CHIP off the old block

13 Jan 2012

Student-built residential property generates three times more electricity than it uses

A two year design-build collaboration in Los Angeles has resulted in an award-winning energy-efficient home which has set new standards in the field of affordable, sustainable residential design. The SCI-Arc/Caltech Hanwha Solar CHIP House at the California Science Center is the product of an inventive scheme by the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), Caltech Institute of Technology (Caltech), global solar panel manufacturer Hanwha SolarOne Co., Ltd. (Hanwha Solar) and California Science Center.

The net-zero home took first place in an energy balance contest at the US Department of Energy-sponsored Solar Decathlon in 2011 for its innovative integration of green properties, including 45 solar panels donated by principal sponsor Hanwha Solar. This array of panels generates so much energy from the copious amount of Los Angeles sun that the surplus after powering all electric appliances in the house can be used to power two electric cars. This expansive system also supplies the energy for an Xbox Kinect motion-sensitive video game system that has been turned into a master command centre, allowing residents to operate lights and appliances simply by pointing at them.

In contrast to the generic residential project, the insulation of the CHIP House has been stretched around the frame rather than encased within it, formulating an alternative aesthetic and memorable visual effect. The design team explains: “Separating the structural members from the insulating layer and wrapping the insulation assembly in a flexible vinyl membrane gives CHIP an exterior envelope with the extremely high R-values necessary for a net-zero house at a significantly reduced cost while indexing this performance in its physical appearance.”

To raise the profile of this successful project, the $1m residence will be open to the public from 17th January 2012 until 31st May 2012, with free tours on weekdays 10am-1.30pm and weekends 10am-4pm. The building would cost $300,000, including materials and labour. SCI-Arc Director Eric Owen Moss concludes: “SCI-Arc and Caltech have really taken on the question of liveability in American housing and offered a new sensibility for both its content and its character. The CHIP is a welcome address to an alternative housing future.”

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