Can modern, solar-powered design be livable? That was the concept behind the University of Minnesota’s ICON Solar House team.
Students from disciplines ranging from business to design to engineering took up the challenge of designing, building, and operating the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Next month, the team and the house will travel to Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Department of Energy‘s Solar Decathlon contest, in which the house will be displayed on the National Mall for three weeks along with 19 other houses from competing colleges.
It’s called a decathlon because the students’ house will be judged from a set of 10 criteria (including appliances — we love these people!).
The Icon Solar House’s Dan Handeen was gracious enough to give a tour of the project Wednesday, so we could see how far the house had come since we got involved some months ago when the house didn’t even have walls!
The combination of livable design and airtight engineering impressed us. We all laughed at the concept of a “sleeping alcove” — which is basically a room sized to the dimensions of a full-size bed — but the high ceilings and amenities (towel warmer?) surpassed our expectations for a
800532-square-foot home. (Update: Dan said the finished floor area of the house was even less than I had read about in other stories about the house.)
Dan said the team wants the ICON Solar House to stand out from the sterile-type designs they witnessed at the last contest. Rather, the students want to create something that people can actually see themselves living in. (See more on the team’s ideas for the ICON Solar House.)
Solar panels help power the house, Dan explained. But the house is already super energy-efficient, so teams that roll the meter backward — producing more energy than they consume — are awarded 100 points. The team that produces the most energy gains an extra 50 points, Dan said.
Obviously, we’re cheering for them. We’re so proud to be a part of such an inspiring project and help select the right appliances to help the team score the trophy and the bragging rights. All of the appliances in the ICON Solar House have the highest Energy Star ratings.
Dan startled me when he pulled out that wide, far-right cabinet to reveal a dishwasher, which is embarrassing because I work for Warners’ Stellian and knew all about the Fisher & Paykel DishDrawers. But these were so well-integrated (re: paneled) and perfect for the small kitchen space that I confused them for cabinets.
The 24-inch-wide Liebherr refrigerator (left) will also be paneled and was cooling lunch for the crew in the meantime.
Perhaps the most strategic choice of appliances in the kitchen was the Wolf 30-inch induction cooktop. Each team competing in the Solar Decathlon must perform the same set of tasks, which mimic things people do in every day life.
One task is to boil 5 pounds of water. Induction cooking is extremely efficient because energy is only supplied to the pot. And no wasted heat means water generally boils faster on induction cooking surfaces.
Dan says the team was planning on selling the house, but the U of M has been so impressed with the project it might want to keep the house all to itself. I certainly would.