The prestigious Solar Decathlon architecture and engineering competition for college students-which will be held for the first time ever in California later this year-perennially showcases cutting-edge ideas in solar-powered living. But a California team working out of Los Angeles aims to push the envelope further than ever with its entry for the October 3-13 event at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine.
Students from the Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology have joined forces for a solar-powered, net-zero home where the innovation extends beyond technology and sustainability to the structure of the home itself. The Dynamic Augmented Living Environment (nicknamed DALE) is a modular structure that starts off at 600 square feet, but can triple its living space. Two modules can grow-or shrink-according to a resident's needs because they are built on a rail system: space the modules farther apart and create a yard between the two of them in warmer summer months, or bring them together to conserve energy with a smaller living space and lower energy needs. (Because it is designed as a net-zero energy home, it would produce as much or more energy than it consumes.) One module is billed as the "dry" one, housing bedrooms/common rooms; the "wet" module contains the kitchen and bathroom. Overhangs on the modules offer options for privacy or shady areas.
DALE is a work in progress at the architecture institute's campus in downtown Los Angeles, with completion scheduled for late summer. After researching the Orange County climate, the students have designed solar power systems with that area specifically in mind. The home boasts energy and water usage tracking systems plus an industrial-grade system designed to makeexpanding and contracting the modules as safe as possible.
The schools' team placed sixth overall at the last biannual Solar Decathlon in 2011. The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Twenty teams participate in the decathlon and their homes will be open for free tours in the Solar Village at the end of the competition.