The Scoop on the 2015 Solar Decathlon

"What is a Solar Decathlon?" you might be wondering.

Organized and run by the U.S. Department of Energy, the biennial Solar Decathlon is an educational competition where teams from colleges across the country design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. The winner is determined by the home that best combines affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002, and starting in 2005, it has been held every two years.

In 2009, a team from UL Lafayette's architecture program designed and built the Acadiana culture-inspired BeauSoleil home as their entry in the Solar Decathlon. They were awarded with the Market Viability and People's Choice honors for their 800 square-foot, solar-powered, passive energy home. Before they embarked on the road trip to the competition, the team held a bon voyage party, where I was able to see the home up close. (Let's take a trip waaaay back into Eco Cajun archives!)

On Earth Day 2012, we visited the home again, where it now sits near Fletcher Hall on UL's campus. To this day, it still looks great in its spot, with a view of campus and Girard Park. And, fun fact, Gretchen, UL's director of sustainability, was a member of the team who built BeauSoleil house over six years ago!

The 2015 Solar Decathlon was held over the past two weeks in Irvine, California. Seventeen teams designed and built their idea of the perfect sustainable home for the competition, from:
  • Cal Poly
  • California State University, Sacramento
  • Clemson University
  • Crowder College and Drury University
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • New York City College of Technology
  • SUNY Alfred College of Technology
  • New Jersey Stevens Institute of Technology
  • University of Florida, University of Singapore and Santa Fe College
  • UT Austin and Technische Universitaet Muenchen
  • University at Buffalo, SUNY
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of California, Irvine; Chapman University; Irvine Valley College; and Saddleback College
  • Vanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University
  • West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata
  • Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana
  • Yale University 
Get a look at each team's house on the Solar Decathlon website, from home renderings to gorgeous photos to all the details on just how the homes are sustainable, or view photos of each team's home, along with the competition itself, over at the official Solar Decathlon Flickr page.

Every detail is carefully planned when teams are designing and building their homes. From window placement to rainwater collection systems, strategic solar panel placement, types of materials used inside, and to overall home layout, every little thing counts in judging, to see if the home meets the contest criteria.

It's enough of a challenge to design and build an affordable home that achieves the environmental standards, but this year's winning home did all of it creatively, plus it tackled one more issue: hurricane resilience.

The New Jersey Stevens Institute of Technology created the SURE (SUstainable REsilience) House as a response to damage done by Superstorm Sandy a few years ago. A well-planned layout, passive house standards, two kinds of solar panels, and smart technology are evident, but you may as well just watch the walkthrough video to see why this home is incredible.

I mean...I'd live in it in a heartbeat.

Every feature has a reason for being part of the house and the placement of everything is strategic. When the power cuts off, the home can still run, and it can even provide assistance for neighbors. This home literally has USB ports built into the exterior in order to charge electronics during a power outage. For you and your neighbors.

The solar panels that double as storm shutters ALSO function as shade for the deck.

Vox has a detailed write-up on the home, its features and its weatherproofing.

What's your favorite part of the SURE House?

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