Solar House (2009)

As we work to decrease our dependence on conventional energy sources, we are compelled to consider alternative ways of designing and building structures. The meaningful incorporation of solar energy within an energy efficient design is essential.

SEED-pod-FINAL-IMAGE-copyThe Solar Decathlon Competition is a biannual competition, sponsored by the United States Department of Energy, involving the design and fabrication of an energy efficient home. Twenty teams from universities around the globe are selected to participate in each competition. In the fall of 2007, The University of Arizona Solar Decathlon Team (UASDT) submitted their proposal to develop the Solar Energy Efficient Dwelling, or SEED [pod], which was elected by the U.S. DOE to compete in the 2009 competition.

Using the tremendous energy generated by the sun, the Solar Decathlon competition homes are designed to harvest solar energy to power a variety of home essentials, from electricity to hot water and to integrate emerging technologies based on sustainable principles into the construction of a net zero home. With the support of the vanguard of sustainable industries, this competition solicits prototypes of tomorrow’s way of living. It permits budding designers to gain a thorough understanding of the principles and possibilities of sustainable design. Ultimately, the competition is a showcase for sustainable architecture, with the goal of increasing awareness in the general public of the immense opportunities for solar powered innovation, applicable today for a reduced, if not carbon-neutral, way of living.

About The Sustainable Energy Efficient Dwelling (SEED):

Seed Pod at nightThe SEED, dubbed SEED [pod], is a fully sustainable solar house that organically interacts with the natural environment as a dynamic extension of sun and earth.
The SEED [pod] was one of only 20 finalists selected from around the globe to compete in the Solar Decathlon Competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The event took place October 9th- 18th, 2009 on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

This was the first year that the University of Arizona was chosen to compete. This project was done with the help of the Arizona Research Institute for Solar Energy (AzRISE), plus the support of the University of Phoenix and a large group of regional companies, all of whom helped enormously in the competition where the cost of building and delivering the house cost in the range from $300,000 – $1,200,000.

The SEED [pod]

Solar House DCIn nature, seedpods protect and nourish a seed during the initial growth stages of an embryonic plant. Like the biologic seedpod, the University of Arizona’s Solar Decathlon Team’s (UASDT) SEED [pod] is an embryonic vessel that fosters the propagation of geographically appropriate, solar powered and climatically effective housing strategies. Central to the innovation of the SEED [pod] are the many ways in which it borrows from the natural environment. In short, the house replicates strategies provided in nature to obtain and maintain a homeostatic environment. Minute changes in the external environment continually calibrate the SEED [pod] to maintain equilibrium in the constantly changing climate of Earth.

The teams’ design incorporates both passive and active strategies to reach homeostatic conditions. The passive strategies include natural ventilation strategies, efficient volume management, strategic placement of insulation, and shading strategies. Among the active strategies are efficient heating and cooling systems as well as electronically controlled ventilation shutters. In addition, the SEED [pod] will include all home essentials, such as energy- efficient appliances and innovative space-savingplanning furniture systems. And finally, the home integrates a greenhouse as a biological filter for air and water that also provides food for the inhabitants.

Core and Interior Rendering

29_seed-pod-south-wallIn keeping with the SEED [pod] concept, the core of the home acts as the provider for all the essentials of living. It contains the bathroom, kitchen, and workspace functions needed to live in a home of this size, freeing the rest of the floor plan for living and dining space. The core contains four crucial components: (1) power management and distribution system, (2) communications and monitoring system, (3) heating and cooling equipment, including ductwork and hot water storage, and (4) all appliances and fixtures.

The module is prefabricated and designed to be adaptable to a number of different floor plan layouts and home sizes. Real-time data for the operational efficiency of the home will be broadcast to the inhabitants, informing them of the environmental effects of their living choices. The systems will measure data, tabulate this data, and archive it in order to display trends over time. This data may also be used to prove the environmental benefit of living in energy-efficient, environmentally responsive homes.

Innovative Design Concepts

In addition to collecting solar energy, the skin system acts as a filter for everything the user needs. Multiple light layers are utilized in contrast to more traditional thermal-mass or sealed isolative strategies. This system is founded on the value of a selectively permeable membrane for both light and air, which means the skin is like the leaves of a plant, allowing for both the collection of solar energy and the passage of needed elements according to either optimum performance or user preference.

13_exterior at night NEThe Bio-filter, or greenhouse, integration provides three major functions that add to the sustainable nature and livability of the home: (1) air quality control, (2) food production, and (3) gray water filtration. Rather than hermetically sealing the house, which can lead to poor air quality and the introduction of health hazards in the form of molds, the envelope of the SEED [pod] is assembled from several light and thin operationally permeable layers which work together to provide fresh air and a temperate climate. The greenhouse filters the air, providing increased O2, filters water, regulates humidity, and provides thermal storage-all of which reduce the SEED [pod]’s overall energy footprint.

The house is truly an integrated system of innovative technologies and strategies that deliver a sustainable profile for modern ecological living.

Solar Decathlon Team Leaders


Dale Clifford


Jason Vollen

Matt Gindlesparger


U A Solar Team

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and AzRISE co-director Simmons at the Solar House

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Unisource/TEP Chairman and CEO Paul Bonavia at the Solar House in Washington, D.C.