Sky Blue solar house (Photo by DOE Solar Decathlon)
Sky Blue solar house (Photo by DOE Solar Decathlon)
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Sky Blue solar house (Photo by DOE Solar Decathlon)
Sky Blue solar house. (DOE Solar Decathlon)

Last fall, University of Kentucky students designed and built a top-ten solar house on the National Mall in Washington, DC showcasing the latest in sustainable technologies. Named Sky Blue, the house represents the Commonwealth in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon and was designed to exceed the USGBC’s highest LEED Platinum level for homes.

Student and faculty team members represent the Colleges of Agriculture, Design, Engineering, and Communications at the University of Kentucky and describe their house as “eclectic, historic, and modern at the same time.” References to Kentucky vernacular architecture were used throughout the design:

The sky blue house embodies Kentucky’s historic and indigenous breezeway house design—a rectangular building with a central open space that naturally ventilates the house on sultry summer days. With photographic images of Kentucky landscapes integrated into a series of perforated screens on its exterior walls, a sky-viewing ribbon of continuous clerestory windows around the top of each wall, and a selection of native plants, the house has a light and spacious feel that captures the beauty and spirit of Kentucky’s land and people.

Sustainability is the focus, however, and a multitude of technologies are on display in the house. A dynamic, location-specific computer communicates with a University-designed weather monitoring system to constantly calculate an energy model to operate the house’s various components including lighting and HVAC. Occupants can view energy usage statistics and maintain full control over the house’s environment.

Solar panels cover nearly every viable surface on the house including arrays on the roof and south facades. The photovoltaic system was designed to produce as much energy as the house consumes annually, effectively making the structure a net-zero dwelling.

More simple technologies also play a key role. Natural lighting and ventilation are as old as humanity but still factor into high-tech sustainable buildings. A combination of natural materials including locally based woods and synthetic materials like fiber-cement board were used in the construction process. For more information, check out the project’s web site.

Team Kentucky placed 9th overall just behind Cornell and Rice Universities. A team from Germany won the overall prize followed by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Team California. The Sky Blue house will be on display at various venues including the World Equestrian Games later this year.

The Solar Decathlon is a competition among 20 colleges in October where student teams design, build, and operate a solar powered house. Houses are graded in ten contests including architecture, engineering, marketability, and lighting design. The competition is meant to draw attention to the challenges inherent in an “ever-increasing need for energy” and how efficiency and sustainability can help solve the problems of the present and future.

More photos can be found on the Solar Decathlon’s Team Kentucky flickr page.

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Branden Klayko

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