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Students crowdfund to build the world’s best solar home: FutureHAUS Dubai

October 2, 2017

Students work on FutureHAUS Dubai.

Students in studio for SDME
Virginia Tech's Solar Decathlon Middle East team works on their solar home model for FutureHAUS Dubai, which they'll present as the sole U.S. team in a global competition in 2018.

As student leader of Virginia Tech’s Solar Decathlon Middle East team, Laurie Booth is guiding the only U.S. team selected for an intercollegiate global competition to build the world’s best solar home.

The third-year architecture student heads a diverse group — all driven to design a house that's smart, sustainable, and adaptable to the needs of people worldwide, regardless of age, culture, or walk of life.

The team unites 30 students and 18 faculty from four colleges, 14 disciplines, and seven countries in building a net-zero energy home incorporating new methods of prefabrication, technology, and sustainability.

This week, they kick off “Power Our HAUS,” an effort on Virginia Tech’s JUMP crowdfunding platform, for FutureHAUS Dubai, with the goal of getting supporters to invest in their dream.

SDME Team

Student Team
The Solar Decathlon team (in front of 2010 Solar Decathlon winner LumenHAUS) is a diverse, interdisciplinary group representing four Virginia Tech colleges.

“This is a life-altering experience,” said Booth, of Charlotte, North Carolina. “This competition goes beyond our university. It has the potential to revolutionize the way we build and live. It’s not just a contest — it’s a way to use our skills and education to help solve a global problem.”

The team hails from Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies, College of Engineering, College of Science, and Pamplin College of Business. It spans disciplines that include architecture, building construction, chemistry, civil engineering, computer science, interior design, marketing management, mechanical engineering, and visual communication design, and involves two Virginia Tech student-run creative agencies, FourDesign and PRISM.

In November 2018, the team will travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to compete against 22 universities from 16 countries. In a series of 10 contests, the team must demonstrate that FutureHAUS Dubai is the most efficient, well-designed home, generating more energy than it consumes.

Rendering of FutureHAUS Dubai.

SDME model house
This rendering of FutureHAUS Dubai shows the team's vision of a net-zero energy home, designed to withstand the harsh conditions of Dubai and act as a prototype for global sustainable building.

“Sponsors are literally powering our house with their donations,” Booth said. “We have to build a house that produces all energy needed to run its functions, like cooling, appliances, and technology; and to complete specific tasks like charging an electric car, washing towels, and hosting a dinner party. For $5, you can fund the physical cell of one solar panel. For $100, you can fund the energy required to charge the electric car. $500 will cover the solar-powered barbecue we host as part of the competition.”

The Solar Decathlon is a 10-day competition, created by the U.S. Department of Energy as a way to enlist university students and faculty worldwide in solar housing research. The 2018 contest hosted in Dubai presents the added challenge of designing a home that withstands the city’s heat, dust, and humidity. It also supports Dubai’s bid to be the city with the world’s smallest carbon footprint by 2050.

Virginia Tech hopes to repeat its 2010 global victory, when LumenHAUS won the Solar Decathlon in Madrid, Spain. Afterward, LumenHAUS took a victory lap, with exhibitions in Times Square, the National Mall, and Chicago’s Millennium Park. It won a 2012 AIA Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects, the first time a university team ever won the prestigious national professional design award.

Students and faculty building a prototype house

Students constructing a prototype disaster shelter
Students from the Solar Decathlon team participate in other interesting Center for Design Research projects, including development of this quick-deploy disaster-relief prototype house — a more sustainable, affordable alternative to the FEMA trailer.

Faculty lead Joe Wheeler, professor of architecture and co-director of the Center for Design Research, said new research produced over the past seven years on FutureHAUS makes Virginia Tech’s team formidable. FutureHAUS demonstrates the future of smart, sustainable housing by integrating top-quality, responsive technology and a modular, assembly-line building process borrowed from the manufacturing industry. Interior rooms and walls are factory-built from the inside-out in “plug-and-play cartridges,” allowing better customization, technology, adaptability, cost, efficiency, and safety than conventional “stick-built” homes. Cartridges are delivered by truck to a job site, where the homebuilding process is completed in a fraction of the typical time.

FutureHAUS cartridge building process.

Cartridge construction process
Unlike conventional construction, the FutureHAUS is built off-site in "cartridges," then delivered and installed on site for maximum quality, efficiency, and speed.

FutureHAUS, unveiled room by room over five years in international trade shows, burned in a fire at the Environmental Systems Laboratory at the Prices Fork Research Complex in February. It was just one month after the team completed the full suite of components for the home.

Wheeler said FutureHAUS Dubai is the next generation of FutureHAUS and LumenHAUS, merging the best features of both.

“FutureHAUS Dubai combines a net-positive, energy-producing home with responsive, integrated technology and a super-efficient ‘cartridge’ building process,” Wheeler said. “Virginia Tech’s team will blow your mind by demonstrating how a solar home can be practical, sustainable, affordable, and still be beautifully and thoughtfully designed.”

Students have developed a comprehensive plan covering everything from design, construction, transportation, funding, and marketing, to the competition itself during studios and weekly meetings. From 3-D modeling and material selection to video and social media promotion, each student has specific talents they bring.

Futurehaus kitchen, bath, living room

FutureHAUS in the Environmental Systems Lab at Virginia  Tech
The FutureHAUS, shown here in the Environmental Systems Lab. The smart, sustainable prototype home of the future was developed and constructed over five years, before it burned down in a fire at the facility in February 2017.

Senior Divij (Div) Rajesh, from Richmond, Virginia, leads a team of mechanical engineering students creating the home’s energy budget, mechanical and plumbing systems, testing appliances, and measuring energy efficiency.

“I’ve always been interested in sustainability and renewable energy, because I believe it’s the future,” he said. “FutureHAUS Dubai is one of the most innovative projects I’ve ever seen. It can have a big impact by showing us how we can live more sustainable lives.”

The team has also forged partnerships with industry-leading companies like DuPont, Kohler, Corning, DOW, and Mitsubishi, who are donating materials and expertise and collaborating on new products that may one day hit the marketplace.

“This project means everything to us,” Booth said. “We’re tackling rising populations, urbanization, climate change, technology, and affordability, and exploring how to build with a smaller footprint. Our team is at the forefront of research on flexible living spaces and concepts of aging in place, which are key to the future of housing.”

To support the students, visit https://crowdfund.vt.edu/project/7389.

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