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2015 Solar Decathlon: Y-House

Yale University

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Project Name

2015 Solar Decathlon: Y-House

Project Status

Student Work


750 sq. feet


U.S. Department of Energy


  • Kate McMillan, Madeline Landon, Sam Kauffman-Martin, Juan Pablo Ponce de Leon, Robert Loweth, Sijia Yang, Edward Wang, Thaddeus Lee, Victoria Ereskina, Eliza Dach, Elizabeth Qi, Ben Bourgoin, Isaac Southard, Lori Kauffman

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Project Description


Sustainable design for living is often approached as a collection of technologies, isolating the home from its occupant and the environment instead of working with natural climatic conditions. This attitude assumes the home and outdoors should be completely separate, that the interior always requires mechanical conditioning, and that the house itself is a sealed bubble in a hostile environment.

Y-House seeks to approach sustainable design from a holistic mindset, creating a space that is fully integrated with exterior spaces, community, and climatic conditions.

Our rapid and agile lifestyles demand a house that is also able to respond to our changing needs. Specifically targeted at young professionals, Y-House provides adaptability, multi-functionality and freedom of movement beyond the walls of a house. Simple, electricity-free measures provide the first means to maintain a comfortable living environment: a linear configuration optimizes natural ventilation so that most of the time, opening a window provides sufficient air flow; open interior spaces provide abundant natural day lighting so that electrical lighting is rarely required; a large patio doubles the living space so that when occupants want to socialize, they have a space to do so. When these measures are not sufficient, Y-House is prepared. Adequate building science and construction techniques assure that energy transfer is minimal when desired. Use of energy-efficient mechanical equipment provides for the needs of the house at a minimum energy penalty, and mechanical equipment monitors air quality so that measures such as opening a window do not interfere with heating or cooling. Furthermore, the modular structure can be easily retrofitted for future technologies so Y-House remains relevant as systems continue to improve.

Through Y-House, it is our aim to inspire social and environmental change by making sustainable housing desirable and marketable to a new generation. By implementing a design-based, multi-disciplinary approach, Y-House allows for simpler solutions that make this change possible. 

MINIMAL FOOTPRINT: Through a square footage of just under 750 square feet, our design achieves reduced material costs and energy loads while still enabling the impression of spaciousness through outdoor integration. An exterior deck draws people outdoors while minimizing preconditioned space.

NATURAL VENTILATION: With its linear configuration, natural ventilation is maximized across the north-south axis of the house. The central room additionally creates a pressure differential that pushes this air through interior spaces. Operable vents above the kitchen and bathroom areas allow for hot air to escape, lowering mechanical cooling loads.

AIR QUALITY: Although the competition does not measure air quality, Team Yale felt that this was a key component in making a house a comfortable. The demand-based energy recovery ventilator paired with two membrane layers enable the walls to breathe and release moisture, preventing mold and sick house syndrome.

OUTER ENVELOPE SCREEN: The outer louvered screens serves two key purposes in the Y-House design: the louvers are specifically matched to the house’s facade orientation to minimize solar heat gain, and the extension of the screens beyond the house connect interior spaces to the outside.

HEAT RECOVERY: To account for the 12% of the time when CA temperature falls outside ideal conditions, Team Yale is featuring demand-based energy recovery. When the house is full of people and running appliances, the ERV removes this excess heat to cool the house while a heat pump hot water system uses this heat for hot water.

MODULAR CONSTRUCTION: Efficiency lies not only in the house itself, but in the process of building it. Standard construction takes months of manpower, large amounts of fuel in shipping materials, and excess waste. By designing the Y-House to break down into two standard-sized modules for modular construction assembly, the Y-House will take only one month to construct.

COMMUNAL GARDEN: The home of the future is not an isolated, enclosed shell, but rather an open environment that incorporates the outside world. The Y-House is part of this larger community, and has been designed to maximize social spaces and shared resources. The communal garden incorporates a variety of drought-tolerant plants the minimize water usage while providing a natural aesthetic.

ADAPTABILITY: Team Yale understands that in order for the Y-House to remain relevant, it has to be adaptable. A double wall and drop ceiling enable piping, wiring and ductwork to be swapped out without penetrating the envelope of the house. A modular mechanical core can actually be plugged into the house to allow easy changes for future systems.

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