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Home arrow Blog arrow 1/26/08-Design American-Style: Universidad Politécnica de Madrid's Solar Home

1/26/08-Design American-Style: Universidad Politécnica de Madrid's Solar Home PDF Print E-mail
Written by Green Building Community   
Sunday, 27 January 2008
For second-time Solar Decathlon entrant, the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, paying attention to design aesthetics and functionality that appeal to the American consumer was a priority concern when designing a solar home for the 2007 Solar Decathlon held in October 2007 in Washington, D.C.
  "We built on the lessons learned from the last Solar Decathlon and shifted the design concept from Mediterranean to one that will appeal to the average American," said team member Eva Gomez, an interior design student.

Interestingly enough the 26-member Universidad Politécnica de Madrid team is highly diverse. Not only do its members hail from Spain, but also from Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

"The points of view from so many countries brought out the best in everyone and inspired everyone to work harder," pointed out Maria Perez, an architecture student and team member.

Energy efficient was also at the forefront of the Madrid team’s design. "Our objectives are to demonstrate innovation in energy efficiency that is applicable to single- and multi-family homes, develop a prototype for commercial manufacturing, and advance the social conscience on sustainability and the environment," remarked Professor Sergio Vega.

The team’s design obviously performed well in the energy arena—it was one of the teams to earn the maximum points in the Solar Decathlon’s Energy Balance contest. (Teams were awarded full points if the energy supplied to their batteries by the sun was at least as much as the energy used from the batteries.)

Spacial Orientation
The building is an elongated box on its east-west axis, and with an open floor plan arrangement. These conditions optimize passive-system operation. Rooms that generate their own internal heat, such as the kitchen, bathroom, batteries and plumbing pack are located on the north facade, separated from the rest of the spaces (bedroom and entrance hall) by sliding doors.

This flexible layout places intimate and domestic social areas at both ends of the house. The bedroom can be turned into a private unit due to a simple retractable rolling blind that doesn’t take up room as it can be pulled up and down extending the work space.

Access to the house is through the north facade and by means of a deck leading from a gentle ramp which will take the visitor into the house. This platform creates a space around the house, amplifying it outwards, according to the team.

Four of the six glass panels on the home’s south facade open up. These sliding doors help create a connection between the interior and the exterior of the home, opening directly to an ample outdoor deck that has seating and vegetation.

Energy Sourcing
To help achieve its energy-saving goals, the team used light construction materials and manufactured-building techniques. The house incorporates water-saving technology and solid-state lighting.

Electrochromic windows (which darken or lighten to either block or let in the sun's rays), a double envelope, and phase-change gels in the foundation help regulate the temperature.

The roof features 54 photovoltaic modules and an evacuated vacuum tube situated in the roof pack. The roof’s overhangs shade the south facade area during summer months, avoiding the overheating of the interior spaces. Further, insulation in the roof helps minimize heat gain in the summer and the heat losses in the winter.

In addition, the home’s solar thermal energy system (vacuum tubes) are employed for various purposes including the generation of all hot water for general consumption and utilized in the home appliances.

Windows on the opposite sides of the home can be opened to promote cross ventilation. This natural ventilation is enhanced through the use of the taller interior space in the north as a “vent stack.” Operable windows at the top expel the warm air, while cooler air enters the house from grilles in the floor close to the south facade.

Connecting to the Outdoors
Natural fibers were used subtly in the home’s interior to create a sense of connection with the natural world, the team points out. For example, interior pieces such as furniture were made out of comfortable cotton textures and wool.

Other design highlights include:

--Interior walls clad in recyclable ground almond-shell clipped on a secondary structure on the interior east side

--Tactile cloth materials on the interior west side to be sensed and experienced

-- An acoustic paneled and recycled treated wood ceiling

Color and texture finishes are used to cover and refurbish interior elements to either bring out contrasting bright colors or to add a warmth-cold touch, the team adds.

Interior Versatility
The home’s overall interior design employs movable components and lighting sources to add space quality and make possible multiple spatial configurations. The modular furniture, domestic spaces and appliances serve more than one purpose, the team points out.

Some versatile components of the home include:

--A custom-made wheeled shelf designed by the team can be easily moved from one place to divide the spaces into much more private areas. The shelf also serves as a lamp.

--A set of sliding-opaque doors made of natural wood and finished in melamina (treated plastic) move on rails and run along the main longitudinal direction of the house on the north side. The doors allow for multiple layout options.

--Two identical multifunctional office and dining tables, finished in white with a metallic touch, can be either unified or turned into an extensible table.

In addition, no lights are hung from the ceiling. Instead, ambient lighting located within a custom-fit installation unit above the longitudinal sliding doors on the north side, is provided in all usable areas. LEDs (Light emitting diodes) are located on the east and west interior side ends of the house, and strategically placed lights for reading, cooking, eating and bathing are provided. Also, an attractive linear built-in by location light strategically embedded in the floor finish lights vertically from floor to ceiling.

Some interior furniture and constructing elements also incorporate lighting devices. For example, a built-in window on the south-east corner acts as a lamp at night.

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid’s solar house is an ongoing project. When the 2005 Solar Decathlon Madrid team returned from that event it evaluated its design—a task that was continued by the 2007 team when it refined that previous design. After the most recent Solar Decathlon, the students have continued to work on the model, once again trying to further improve the technologies and gain even greater efficiency.



October 3-22, 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon challenged 20 university-led teams from the U.S. and as far away as Puerto Rico, Spain, Germany and Canada to design, build and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered home.

Students competed in 10 areas, ranging from architecture, livability and comfort, to how well the homes provided energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, lighting and appliances. It was Technische Universität Darmstadt that earned 888.45 points out of a possible 1,200 to win the competition, followed by the University of Maryland with 872.45 points and Santa Clara University with 860.80 points.

The Solar Decathlon’s homes are net-zero-energy, yield zero carbon and include the latest high-tech solutions and money-saving benefits to consumers, without sacrificing comfort, convenience and aesthetics. Each house must also produce enough “extra” energy to power an electric vehicle.

The U.S. Department of Energy sponsored this year’s Solar Decathlon, along with its National Renewable Energy Laboratory; the American Institute of Architects; the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers; the National Association of Homebuilders; the U.S. Green Building Council; BP; and Sprint.

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