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SIP homes shine at 2013 Solar Decathlon

Rendering of Start.Home by the Stanford University team
On October 3, teams from 20 universities across North America and Europe will face off in the 2013 Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon in Irvine, California.  The biennial competition challenges student teams to design and build cutting-edge, net zero energy homes.  To reduce home energy use and the amount of solar generation capacity required, four teams participating in this year’s competition will construct their homes using structural insulated panels (SIPs).
The homes will be built in Orange County Great Park, where they will be open for public viewing days on October 3–6 and October 10–13.  Judges will rate the homes on a number of criteria, including energy efficiency, comfort, indoor environmental quality, and aesthetic appeal.  
SIPs have been a product of choice for Solar Decathlon teams dating back to the competition’s inception in 2001.  SIPs, as an engineered component, are assembled quickly and save a tremendous amount of energy by avoiding thermal bridging and creating an airtight building envelope.
West Virginia University’s Preserving Energy with Appalachian Knowledge (PEAK) home combines modern design and technologies with traditional Appalachian style.  Working with SIP distributor PanelWrights, West Virginia University (WVU) specified SIPs from  R-Control SIP manufacturer Mid-Atlantic Foam for the walls and roof, clad with half-log siding for an authentic Appalachian look and feel.  
PanelWrights President Al Cobb, who has consulted on a number of previous Solar Decathlon projects, sees SIPs as the ideal building envelope system for student design teams seeking extremely high levels of home performance.
“When the chips are down and you really need your house to perform because you are trying to win a competition, university students don’t have to look very hard to figure out what building system is the obvious choice for an energy-efficient building envelope,” said Cobb.  “It is interesting to note that in a competition that demands high levels of energy efficiency, SIPs or similar building systems make up a large percentage of the builds.”
Looking to appeal to a younger generation of homeowners, the Stanford team created the Start.Home, an affordable zero energy home designed to “lower the entry barrier to ultra-efficient housing.”  At the core of the design are SIP walls, a SIP roof, and a SIP floor provided by R-Control SIP manufacturer ACH Foam Technologies and AFM Corporation.  
The SIPs and all other structural building components are designed on a modular grid system, allowing for easy design modifications and hassle-free additions to existing homes.
“We have worked on numerous ‘built projects’ with DOE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for years in developing the ‘preferred envelope system’ for realizing zero and near net zero building designs,” said AFM Corporation President Mike Tobin.  “The Solar Decathlon is simply an extension of our work with DOE and the EPA going back many, many years.  We were attracted to the Stanford project due to the fact that these earlier developed net zero building concepts are being forwarded by Stanford.”
Students from The Catholic University of America, George Washington University, and American University designed the HARVEST HOME to "facilitate a lifestyle of healing and rejuvenation."  Returning war veterans and others will find a house that is fully ADA compliant and equipped with physical activity sensors that can be used to gather data for physical therapy.  
SIPs for the home were provided by IntelliStructures and Acme Panel Company.
The University of Louisville, Ball State University, and the University of Kentucky make up the Kentucky/Indiana team.  Their Phoenix House aims to provide permanent housing in the wake of a natural disaster.  It can be assembled quickly using precut SIPs and is clad with durable exterior finishes.  The bathroom doubles as a storm shelter with a steel door and reinforced walls.  
With solar power, solar hot water and water recycling, the Phoenix House is less reliant on non-renewable sources of energy in the event of a natural disaster.  
For more information on the Solar Decathlon and the teams involved, visit solardecathlon.gov

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