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Terps Take 2nd Place in 2017 Solar Decathlon

FinishedHouse

WinningFor 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.

Heat, water and organic materials are all recycled to eliminate waste
Heat, water and organic materials are all recycled to eliminate waste

 

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”.

 

recycled greywater was used to irrigate greenwalls in the Courtyard and around reACT’s exterior.  The greenwalls included plants to attract and nourish pollinators as well as medicinal and edible herbs for human residents.
recycled greywater was used to irrigate greenwalls in the Courtyard and around reACT’s exterior. The greenwalls included plants to attract and nourish pollinators as well as medicinal and edible herbs for human residents.

 

 a modular hydroponics system designed by Professor Hooman Koliji also used recycled greywater mixed with nutrients.  The hydroponics wall produced lettuce, basil and other edible varieties for reACT’s residents.
a modular hydroponics system designed by Professor Hooman Koliji also used recycled greywater mixed with nutrients. The hydroponics wall produced lettuce, basil and other edible varieties for reACT’s residents.

 

reACT’s composting toilet not only saves water but produces valuable fertilizer for nourishing the landscape.  Recycling organic waste from the kitchen and bathroom is another example of the “waste = food” paradigm.
reACT’s composting toilet not only saves water but produces valuable fertilizer for nourishing the landscape. Recycling organic waste from the kitchen and bathroom is another example of the “waste = food” paradigm.

 

 

 

 

reACT is designed to evolve.  Interior finishes throughout the house are easily removable to facilitate repairs and upgrades to the various systems (electrical, lighting, plumbing, mechanical and controls).  During final construction, students discovered a condensate line that needed to be rerouted.  The removable panels made this a relatively trivial matter.  Separating systems from structure and finishes in this way is referred to as disentanglement (courtesy of Chris French).
reACT is designed to evolve. Interior finishes throughout the house are easily removable to facilitate repairs and upgrades to the various systems (electrical, lighting, plumbing, mechanical and controls). During final construction, students discovered a condensate line that needed to be rerouted. The removable panels made this a relatively trivial matter. Separating systems from structure and finishes in this way is referred to as disentanglement (courtesy of Chris French).

 

 

 

reACT was conceived as a synthetic organism, and like most natural organisms, it responds to changes in its environment and even anticipates them. reACT’s model-based predictive control system uses simulations of the house and forecasts of the weather to optimize the home’s performance.  It anticipates future demands and helps residents plan their resource utilization (power, water, heat, etc.) to best meet their needs.  If the control knows when it will rain, for instance, it can recommend an irrigation schedule for the garden.
reACT was conceived as a synthetic organism, and like most natural organisms, it responds to changes in its environment and even anticipates them. reACT’s model-based predictive control system uses simulations of the house and forecasts of the weather to optimize the home’s performance. It anticipates future demands and helps residents plan their resource utilization (power, water, heat, etc.) to best meet their needs. If the control knows when it will rain, for instance, it can recommend an irrigation schedule for the garden.

 

making good decisions requires robust data regarding the current performance of the house as well.  reACT includes numerous sensors distributed throughout the house.  Like the rest of the home’s infrastructure, the sensors are intended to be visible and to be easily replaced as new technologies become available.
making good decisions requires robust data regarding the current performance of the house as well. reACT includes numerous sensors distributed throughout the house. Like the rest of the home’s infrastructure, the sensors are intended to be visible and to be easily replaced as new technologies become available.

 

Another innovation in reACT was the use of ‘solar appliances’.  One example was the solar food dryer shown here.  Heat collected in the Attic space above the Core is used to dry and preserve food for storage.  The reACT research team will explore similar applications such as a solar oven and a solar clothes dryer for the house.
Another innovation in reACT was the use of ‘solar appliances’. One example was the solar food dryer shown here. Heat collected in the Attic space above the Core is used to dry and preserve food for storage. The drying rack emerged from the ceiling at the push of a button, making it a tour favorite.  The reACT research team will explore similar applications such as a solar oven and a solar clothes dryer for the house.

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.

Wide Angle View (Panorama) of the Living Room Wing w/ Kitchen.
Wide Angle View (Panorama) of the Living Room Wing w/ Kitchen.

 

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.