Solar Decathlon 2013: Start.Home

Start.Home, a 988 sq ft 2 bedroom entry at Solar Decathlon 2013 | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

Start.Home is the Solar Decathlon 2013 entry by team Stanford Solar Decathlon. It is one of the larger entries, with up to two bedrooms in a 988 ft2 (91.8 m2) floor plan. For the competition, however, it was configured as one bedroom and an open studio/office space.

In past articles, we’ve mentioned several times already the benefits of a raised or vaulted ceiling design. Looking through the Solar Decathlon entries, about half of which have flat roofs and ceilings while the other half have shed roofs with a vaulted ceiling, we were struck by how dramatic the difference can be. The homes with vaulted ceilings appear more spacious, are much more visually interesting, and to us look like more enjoyable places to live. That’s especially true when the ceiling space is well-lit, as with the Start.Home where the sloped ceiling is used to reflect and diffuse the daylight coming in from a row of clerestory windows. Those windows face north to avoid excessive solar heat gain, but still bring in plenty of light. The high windows are also well-positioned to exhaust hot air from the top of the house, drawing in cooler air through low windows on the opposite side for natural ventilation.

Start.Home, a 988 sq ft 2 bedroom entry at Solar Decathlon 2013 | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

One of the key concepts of the Start.Home is what team Stanford Solar Decathlon calls the Core, a prefabricated module containing the bulk of the home’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. The bathroom, the laundry closet, the kitchen wall with the sink and appliances, and the utility closet are all within the Core. With the Core, the team aims to streamline the construction process. They hope it will make it easier and cheaper to build sustainably, and in fact Start.Home was tied for first in the affordability category. The idea is that homebuilders would order a Core, have it placed on the building site, and then custom-build the rest of the house around it. By concentrating the utility systems into a factory-built module, the need for on-site work by specialized trade contractors is greatly reduced. And because the Core is assembled in a factory, it is easier to maintain a high level of quality control over those complex technical components.

Start.Home, a 988 sq ft 2 bedroom entry at Solar Decathlon 2013 | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

The gray paint on the exterior of the Core is a product that has self-cleaning properties and removes air pollution. The HYDROTECT paint contains a natural catalyst that resists dirt and mildew buildup, and also removes nitrogen oxides (from car exhaust) and volatile organic compounds from the air. Similar products are available from other manufacturers, and will likely be used more often in the near future to improve indoor air quality and reduce the need for outside cleaning and repainting.

Start.Home, a 988 sq ft 2 bedroom entry at Solar Decathlon 2013 | www.facebook.com/SmallHouseBliss

One nice feature of Start.Home is the way the kitchen island was designed so the two tables on wheels can “dock” into it. Either or both tables can be easily pulled out when more seating space or a more formal dining experience is desired. Another interesting feature is the hydroponic green wall in the bathroom.

As with all the Solar Decathlon competitors, the detailed construction plans for Start.Home have been put in the public domain. You can downloaded them for free from the Solar Decathlon website.

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Photographs by Jason Flakes, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, and by Stanford Solar Decathlon.

Text copyright 2013 SmallHouseBliss. All Rights Reserved.

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