The Little Black Box holds the Big Green Secret?

Green Architect

As we wrote earlier this week, the 4th biannual Solar Decathlon wrapped up last weekend in Washington, DC with its highest accolades going to the defending champions from Darmstadt, Germany and their latest minimalist design. The competition, which is sponsored by the US Department of Energy, is intended to promote the research and development of Zero-Energy Homes (ZEHs) — that is, homes that use a combination of passive design, renewable energy, and energy-efficient techniques to achieve a net-zero pull from the grid.

In winning the 2009 Solar Decathlon, Team Germany demonstrated some of the most advanced technology to date, utilizing phase-changing materials, programmable window shades, and high-efficiency photovaultaic panels (PVs) to generate twice the amount of energy consumed by the house. Yet, for all that is innovative about the design, there is one thing that is not: the concept. In fact, the winner of the contest, which represents the latest and greatest in residential green building, went right back to basics: Build a box, cover every inch in PVs, and you'll generate nearly as much energy as possible.

The concept and, even more so, its realization, reminded me immediately of another recent award winner. Can you tell why?

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The 100K House

With its 100k House, PostGreen, set out to prove that residential green building can be affordable by implementing a similarly basic concept: Build a box, use very inexpensive materials, and you'll keep the construction costs as low as possible. The resulting LEED Platinum certified house came in on budget and was chosen as one of the Best Green Houses by GreenSource in August 2009.

Much like Team Germany, PostGreen's house was, by its chosen metric, a measurable success. But in capitalizing on basic concepts, they may have missed the most basic question of all: Will people want to live there?

Whether you prefer an old Victorian mansion or a little black box of your own, Re-Nest is here to help you green it affordably. Send us your comments on these award-winning designs below.

-Julia Brooke Hustwit

Julia's First Post:

In West Virgina, a Home Built With Love... and Straw Bales

First image via US Department of Energy; second image via Sam Oberter Photography

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