On October 12, 2013, cheers rang through the Solar Decathlon village in Orange County Great Park as the verdict was read aloud: "The first-place winner of this Solar Decathlon, the sixth in history in the U.S., is Team Austria." Last year's biennial competition, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), began with the DOE selecting twenty teams from among the 130 university applicants. For the next several months, these teams prepared for the weeklong competition. In the event itself, nineteen student teams designed and built energy-efficient homes (Team Tidewater from Virginia dropped out due to funding difficulties), which were evaluated by a jury.
The overall goal of the competition was to create houses with a focus on design, structure, and the ability to operate as solar-powered facilities. The decathlon evaluates teams in ten categories, assessing the performance, livability, and affordability of their buildings. Each category can earn a maximum of 100 points; therefore, the maximum possible score is 1000. Participating for the first time in the competition, Team Austria were awarded a score of 951.9.They earned extra points for their building's focus on affordability, design elements, and quality of energy production. "Winning was an unbelievable experience," said Marcus Jones, one of the participating students and researchers with Team Austria.
"It's been such a journey, not only in time. We've been involved with this project for two years and have traveled all the way from Austria. It's really been such an honor." Nearly 50 students from 18 subject areas, including architecture, engineering, design, and media, created the winning Living Inspired by Sustainable Innovation (LISI) House. They came together from five provincial capitals of Austria and represented the Vienna University of Technology, St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences, the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences, and the Austrian Institute of Technology. The core project coordination began in Vienna, then moved to Weissensee, Carinthia.
There, over the course of three semesters, Team Austria students designed and developed everything from floor plan layouts to communications strategies for the house. The highest-scoring groups not only built an impressive structure on-site but also did considerable prep work. Kent Peterson, a P2S Engineer and one of the Solar Decathlon's engineering judges, said: "[The teams] actually built some of their electrical and mechanical systems ahead of time, lab tested these systems, and tweaked them to see how they could get the most performance out of the house before they came to the competition site." As one of the four international teams, the students from Austria confronted the additional task of transporting their materials to California.
The LISI House consists of three zones whose materials required specific international shipping methods: the service core, a living area and adjacent patios, and a flexible sliding façade surrounding the building. After six trucks moved the supplies to Salzburg, the house was transferred to a freight train headed for Bremerhaven, one of the larger cargo ports in Europe. The wooden house was then shipped to North America, cushioned by moisture-absorbing bags to reduce the risk of component damage. The majority of the renewable supplies consisted of wood, with timber from Austria used as a raw resource for construction and insulation.
As a natural product, it was the ideal material for a prefabrication of the house, being easy to use and to transport. Wood was chosen for its carbon-neutral properties as well as its effect on indoor climate and comfort. From the perspective of conscious handling of raw materials, the LISI House was designed to utilize all parts of the tree from heartwood to bark, with builders using it in everything from walls to ceiling panels to furniture. "I do hope and also presume that there will be an impact and that 'business as usual' will change in the design and construction area, especially in the U.S., but also in Europe," said Karin Stieldorf, project leader and faculty advisor for the team.
"In Austria, LISI will, hopefully, work as a wellknown demonstration building and motivate consumers as well as designers and civil engineers to rethink their strategies." Stieldorf believes that companies currently have a lot of interest in building LISI or similar buildings, but it is not easy to predict how this will develop in the near future. The results of the decathlon generated interest among developers located in areas with climates similar to California, since LISI was customized to suit warmer climates in the States. "Climate always has an impact on the thermal behavior of buildings," Stieldorf says, "and therefore has to be regarded as an essential influence on the design and performance of buildings."
Team Austria has chosen not to compete in the 2015 Solar Decathlon, but most of the students have stayed with the project to help reconstruct the house in the Blue Lagoon, an Austrian exhibition center for prefabricated homes. The team was invited to present LISI at Austria's biggest model home exhibition site, where approximately 100 manufacturers present prefabricated house designs and potentially attract investors to the LISI model. In addition, the LISI House will be available for further research and study by future generations of architects and engineers, allowing the design to be assessed according to the environmental requirements of U.S., European, and Asian standards for state-of-the-art, energy-efficient buildings.
By Rosemary Grant
Moving Forward after LISI's Success
Office of Science and Technology Austria