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2015 Solar Decathlon: Grow Home

University at Buffalo , The State University of New York

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U.S. Department of Energy


  • Aaron Salva, Adetunji Idris Adesina, Alanna Olear, Alexandra Strycharz, Allen Besas, Amanda Mumford, Andrew Koudlai, Aniket Marathe, Aryan Kukreja, Christopher Osterhoudt, Chun Shao Chen, Cornato “Ronnie” Vella, EunJin Shin, Joseph Szabo, Kaitlyn O’Connell, Leah Kiblin, Louis Rosario, Mike Tuzzo, Nicole Wawrzyniak, Pooja Bhatt, Pranav Hardas, Praveen Iyer, Ryan Dussault, Samson Cameron, Vageesh Govindhen, Duane Warren, Joseph Tuberdyck, Ian Farneth, Matthew Kreidler, Nathaniel Heckman
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Project Description


The GRoW Home profoundly re-conceptualizes sustainable urban living, pushing the conversation towards total self-sufficiency.  It suggests the client, and urban gardening couple, is actively engaged with the architecture and the environment by tuning the house like captain tunes their sailboat- riding the waves of solar, wind, and thermal forces.  This small but dynamic house adjusts to seasonal change through operable elements and a spatially flexible design that allows for adaptable living.

As a Buffalo-focused project, the GRoW Home is designed and built to propose a lifestyle shift amidst seasonal changes. Moreover, we observed trends such as the rise of community gardens and demand for renewable energy, and have partnered with over 55 entities in western New York on this project.

The key features of the home are:

The GRoWlarium, part greenhouse, part solarium, supports vegetation year round and provides an extraordinary living space.  Additionally, by blending passive strategies with active control systems, energy consumption is significantly reduced and then offset by photovoltaic and thermal systems.

A canopy covers the enclosed portion of the house and further obscures the line between inside and outside spaces.  This structure highlights and establishes an architectural prominence to the solar power and thermal systems. Additionally, it serves as a trellis for growing plants at its permanent site, shades the house and deck in the summer (thereby reducing cooling loads), and provides infrastructure for outdoor living items, such as projector screens and exterior lighting.

With a photovoltaic array of (24) 290W Silevo panels with 17.2% rated efficiency, the GRoW Home expects to produce 35% more energy than it consumes daily. A central inverter system with power optimizer technology will improve the overall efficiency of the system by reducing the mismatch between panels.

Constituting the GRoW Home’s envelope are Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) to enclose the primary living spaces. Furthermore, there are two high-performance sliding glass doors and a series of fixed windows significantly reduce heating loads when compared to conventional doors and operable windows. Operable ventilators are strategically located high in the spaces to encourage natural ventilation and reduce cooling loads.

The homeowner can interact with several custom-built performative furniture pieces.  Each fulfills some added function—providing thermal mass, drying laundry, and storing objects—in addition to its nominal role as planter, bench, or table. One example is our dining table that easily rotates between its wood and steel surfaces for eating and working respectively.

The GRoW Home will use a four-zone Variable-Air-Volume Air-to-Air mechanical system.  Although uncommon in such a low square footage design, this system design ensures maximum energy savings by only conditioning and distributing air on an as-needed basis to individual spaces within the house. The GRoW house also employs an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to encourage natural ventilation, and reduce losses from fresh air supply. The independently ducted ERV allows it to run independently of the air-handling unit.

With an energy monitoring system, the homeowner is empowered to alter energy consumption to stay as energy-efficient and comfortable as possible. Sensors will be strategically placed throughout the house to inform the user the temperature, humidity, and electricity use within the house with precision. These data can be easily accessed on an online portal via a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. The online portal will be open to the public during the competition, allowing visitors to view the performance of the GRoW Home in real time.

Upon returning to Buffalo, one of several possible sites under consideration is adjacent to UB’s School of Architecture and Planning, where it could act as a research and educational center, open for tours and events to the community, and providing a vehicle for ongoing faculty and student research. 

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