Plug-and-Play Concept House

By Charlie Wardell | 6/6/2013

This concept zero-energy home will be built around a unique interactive core.


“Energy use is as much a behavioral problem as a design one,” according to Derek Ouyang, an engineering student at Stanford, who is project manager for the University’s entry in this year’s Solar Decathlon. The two-bedroom net-zero energy home his team is designing and building includes familiar touches like SIP walls, passive solar design, and grid-connected PV, but it also offers a solution to the behavioral problem: a high-tech core the team believes will make people more energy conscious.

The core is a 12’ x 15’ module, 10’ high. Think of it as the home’s engine. It includes a bath, half the kitchen and a utility closet with the electrical, phone, Internet, and plumbing connections, as well as heat recovery ventilator, water heater and solar inverter. (It doesn’t include heating and cooling, which is provided by ductless mini-splits.) The house will be built around it. The team’s ultimate vision for the core is a commercially available product that’s assembled in a factory and delivered to the site for an estimated cost of around $50,000.

But the core is more than a clever piece of engineering. It challenges the top-down approach to energy management—a distant power company dictating comfort level, for example—by empowering occupants with real-time feedback on the implications of adjusting the thermostat or turning off the lights.

At its heart will be a central controller wired to all of the core’s systems. The controller will calculate details as specific as the cost of baking a chicken, perhaps motivating the cook to save money by putting tomorrow’s casserole in the oven at the same time. Results will appear on a touch-screen wall display, as well as on a custom iPad app. The interfaces are still being developed, but Ouyang says they will go beyond simple numbers. “The displays will allow the homeowner to visualize energy consumption in whole new ways.”

Those new ideas will be unveiled at the competition. It will include 20 teams and will be held in Irvine, Calif. from October 3-13. For more information on the Stanford house, go to



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