Solar power house to teach sustainable living in central Phoenix

The solar-powered house, built by students from ASU and the University of New Mexico, is on display at the PHX Renews site on Central Ave and Indian School Road. (Photo by Brittany Schmus)

The solar-powered house, built by students from ASU and the University of New Mexico, is on display at the PHX Renews site on Central Avenue and Indian School Road. (Photo by Brittany Schmus)

Everyone will have the opportunity to tour the solar power home created by ASU and University of New Mexico students at its permanent location in the PHX Renews main site.

The solar power home, called the SHADE Project, was originally created for the Solar Decathlon competition in 2013, during which universities throughout the world submit a proposal of a sustainable home. Only 20 are selected and among those was the SHADE Project, which stands for Solar Homes Adapting for Desert Equilibrium.

After a long journey in four parts from California to New Mexico, the home will have its permanent place to exhibit in Phoenix on North Central Avenue and West Indian School Road.

 

 

Philip Horton, a faculty associate in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and one of the SHADE project mentors, said the SHADE name came after a discussion when students were examining how plants survive in the nature of the desert, focusing on how young cacti grow near the shade provided by large trees like mesquite or palo verde.

“A lot of times with solar projects and solar houses, the solar panels are directly attached to the house,” he said. “We decided to liberate the solar panels from the house and create a large shade canopy that would shade the south side of the house, a portion of the roof and create a shade for the outdoor space.”

The SHADE project includes numerous features, unique for this desert area, to be sustainable, comfortable and adaptable to any home.

Horton said one of the features of this house is its radiant cooling system. Most homes use traditional air conditioning systems that blow cold air, which are very inefficient because it’s difficult to maintain a comfortable temperature. In contrast, the solar home pumps a chilled fluid through the ceiling, creating a stable place of cooling in the house, he said.

“The reason it’s called radiant is (because of) what happens when the heat from your body, appliances or from whatever source, basically convects to that cold plate on the ceiling,” he said. “Rather than feeling a draft cold air blow across you, your heat will just jump through the surface.”

Radiant cooling is commonly described as a cave, he said,

“If you think of a cave which is about 55 degrees, you immediately feel cool, even if you don’t feel a draft of cold air on yourself,” he said. “The reason for that is that the heat of your body is essentially jumping to the cold surfaces of the cave, so (radiant cooling) operates in a very similar way.”

Horton said the radiant system is tied to a thermal storage unit.

“The idea of the thermal storage unit for the house is that rather than running your air conditioner during the day … the house uses technology where you run the chiller during the night (making ice),” he said. “You store that ice in a thermal storage container and during the day your pumping your icy chill fluid, the stored energy from running it at night.”

Horton said another feature in the house is a phase change material—packets of wax — that are placed between the framing of the house and work just like ice. When the house is cooled, the wax becomes solid, and when the house heats up, that material melts, which evenly maintains the temperature of the house, he said.

During the Solar Decathlon, the SHADE project was estimated to cost $295,000.

“That was relatively our target,” Horton said. “Meaning that in the competition, if your house cost $250,000 or less you would get a 100 point out of 100 for the affordability contest, but if your house fell between $250,000 and $300,000 then you would get 90 of those 100.”

Horton expressed that $295,000 is a lot of money for a house that’s only 850 square feet, but highlighted that this house features all different types of technologies in one application that can be applied to a variety of living situations and homes, whether they face north, south, east or west.

“You can adapt the SHADE prototype to work in any application,” Horton said. “Use some of the strategies essentially without having to use all of them in a way that would still make it efficient and a climate responsible house without necessarily being too expensive.”

The house is being built at a PHX Renews site, a lot designed for community members to plant and grow goods for their personal use. This is part of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton’s vision to use vacant lots in the city for new opportunities.

Tom Waldeck, executive director of Keep Phoenix Beautiful, a nonprofit organization focused on promoting sustainable practices, said Mayor Stanton came to him with the idea of PHX Renews in which many nonprofit organizations and community members are now involved.

“There are people who live in the community that live in an apartment or condo,” he said. “We provide them a four by eight or eight by eight foot planning site … (where) they can grow whatever they want as long as its legal.”

Waldeck said there are many organizations that are planting to help others, like the International Rescue Committee which aids refugee families off the two and a half acres on the site. They are growing plants from their native countries like Iraqi cucumber and melons, he said.

There is also another two-acre site being developed by the Madison Street Veterans Association, which manages the veterans’ homeless shelter in downtown Phoenix and is growing food for the shelter, Waldeck said.

Native Health, an organization for health care for the Native community, is also involved and is planting five different types of corn that are indigenous to the reservations in Arizona, he said.

David Anaya, PHX Renews project manager, said the solar home is an exhibition display piece meant to teach and visualize sustainable living in Arizona.

“Another component is sustainability and teaching the public about food,” he said. “Where your food comes from and how to grow it.”

The PHX Renews goal is to expand throughout the Phoenix area and put as many vacant lots as possible to better use, he said.

Anaya said the home is not fully built yet because there have been some challenges with the permits because there’s no guidelines to building a home where no one is going to be living.

“I put a dog park there (also), and the city of Phoenix doesn’t have guidelines for dog parks in private property,” he said. “It’s been interesting to have been coming up with these new things that the city has never seen and no one’s ever done before.”

Both the PHX Renews site and the SHADE project are free of charge to visit.

Everyone is encouraged to visit the site from sunrise to sundown and check out the website for volunteer and involvement opportunities.

Reach the reporter at Adriana.Loya@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @loyadriana