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A Napa Solar Vision on The National Mall

October 8th, 2009 · 6 Comments

Team California brought to the Mall a home where life will follow the sun. The Refract House, a three room (or, dependent on weather, four counting the patio) home is laid out so that life moves through the house with the sun. One wakes in the east, as the sun enters into the bedroom, life flows into the kitchen/central area, with the afternoon sun supporting enjoyment of the living room. Each living space has direct access into the patio, providing a core space for enjoying those beautiful Napa Valley days in sustainable style.

Team California strove for that high-end customer.

Our mission with the Refract House is to demonstrate that green living does not require a compromise in lifestyle

And, they’ve succeeded. Wander the house and the beauty of the design shines forth.

As with all Solar Decathlon entrants, the aesthetics extend past the look, past the superficial feel of the house, to the whole-system design and sustainability.

Walking the Solar Decathlon village, new tech abounds. Many of the homes share a specific technology with Refract House, iPhone controls. True ease of convenience for interacting with, tracking, and controlling household systems with a few swipes of a finger.

That iPhone provides access to the automated controls that, for example, will descend the shades to reduce solar heat gain on hot days.  Refract House relies on Lucid Design Group’s Building Dashboard monitoring/control system. As with several other houses, an integrated weather station feeds data into the controller which might lead to automated window closing to keep rain water from being blown into the house.  This data also supports analysis of water flow, off the roof and deck, into the reflecting pool.   (By the way, Valence Energy helped with the control system. Students from the 2007 Santa Clara Decathlon team formed Valence Energy. Learning flows from one Solar Decathlon generation to the next.)

In addition to 8.1 kilowatts of solar pv, there are two solar thermal systems. The first an absorption chiller to support radiant cooling panels. Waste heat from that system preheats the water for the solar hot water system.   Both the cooling and heating flows through Pex tubing set in Warmboard . In what might be a first, Refract House also used Warmboard in the ceiling, to support cooling.

One of the Decathlon “events” is in communication, ranging from discussions with visitors to signage to handouts. Team California took an innovative path that might give the a boost in the competition. Entering Refract House (potentially in long lines over the weekend), there are information panels with questions about the house’s technologies. Text message (with your iPhone?) and they will receive answers along with additional information.  (On a negative communication, think before seeking to load the video on the website. I, for one, am not ready to load yet another program onto my computer to support, in this case, just one website.)

Team California merits a special note. When examining many of the teams, a good number of the members seem ‘mid-career’, with extensive backgrounds above and beyond schooling. Team California composes a different mix

The Refract House was designed, built, and managed completely by undergraduate students. Coming to this project, we knew nothing. However, as true students not delayed by ‘convention’, we learned quickly and designed as we believed was right, not off of what was cheap or easy.

If the homes of the Solar Decathlon are those of the future, than the Refract House truly is because it was built by the future: the young students of today.

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Tags: Energy · solar · solar decathlon

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