Solar Decathlon

If you’ve strolled down to the Mall this weekend, you’ve likely run across a bunch of modern, high end trailer homes sitting out there as part of the Solar Decathlon.  I stopped by on my lovely Columbus Day holiday, and despite a lack of sunshine, the decathlon was in full swing.

ReadySetDC’s preview can be found here.

National Mall
(Between 10th + 14th Streets, Madison + Jefferson Drives)
October 9th – 13th, 15th – 18th

Some of my photos from today (again, sorry about the lack of actual sunshine):

[EDIT] DC Metrocentric has more, sunnier photos here [/EDIT]

The larger issue here, of course, is one of sustainability.  The relevant question is if ‘sustainability’ can really be captured within one single, easy to understand metric.  Building standards such as LEED assert just this.  As imperfect as they are, they’re at least a step in the right direction, so long as we recognize the limitations of those systems.  GOOD Magazine talks about ending LEED’s monopoly:

Because LEED buildings don’t have to perform up to spec in real life, LEED has contributed to a trend of showboating and point scrounging, leaving energy efficiency—arguably the most important metric—lost in the shuffle.

The average LEED building doesn’t even qualify for an Energy Star label.

Amidst a rising chorus of criticism, other standards are finally starting to get more attention. The Passive House standard, born almost 20 years ago in Germany, hones energy efficiency so finely that most certified Passive Houses need no conventional heating boiler. The overall energy use of a Passive House is around 70 to 80 percent less than a comparable conventional building.

Energy Star, like LEED, is a single rating metric, and as such, is subject to the limitations that a single metric imposes.  LEED, for example, includes points for recycled materials and water use, things that will be important for a truly sustainable structure in some locations.

Absent the larger debate on sustainability, the projects these student teams have put together are certainly worth a look.  I, for one, would love to see a discussion of how cities and the accidental environmentalists that live within them fit into the equation, as well as how these concepts and technologies can be applied to existing structures and urban environments.  However, it’s hard for me to envision how such ideas would fit within the current decathlon format.

Which is fine, so long as well all recognize the limits of these technologies and ratings.  Either way, check out these projects while they’re still on the Mall.


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