ICON Solar Decathlon 2009 House

ICON Solar Decathlon 2009 House

Laurie McGinley
Nov 30, 2011


Name: ICON Solar House built by the College of Design, the College of Science and Engineering, and the College of Continuing Education at the University of Minnesota for the 2009 Solar Decathlon competition.
Location: Built in St. Paul, moved to Washington D.C. for competition, now currently on the East Bank campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis
Years lived in: none, yet

The U.S. Department of Energy hosts a Solar Decathlon every other year that challenges cross disciplinary teams of students to design, build, transport and re-assemble solar powered houses. The University of Minnesota entered the ICON Solar House against nineteen other international schools in the 2009 competition. The house is currently assembled in Minneapolis while it awaits its next use. At a lean 450 square feet, the home is often described as the, "perfect little cabin." This home is customized to be net zero energy on an annual basis in a northern climate. I met with Dan Handeen, Assistant Project Manager for the ICON Solar House, for a tour.



The ICON Solar House is a modern eco-living home with a traditional twist. It performs extremely well as a grid-tied, zero net energy on an annual basis solar home. Not only does the ICON house perform well but care was taken throughout the design process to ensure that it would be a comfortable place to live. Many businesses contributed elements to this project including the hand crafted table and chairs made by the School of Architecture's workshop staff, the credenza from Blu Dot, couch from IKEA.

A solar decathlon home designed for the cold, northern climate of Minnesota must be designed to take full advantage of solar gain. The large, south facing windows allow light to enter the living spaces. An important control factor for occupants is the ability to mitigate strong light. The blinds pictured here can allow full light and views, translucent light as well as blackout shades. It is a small element in the home but has a striking affect on the quality of the space within.


At first I was struck by how small the ICON house appeared to be. The living spaces all flow together to give the feeling of a much larger room yet the bedroom and bathroom appeared almost claustrophobic. The bedroom pictured here seemed almost impossible to live with until I rested in the bed. The ceiling above the bed vaults upward to catch daylight entering through the south facing windows. The effect makes the space feel cozy and larger than it appears at first glance.

Re-Nest Survey:

Our style: Modern eco-living with a traditional twist

Inspiration: The gable roof

Favorite Element: Grid-tied net-zero energy plus year-round heating met by solar thermal collectors.

Biggest Challenge: Completing an integrated design process with 10 student team leaders agreeing on design decisions

What Friends Say: I'd love to bring this up to the lake! It's the perfect little cabin! (and you could!)

Proudest DIY: The ICON Solar House was designed and built entirely by University of Minnesota students except for foam install, some plumbing and electrical.

Biggest Indulgence: Philips Color Kinetix LED lighting; SAGE electrochromic windows on east and west sides

Best Advice: It's never too early to start design.

Green Elements/Initiatives: Low-flow fixtures, rainwater catchment with self-irrigating landscaping, formaldehyde-free cabinets, reclaimed maple flooring, 8kW photovoltaic system, 6-panel solar thermal system, All LED or fluorescent lighting, high-efficiency appliances


The living room, dining room and kitchen are all one integrated space. The vaulted ceilings, huge south facing windows and ample east and west facing windows allow this tiny space to feel open and larger than it really is. SAGE electrochromic glass is used on the east and west facing windows to allow them to be tinted during high glare periods of the day. Sliding panels in blue allow the bedroom and bathroom to be shielded for privacy.

Although I visited the ICON house during daylight hours, I was able to see its award winning lighting design. All of the lighting in the house is either compact fluorescent or LED. The Philips Color Kinetix LED lighting installed near the ceiling is programmable and can change color depending on the desired mood of the space.


Appliances: FisherPaykel dual-drawer dishwasher, Wolf induction cooktop; Miele convection oven; Liebherr refrigerator; Sharp LCD TV; Dell computer monitor; Asko washer and dryer.


Furniture: IKEA couch and bed; Loll furniture outdoor seating; Blu Dot credenza, coffee table, and side table; Custom dining chairs and table by UofM Architecture students


Lighting: Philips Color Kinetix;

Rugs and Carpets: Target

Tiles and Stone: Rust Brothers composite recycled glass kitchen countertop; Recycled glass tile in bathroom

Window Treatments: Hunter Douglas Duette

Beds: IKEA Malm

Artwork: All artwork was custom made for the ICON house by University of Minnesota Interior Design and Retail Marketing students

Flooring: Reclaimed maple

(Thanks Dan!)

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(Image: Laurie McGinley)

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