On Houses and Homes: Top 5 Stories Behind Solar Decathlon Entries

We build houses, but it’s the living in a house that makes it a home. Every home -- even your home -- has a history that represents who lived there and how they lived. The same goes for the houses in Solar Decathlon. While they’re lauded for their innovation, they also use their region's rich histories and the natural world to inform construction and design, making these houses homes.

5. Giving back to the community with Empowerhouse

The Empowerhouse doesn’t have anyone living in it—yet. In partnership with Habitat for Humanity, the Empowerhouse Collective designed and built a solar home to provide for a DC-area family.The saying goes "Be the change you want to see in the world.” Swap “be” with “build” and you get Empowerhouse, reaching beyond environmental sustainability into the deeply intricate and heavily nuanced community sustainability. Ultimately, for solar power to be the energy game-changer we expect it to be it must spread far and wide, and Empowerhouse takes a bold first step..

4. Team Maryland's natural watershed inspired by the Chesapeake Bay

This is less about who lives here than where and how they live. Team Maryland’s eco-mimicry builds upon an already efficient natural system. Watersheds present an environmental conundrum because everyone wants clean bodies of water, but we often build right up to our waterfronts, negating watersheds (beachfront property is neither economically nor environmentally cheap). Healthy watersheds—ones that provide verdant habitats and lap up excess nutrients—lead to healthy waters. In Team Maryland's case, a healthy home watershed provides for healthier, more sustainable living.

3. The best of New Zealand's culture all under one roof

Looking to the simpler things in life, Team New Zealand's First Light House draws inspiration from the traditional Kiwi vacation home. The bach (pronounced "batch") lends space for outdoor recreation and socialization, reflecting a deep and admirable Kiwi tradition of hospitality, friendliness and shared environment. First Light’s living spaces amongst solar decathletes, facilitating discussions, connections and good times. The first place on Earth where the sun hits in the morning, First Light connects residents with the changing land around it.

2. Appalachian State pioneers a solar future

The modern house lacks the pioneering spirit of yore—yore in this case meaning "the days of settling North Carolina." Appalachian State's Solar Homestead takes the best of the pioneering spirit—all the stories of hardship, failure and ultimately triumph—and packages it up into 1000 neat square feet. The Homestead's net-zero energy balance remembers a time of rugged independence, resilience and ingenuity. The first settlers of North Carolina relied on the land, and built homes to suit. It's no coincidence the Solar Homestead resembles a traditional pioneer home, made for a wilder sort of life.

1. TRTL comes out of its shell

A nation’s proud history can strengthen the foundations of any home, particularly Team Canada’s TRTL. Definitely the most culturally astute of the 2011 Solar Decathletes, TRTL takes its holistic inspiration from Canada's Native peoples of Treaty 7. Technology and tradition, TRTL's tee pee design amplifies direct connections to the environment, paradoxically and productively looking to the future and the past. Modern appliances converse fluidly with wood paneling and native decor, all powered by the sun. Harmony achieved.

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