Solar Decathlon Trip Observations

By Laura Wolf

Earlier this month, I traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in the bi-annual Solar Decathlon exhibit, sponsored by the Department of Energy. Twenty teams were chosen from over 200 submissions, mostly collegiate teams from around the country and Europe, chartered to construct a completely solar-powered home using no more than 800 square feet. Entries were judged on subjective categories such as architecture, engineering, market viability, lighting design, and communication (publicizing their designs with the public), as well as objective measures such as comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment, and net metering.

Several schools in the Boston area joined together to form Team Boston, and created an innovative and cutting edge design for the Curio House. The Curio house features photovoltaic panels on the roof, a solar thermal hot-water system, passive solar design, daylighting, and energy-efficient lighting. The home also features an impressive monitoring system to show exactly how much energy is being used and when. The system allows the homeowner to choose how to adjust his or her habits to reduce energy consumption.

In addition to sharing incredible ideas about sustainability (such as utilizing reclaimed lumber and converted grain silos), the Solar Decathlon houses also showcased incredible space-saving techniques. Multi-functional storage and dual-purpose spaces were essential in designing such a small domicile, but comfort was never sacrificed.

The most impressive aspect of the designs were how each house could support residents, entertainment systems, and full kitchens (each team had to host a dinner party during their week of residence on the National Mall) in a small footprint. It was also wonderful that all of our technological comforts were demonstrated through solar power.

Check out to learn more and read about each team, as well as tips from the Department of Energy on how to make your lifestyle more environmentally conscious and sustainable.