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These 14 Sleek Solar Homes Do More Than Produce Power

Fewer college teams built homes to compete in this year’s Solar Decathlon, but their gee-whiz features might offer a surprising glimpse of the future.
Reporters view the compact, stackable home designed and built by students at New York City College of Technology on October 7, 2015, at the U.S. Department of Energy's biennial Solar Decathlon in Irvine, California.
Photograph by Thomas Kelsey, U.S. Dept. of Energy
By Wendy Koch, National Geographic
PUBLISHED October 09, 2015
They’re not simply places to live. They charge cars, grow food, collect water, and generate electricity during blackouts. These Dwell-like beauties might just make those with bigger homes a bit envious.
The University at Buffalo home, for example, has an indoor greenhouse for growing food year-round. Orange County’s team features a vertical garden, surf shower and—for the boomerang generation—detached studio. To withstand storms like the tornado that flattened the nearby town of Joplin, Missouri’s Crowder College and Drury University use reinforced walls surrounded by an impact-resistant fence.
The homes offer smart windows, accordion doors, and movable walls. Plus, they can charge a car. “We’re going to hook it up and charge it with the power of the sun,” Steve Speights, an engineering student at California State University in Sacramento, says in a video about his team’s home, complete with carport.
Welcome to the Solar Decathlon 2015, a biennial U.S.-sponsored contest that began Thursday in Irvine, California. Collegiate teams from around the world compete to build the most attractive, affordable, and energy-efficient home. Via solar panels, the homes produce at least as much energy as they use. Via rainwater capture, they reuse water.
These small homes—1,000 square feet or less—go well beyond solar technology to showcase not only smart design but also innovative ways to address drought or extreme weather. Some are engineering marvels.
“It’s like the biggest jigsaw puzzle you’ve even seen,” Solar Decathlon director Richard King says of Clemson University’s home, made of thousands of pieces of flat-packed plywood that lock together like LEGO.
Despite its wow factor, this competition has a cloudy future. It's losing competitors at a time when the U.S. solar industry is booming and other countries—China, Colombia, and United Arab Emirates—are planning similar decathlons. Six of the initial 20 teams withdrew, including Stanford, Yale, and Vanderbilt. The result: This year’s event is the smallest since the Department of Energy launched the U.S. decathlon in 2002.
ship them in pieces, and reassemble them within days at the competition.
For more information on the competition and videos of the homes go to:
Triple-filtered, recycled greywater waters at hydroponic garden at the home of Missouri University of Science and Technology on October 6, 2105, at the Solar Decathlon in Irvine, California. 
Photograph by Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy
A circular window inside the home built by students at the Missouri University of Science and Technology provides a unique view of the entry by the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, on October 5, 2015, at the U.S. Department of Energy's biennial Solar Decathlon in Irvine, California.
Photographby Thomas Kelsey, U.S. Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon

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