Thursday, October 8, 2009

An Illuminating Vision for Pavilion Living: Virginia Tech's LUMENHAUS

An Illuminating Vision for Pavilion Living: VT’s Lumenhaus

October 7th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Imagine the environmentally conscious socialite and their new cottage at the Hamptons. That is the feel that Virginia Tech’s Lumenhaus gives in their, quite simply, luminous website and presentation of their entry into the  DOE Solar Decathlon, which opens Thursday on the Mall in Washington, DC, and which I had a chance to visit earlier today.

As the name suggests, Lumenhaus is a dwelling playing with light and living off it with extensive windows and both solar photovotaiic (electric) and thermal (hot water) systems.

The Lumenhaus’ system also has two-sided solar panels which seem to be a ‘new’ feature appearing in a number of the homes this year.  These Sanyo panels, VT claims, have a 15% performance improvement over single side producing systems.

Control systems that ‘run the house’ automatically, including moving around louvers as the solar angle shifts. (While the owner could override this, the automation is aimed to maximize performance — whether heat gain / retention in winter or minimization / cooling in summer.)  This means that the system is constantly monitoring system performance, weather and interior conditions, and weather forecasts to achieve the optimal performance not just for that moment but also for the hours and days to come.

“LUMENHAUS uses technology optimally to make the owner’s life simpler, more energy efficient and less expensive.”

These louvers are quite impressive, with laser cut ‘circles’, all bent to maximize light gain and minimize unwanted heat gain (thus, each of the 1000s of cuts is specific to that location on the louver).   Seeing them on the mall, with multiple color reflections looking toward the Washington Monument was stunning (let’s hope the photos come out). The Lumenhaus Eclipsis system actually is more than ’simply’ these rather beautiful metal shutter shades, but also includes translucent insulating panels filled with aerogel.

All of this monitoring and automation means that the Lumenhaus, left to its own devices, will have a quite different look dependent on time of day, weather conditions, or time of year. As they ask, “does your home dress for the seasons?”

Wandering the Solar Decathlon is like being caught in a big candy store for the ‘eco-geek’ within, but it is also eye candy for the aesthetics’ oriented (even though, of course, the integration of technology into our lives has a beauty of its own). Already mentioned, is the changing nature of the home during the season, the beauty of the shutter shades yet there is much more.  Watching the video, walking into Lumenhaus (even while under construction) creates an “I want that” moment, seeing it as an eminently livable space … effective not just in energy terms.

Truth be told, essentially every one of the Solar Decathlon homes creates moments and feelings of “I want this” or “what a wonderful approach” or …  That is one of the reasons it is such an Energy COOL event.

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