Although it is not required by the Solar Decathlon competition, we chose to design a number of passive features into the house. Such design elements help to temper the amount of energy needed to produce a livable atmosphere. Passive heating is accomplished through the placement of windows on the southern face of the house. In the winter, direct heat from sunlight will help to warm the Living and Bedroom Pods. Passive cooling in the hotter months of the summer is also inherent in our design. In essence, cool air will be drawn in through the lower windows within the Pods, while hot air escapes through the clerestory. The resultant current of air is known as the “stack effect” which basically uses the idea that “hot air rises” to create passive cooling and ventilation. The placement of all these windows is also beneficial to provide light to the interior of the house. Using daylight as opposed to electric lights is a simple and easy way to conserve energy during the day.
One of the most eye-catching features of our house is the Greenscape on the north side of the house. Designed and built by students from Carnegie Mellon’s School of Art, this plant-infused structure provides a variety of benefits to our house. The plants used in this and all of our landscaping are non-invasive and/or native to the region. A variety of edible plants inhabit the Greenscape including broccoli, blueberries and a variety of herbs. The structure is crowned with a large water tank which will be fed by the downspouts from our roof. The collected rainwater will be used in tandem with a drip-system to water the plants on the Greenscape. As the water drips down through the terraces it will be partially filtered until it reaches the marsh boxes at the bottom. These are filled with marsh plants and you might even catch a glimpse of a fish or two swimming around. Our kitchen Pod also comes complete with a Green Roof, which helps to absorb rainwater as well as insulate the house.
Finishes chosen for the house include a number of environmentally-friendly and sustainable materials. Our choices were driven by a decision to juxtapose the technological and mechanical aspects of the Core to the livability and warmth of the spaces within the Pods. To achieve this, the palate of materials used on or within the Core were metal or plastics, while the Pods are clad mainly in wood. In general, metals and plastics provide an excellent source of recycled or recyclable material. Throughout our house we have used such finishes as corrugated steel, perforated aluminum, cellular polycarbonate from Bayer MaterialSciences LLC and translucent resin panels from 3form. The wood is one of three varieties. The modular wall shelving, furniture and ceiling panels are white oak from Pennsylvania forests. Cypress wood is used on the exterior of the Pods as well as the decks. Both of these woods are locally grown and sustainably harvested to cut down on shipping and ensure their re-growth.
The wood used for the floors within the Pods is perhaps our crown jewel. Early in the summer we helped our hosts at Construction Junction salvaged a huge quantity of tongue-and-groove pine flooring from a nunnery being demolished outside of Pittsburgh. As it happened the boards were made from a species of Longleaf Pine that is now extinct in the area, and endangered in many others. Construction Junction was generous enough to donate some of their cache to us, and we were able to clean and restore the wood for reuse in our solar house.