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Team New Jersey’s Beach House Approaches Sustainable Design from a Different Angle

April 28, 2011 - 4:38pm


Team New Jersey | Photo courtesy of 2011 Solar Decathlon Team New Jersey

Team New Jersey | Photo courtesy of 2011 Solar Decathlon Team New Jersey

In honor of the U.S  Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon -- which challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive -- we are profiling each of the 20 teams participating in the competition.

When it comes to picturing a beach house, you typically picture large windows to let in fresh air and sunlight or wide porches to connect the home to the outdoors. What probably doesn’t come to mind is a home primarily made of precast concrete. However,  Team New Jersey is doing exactly that — incorporating the age-old technology of concrete into their beach house design. The team hopes to show others how a material often seen as cold or industrial can be used for residential applications.

The New Jersey Solar Decathlon team is a collaboration between two universities, Rutgers and the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). “Rutgers is taking care of the engineering side of things and we’re doing architecture. We’re learning together how the whole process pans out,” said NJIT student and Project Architecture, Jordan Tait.

New Jersey is the first team in the Solar Decathlon competition to use pre-cast concrete panels as their primary construction material. What is the reason? Jordan explains that several factors make concrete an ideal choice. For one, the panels are super insulated — comprised of insulation sandwiched between 3 to 4 inches of poured concrete on either side.

Also the pre-cast concrete contributes to the home’s high thermal mass, helping to avoid dramatic temperature fluctuations by retaining heat in the winter and keeping the home cool in the summer. “Its low-maintenance, sustainable and green,” said Jordan.

Several other technologies will be incorporated into the home’s design for optimal energy efficiency: the home’s roof will take on an inverted hip shape—calibrated for maximum solar and rainwater collection; a 38 panel array will provide renewable energy for the home; and operable windows allow for natural ventilation.

This Saturday, the team will have a chance to showcase their design to a wider audience. “A lot of people think the shape is very dynamic, they’re very interested to see it done and built,”  said Jordan. At Rutgers Day, an event for prospective students and their families, visitors will take a video digital walk-through of the home and get a chance to see some of the building materials up close.  

Student team members view solar panels | Photo courtesy of 2011 Solar Decathlon Team New Jersey

As the competition draws nearer, it’s clear that Jordan and his fellow teammates have gained a lot from the demanding experience. “There’s a bigger spectrum of things to learn than just the academic scope,” said Jordan.  “By coordinating with contractors, engineers and consultants we’re picking up different skill sets. We’re really taking the project far above and beyond the call of duty.”

Visit the Team New Jersey website and Facebook page for more about their journey to the Solar Decathlon competition.