UC Berkeley team creates multifamily housing for the Solar Decathlon

Students from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Denver teamed to compete in the 2017 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon held in Denver, Colorado, this fall. The students designed and built RISE (Residential Inviting Stackable Efficient), a single-family project that addresses the need for an affordable housing strategy through density. The unique design fits the competition requirements as a single-family house that can also stack atop another unit creating a design that is energy efficient and community oriented. Competing structures from all 12 collegiate teams were on display at the “solar village” located at Pena Station near the Denver airport. Visitors toured the high-tech, energy-efficient solar homes, attended workshops, and learned about energy-saving technologies at the Sustainability Expo.

UC Berkeley
Credit: UC Berkeley

The Solar Decathlon is a biennial competition launched in 2002. Student teams spend two years designing and building full-sized houses powered only by photovoltaics. After assembling the houses on their respective campuses, the teams deconstruct them, transport them to the competition site, and re-assemble the homes into a solar village. During the competition, the homes are evaluated in a series of 10 contests. The UC Berkeley team took third place just behind the University of Maryland while the Swiss team was awarded first place.

The UC Berkeley team was inspired to build something economical by their “target site” in Richmond, California, where the cost of living is 20% higher than the national average, and housing prices have increased over 10% in the last year. Additionally, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air and water quality scores at the site are ranked significantly lower than the rest of the nation. Designing an affordable and sustainable housing solution was essential to combat urban sprawl through a modular housing solution.

The 816-square-foot, wood-frame design places priority on practical passive design strategies rather than technological systems. Sheep’s wool insulation fills the walls, floor, and ceiling. Movable interior walls on tracks allow for flexible living arrangements. The north exterior wall has a moss wall, intended to sequester carbon and reduce particulates in the air. When the units are stacked in a tiered formation, they do not interfere with other units’ daylight opportunities. Stack ventilation draws air across the rooms and exhausts above the topmost unit. The house has been donated to the Richmond Community Foundation, which will sell it as affordable housing to a family in its program

Renewable energy is only part of the story in these solar homes. Many other collegiate teams also chose to feature urban agriculture, “smart home” systems, and recycled water. Some of the 10 contests were based on measured building performance, while others were judged by panels of experts. Overall, the various contests were seeking innovation, water use and re-use strategies, smart energy use, and market potential.

For more information: https://www.solardecathlon.gov/

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