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NU student group unveils solar-powered home

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The Northwestern University student group House by Northwestern unveiled its 100-percent solar-powered home, the organization’s first entry into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday afternoon in Evanston.

The result of 17 months of design, market research and construction the students sought to develop a home that would appeal to active North Shore baby boomers looking to downsize and buy a home for life.

The two-bed, two-bath house was constructed on the parking lot behind the former Roycemore School at 669 Colfax St. It’s scheduled to be carted off on two trailers to the Solar Decathlon test site in Denver Colorado in two weeks.

A rendering of what the finished home would look like.

The home, dubbed “Enable,” is projected to be “net-positive,” meaning it produces more energy than it uses. It will generate enough solar energy to power the home and an electric vehicle, while excess energy can be sold back to the electrical grid. The house was designed entirely by students.

City building permit records indicate the construction cost of the home was around $400,000.

HBN’s student marketing team found that its target market ranked the following housing features as most important: comfort and livability, high-performance with functionality, easy home maintenance, sustainability and affordability.

A rendering of the home’s interior.

With those guidelines in mind, HBN’s design simultaneously achieves net-positive status and addresses the health and accessibility needs of aging boomers. Some of the house’s sustainable features, designed specifically to withstand Chicago weather, include:

  • Solar panels integrated into the main roof, which is slanted at 24 degrees for ideal solar collection
  • A residential smart battery system that stores excess solar energy and communicates with the grid
  • An operable south solarium that opens to maximize the home’s living space
  • Willow glass surfaces that look and feel like stone but have a smaller carbon footprint than natural stone

A collegiate competition covering 10 categories, the Decathlon challenges student teams to design and build a full-size, solar-powered home. The winning team will be the one that “best blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market potential and energy and water efficiency,” according to the contest’s website.

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