It’s part astronaut suit, part thermos. CHIP—as the California team called its entry—has an otherworldly appearance that belies its grounding in mainstream technologies. The house (whose acronym stands for Compact Hyper-Insulated Prototype) features an exterior skin made of 14 to 16 inches of denim batt insulation wrapped with a low-cost, engineered, vinyl-coated polyester fastened with zip ties, dowel rods, and lag screws. "Aesthetically, we are trying to convey the idea that solar housing isn’t just about putting solar panels on your roof. It’s also about how you conserve the energy once you harvest it," say Robert Gilson, a student at SCI-Arc. CHIP unabashedly shows off "the thick insulation that it takes to conserve your energy and use it responsibly." A key aspect of the energy conservation plan was to separate inside and outside air. The dwelling incorporates a whole-house fan that performs a complete air change in less than 20 minutes, with fresh air intake above the west entrance and exhausts in the collars surrounding the large openings. California’s spiraling land costs and urban sprawl helped influence CHIP’s compact design, which at less than 800 square feet is suited to infill development or neighborhoods zoned for shared lots. "What helped us with affordability is the assembly removes a roofing contractor from the picture, and it removes a siding and finishing contractor," Gilson says. "One single membrane takes care of all the waterproofing."

Estimated cost: $262,495.11