unparalleled opportunity to educate future and current leaders in the process of integrated design; to inform the public about environmentally sound, sustainable construction; and to promote the role of efficiency and solar technologies in achieving energy independence.”

The students call their solar home the LEAFhouse — in part reflecting its green design and in honor of nature’s most efficient solar panel. The Chesapeake Bay watershed offers the inspiration for a smart, adaptable, resource-efficient home powered by renewable energy. “LEAF” stands for “leading everyone to an abundant future.”