Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tech's 'smart house' goes on display

LumenHaus is Virginia Tech's newest solar-powered home and the university's entry in the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon.


Justin Cook | The Roanoke Times

An "oversize load" banner is fastened to the truck before Virginia Tech's solar-powered LumenHaus is moved from Plantation Road to the the Blacksburg Square Shopping Center, where it will be on display until Sept. 1.

About LumenHaus

  • Aka: The Solar House
  • Age: 7
  • Occupation: Prototype of the eco-friendly, energy-efficient house of the future Hometown: Blacksburg
  • Motto: “A brighter way. Everyday.”
  • Awards: 2002, ranked fifth in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon; 2005, ranked fourth
  • Now showing: Blacksburg Square Shopping Center, South Main Street
  • Online:

A timeline of events


  • Virginia Tech’s newly built Solar House places fifth out of 14 in the first U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The event draws more than 100,000 visitors to the “Solar Village” on the National Mall.


  • Tech places fourth overall in the second decathlon but wins top honors for architecture and livability.


  • Tech team sits out the third decathlon and begins design of a new solar house.


  • A LumenHaus exhibit is mounted at the Taubman Museum of Art in Roanoke. The Tech team readies for the U.S. Solar Decathlon scheduled for October in Washington, D.C. The team is invited to compete in the Solar Decathlon Europe in Madrid, Spain, in 2010.

Sources: The Roanoke Times, Virginia Tech and

BLACKSBURG -- Imagine the house of the future.

If it gets too hot outside, the house reduces the need for air conditioning by drawing its shade panels.

When temperatures drop in winter, high-efficiency insulation panels slide in place to conserve heat.

In fact, this house could brew your morning coffee and turn on your favorite music before you get out of bed.

Welcome to LumenHaus, Virginia Tech's newest solar-powered "smart house" and the university's entry in the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon.

The name comes from "lumen," meaning "power of light," and "haus," a nod to the Bauhaus architectural movement that inspired the new prototype.

The 800-square-foot LumenHaus is a broad stepping evolution from the original Solar House design that won Tech high marks in the 2002 and 2005 solar decathlons.

The new design incorporates two years of work from dozens of students in various fields of study.

Powered by double-efficient solar panels and heated and cooled with geothermal heat pumps, the house is designed to maximize the use of natural light and expand the living space to the outdoors using expansive decks. The new prototype also uses computer automation to save energy and create a more comfortable living space, architecture professor and project faculty adviser Joe Wheeler said.

One particularly interesting feature was created by computer science students, who wrote an iPhone application to remotely monitor and control the structure's energy use.

Forget to turn off the oven? Irritated that the computer and the TV are sucking electricity while you're at work? With LumenHaus, you can switch them off using your iPhone, Wheeler said.

The original solar house was designed by former Tech architecture graduate students Bryan Atwood and Brett Moss.

While LumenHaus is "a totally new design ... on the other hand, we like to think of it as the evolution of the past project. We don't start over, we just continue to develop the concept," Wheeler said.

The team moved the new house from the Tech campus to the Blacksburg Square Shopping Center this week, where it will be on display until Sept. 1, when the team departs for Washington, D.C.

Once in the capital, the house will go on display at the National Building Museum until October, when the decathlon begins.

In June, the team will load LumenHaus on a ship for transport to Madrid, Spain, where Tech will compete with teams from around the world. LumenHaus is one of two U.S. entries accepted this year to Solar Decathlon Europe, Tech architecture spokeswoman Heather Riley-Chadwick said.

The $350,000 project was funded primarily through corporate sponsorships, Wheeler said.

Prototypes are generally expensive as they require lots of trial and error. But the team is working on making LumenHaus more affordable.

"Market viability is one category in the decathlon," Wheeler said.

Take a video tour of the house by clicking "documentary" at

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