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August 14th, 2009

Virginia Tech aims for the sky to win Solar Decathlon

Published on August 14th, 2009 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

Lumenhaus is Virginia Tech’s zero-energy home that can be completely powered by the sun and geothermal energy. Other sustainable features include the use of passive energy systems, radiant heating and building materials made from renewable and/or recyclable sources.

The College of Architecture and Urban Studies is entering the house in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2009.

The house will be displayed outside the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. for most of September. In October, Lumenhaus will be on display at the National Mall along with other entrants in the Solar Decathlon. And, Virginia Tech is one of only two U.S. universities invited to compete in the first Solar Decathlon Europe, which will take place in Madrid in June 2010.

A powerful array of photovoltaic panels provides carbon-neutral energy to the house. The PVs, arranged in a single array that covers the roof, are built into the house during construction. The panels are bifacial, meaning they use both sides to increase energy output by up to 15 percent. Using an electric actuator, the entire PV array can be tilted to the optimal angle for each season (from zero degrees to a 17-degree angle in summer and to a 35-degree angle in winter).

The energy collected during the day will be radiated back out at night through a low-energy, long-lasting LED lighting system.

Lumehaus is not only energy-efficient; it is water-efficient, too. The roof is sloped to collect rainwater that is filtered for potable use in the house, while used household greywater – from the shower, bathroom sink and clothes washer – goes through a series of bio-filters in the surrounding landscape where it is cleaned for non-potable use.

Luminhaus facade uses aerogel as an insulator that allows natural sunlight in the house while insulating against the harshest conditions.

Lumenhaus facade uses aerogel as an insulator that allows natural sunlight in the house while insulating against the harshest conditions. (Credit: Virgina Tech)

An advanced building façade is comprised of two independent layers: a metal shutter shade and a translucent insulating panel. The shutter shade slides along the north and south façades, providing protection from direct sunlight while simultaneously allowing for indirect, natural lighting, views to the exterior and privacy to those inside. The sliding insulating panel is a translucent polycarbonate panel filled with aerogel. Aerogel provides insulation equivalent to a typical sold wall during harsh weather conditions without blocking natural light.

I don’t know about you, but this is my dream house come to life. If you like it, too, you can even fan it on Facebook.


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