The Solar Decathlon competition for 2017 will be held in October in Denver Colorado. In this international competition student teams are challenged to design, build and operate solar powered, energy efficient, sustainable and attractive houses. We interviewed the Dutch team that will participate in the competition.
Can you tell us something about the team for your Solar Decathlon project?
Selficient started as a small project of five students majoring in engineering at the University of applied Sciences Utrecht. They submitted their concept into the Solar Decathlon and as the only University of Applied sciences, amongst higher level universities, they reached the finale. From then on, Selficient began to grow with students from all kinds of majors, not only from engineering, but also from Legal to Communications. The multidisciplinary team has various specialities at different fields, but physically building the Selficient house is what connects them.
How would you describe your design in one sentence?
We develop a self-sufficient house by using modern technologies and building accordingly to the principles of the circular economy and cradle-to-cradle philosophies.
Your design is based on life course adaptation. Can you explain what this means?
Every part of the house is possible to change, because Selficient is fully modular on different levels (e.g. adding or removing volumes, windows and facade cladding). With such kind of flexible building method, we provide the customer with choices that gives the necessary freedom to design a unique house. That is why Selficient is for everyone, no matter the situation. For example, if a first time buyer (couple) buys the house with one bedroom, do they need to move to a bigger house if they are expecting a child? This is a usual practice but not necessary with Selficient. Due to the modular structure they can easily add one more room to the house and keep living in their own home. Selficient adapts according to life situations. That is the future of housing.
How did you incorporate this goal into your design?
We made it possible in our design, by implementing modularity within the concept. It means every part of the house can be easily resized and (re)placed. Due to materials and components that are reusable, recyclable and, where possible, bio-based, nothing of the house will be to waste when you change your Selficient house.
Your design is also based on the circular economy and cradle to cradle. Were all the components you needed available in this standard?
Almost every component was available like we wanted. We had new technology from Schneider to implement in our house, we had help from Bsmart for installing the electrical wires and because of the beautiful framework of Suteki, it was a piece of cake to set the house up. For the wooden panels, we had Maatchalets customize it for us. In overall, the most components were there, but to make it work, we collaborated with various partners.
What were the lessons learned in the integration of all the different components?
The first time, we had to try different things. The integration process can be compared to LEGO: you have to puzzle and play with the blocks until they connect. That takes up a lot of time. Eventually, you will find a way to connect a compartment to another designated compartment. By trial-and-error, we developed a quicker way to build, which we will use in Denver at the Solar Decathlon site.
One of the features in your design is the greenhouse and the orientation towards the sun. How important are these features in regards to the goal of self-sufficiency?
The Greenhouse is a beautiful piece of our design, but it is not important for the goal of self-sufficiency. For the competition itself, we chose to leave the greenhouse out of the equation. Partly because of the little time that we have to prepare it, but also because it was not necessary.
Did you find that the goals of life course adaptation, circular economy and self sufficiency were opposing or reinforcing each other?
Well, with our concept, we think it reinforces our goals within self sufficiency. By changing the game from take, make and dispose (the linear approach), we go to a cyclical approach, where we will fully use the resources.
And how about affordability and the other goals?
Our prototype is not affordable for Everyman yet, but when you think about how easy it is to build a Selficient house, you can see the benefits. Not only are the materials prefab, you can also construct in such little amount of time and reuse and recycle all the materials when needed. It is not necessary to buy a whole new house, when a part is broken, you can replace it easily. In other words, it is a long-term investment and you can even make a profit via the energy you store. We believe that our greatest goal, sustainable and affordable living for Everyman, will be in the best interest for all the next generations.
Will your design be the future building standard?
If we want to comply to the Paris Agreements and have a better future for the next generations, than the building standard has to change. Hopefully our design will make a difference.
What is the key thing you personally learned from participating in this project?
The most important thing we have learned from participating in this project is working together as a multidisciplinary team. We had to keep a healthy balance between our personal lives, school, work and Selficient team.
We all developed in a professional matter and felt the pride and support from our school, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences. We took our wins and losses as a team. But we are not there yet. We are ready to take the next step and develop our professional skills abroad. We are going to Denver with one team full of bright minds, created by other angles and perceptions of each individual.
We are thankful for this project, the experiences from it and for each teammate that made Selficient possible.
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