For the third time in the last 10 years (the last three times Maryland has entered, in fact), the TERPS have placed First in the Nation at this year’s Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. This victory includes placing Second in the new Innovation Contest category, reflecting the team’s strong priority for bringing something truly new to the competition in Denver.
The name Team Maryland chose for their house is reACT, which stands for (R)esilient Adaptive Climate Technology. reACT is more than an individual dwelling, it is a toolbox of technologies for creating the next generation of housing throughout the U.S. and the world.
Innovation is King
From the shape of the house down to the design of the furniture, innovation and integration were the driving forces behind reACT’s design. This was not novelty for novelty’s sake, but performance-based changes to the status quo in American housing.
The basic idea behind the organization of the house was to create a Core where all resources (water, energy, information) could be tightly integrated. The Core is made up of the Kitchen and Bathroom, joined by the Spine, through which all resources flow. The Wings of the house are sloped toward the Core, collecting rainwater and solar power. The Courtyard is the Yin to the Core’s Yang, a void enclosed in glass to filter, capture and store thermal energy from the Sun.
Some of you may be saying “but the roofs don’t face south”. Maryland’s young designers actively rejected the idea that building form and orientation must be a slave to the latitude, noting that reACT’s low-angle roofs only suffer a 5% penalty over one facing south. As the cost of solar panels continues to fall, maximizing solar collection to the detriment of the overall design seems foolish. Regnerative design principles counsel us to optimize the whole rather than maximizing the individual parts. A holistic approach requires that we also consider space planning, daylighting, natural ventilation and rainwater collection. “Form follows function” is about more than energy collection.
Beginning with water, energy and other nutrients harvested from the site on which it lives, reACT’s strategy is not merely to reduce what we use but to use and REUSE those resources more effectively. Following Nature’s example of endlessly recycling everything, reACT frees use from the “less is more” mindset and embraces a philosophy of natural abundance. As William McDonough once noted “what about ENDLESS; endless is more”.
reACT as a Tool for Advocating Change
reACT is about more than sustainable technological innovation. It is a precedent for inspiring change. Current building regulations prohibit important net-zero-enabling technologies like composting toilets (which are well tested) and greywater recycling for potable uses (which is relatively new). Overcoming these regulatory hurdles will require demonstrations that such technologies are efficient, effective and safe for consumer use. reACT will serve as a test bed for such demonstrations.
Thanks to the University of Maryland Team
reACT was only realized through the visionary design, development and construction efforts of a team of students, faculty and professional mentors. At many points along the road to Denver, it seemed like we would never get there in time. The author would like to acknowledge the dedication and hard work of this team. Read more at 2017.solarteam.org
(photo of Malik lying on the ground)
Caption – this is how many of us felt at the end of the construction phase in Denver – exhausted but overjoyed that we had made it.