This story was originally published in Builder.

The ‘reACT’ home is a prototype of sustainable, self-sufficient housing for Native American communities
Courtesy DOE/UMD

The Solar Decathlon is an annual collegiate competition challenging student teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered homes with an emphasis on sustainability. This year, 13 teams from institutions across the world will participate in 10 contests that emphasize innovative design, energy efficiency, water use, resident comfort, and market potential. The DOE-sponsored competition, which is open to the public, will be held in Denver from Oct. 5-15. In this daily series, BUILDER takes a look at the innovative features of each of the homes.

University of Maryland’s 2017 Solar Decathlon team will be building a “kit of parts” modular home designed to harness natural resources in a way that benefits and does not harm the environment, in line with Native American environmental ethics.

Short for “resilient adaptive climate technology,” reACT was designed with very specific target homeowners in mind: a young Denver-area couple that is registered with the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin.

Beyond the hypothetical, however, the UMD team has some big plans to build homes based off of the reACT prototype in several tribal communities. By partnering with innovative housing leaders, the team hopes to offer young Native Americans a culturally ethical and authentic living experience.

The home is composed of six modules surrounding a central mechanical core. These modules work together to manage overall water, air, and energy flow, and their layout can be adapted as needed. A central courtyard not only extends the living space, but also serves a solar heat collector. A solar attic “skims” heat from the top of the courtyard in the winter to improve heating efficiency, while baffles expel heat in the summer. In addition, a storage battery retains energy for use during power outages and production shortages.

The 993-square-foot home includes 214 square feet of outdoor living space, and can be integrated into local ecosystems. With a composting system, hydroponic garden, vegetable garden, greywater irrigation system, and movable “living walls” covered in plants, reACT combines urban and Native American agricultural practices, according to the team.

“Construction is the biggest contributor to waste energy, so we’re trying to show people another way in which houses can be built,” says Alla Elmahadi, architecture construction manager for the team, “You don’t have to sacrifice the architecture of the house [to make it efficient]—it can be as beautiful as it can be used in a very efficient way.”

Since each component can be manufactured, transported, and assembled separately, the building process is much more efficient and adaptable to new client needs, climates, even construction technologies, the team says.

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