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Lumenhaus by Virginia Tech Is Mod Solar

Credits: ©2012 Lumenhaus Virginia Tech

Lumenhaus is a zero energy, grid-tied active and passive solar, modular residence that was designed and built by a team of university students at Virginia Tech. It is both a dwelling and an exhibition informing the public about issues of alternative energy and sustainability. Based on the concept of Responsive Architecture, the home adjusts to climactic changes and user requirements through automated systems that optimize energy consumption. Constructed of sustainable materials and systems, it has been exhibited in Washington D.C., Times Square, Madrid, Spain, Millennium Park, and at the Farnsworth House in Plano Ill. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) honored Virginia Tech’s solar home, LumenHAUS, with a 2012 AIA Institute Honor Awards for Architecture - the first time a university team has been given this honor. Lumenhaus won the 2010 Solar Decathlon Europe competition in Madrid, Spain, triumphing over 16 international research universities. Inspired by the Farnsworth House by Mies van der Rohe, the 800-square-foot Lumenhaus features a rectangular open plan. The steel frame is topped by structural insulated roof panels that support an array of 45 grid-tied solar panels. The north and south walls are constructed entirely of glass and are buffered from the outdoors by the Eclipsis System, an automated system of sliding screens that include stainless steel shutter screens and aerogel-filled translucent insulating polycarbonate panels. It is designed to maximize daylight so that no electric light is needed during the day. To the south, the circular shade perforations of the shutter panels are designed to block direct sunlight while maintaining exterior views and interior privacy. To the north, the perforations are more porous to allow more sunlight. Energy collected during the day is then used at night through an LED system built into the Eclipsis System panels. Other sustainable features include an automated geothermal heat-pump system, radiant flooring, low-VOC paints, Energy Star appliances, and materials made with recycled content, containing low embodied energy, or made from rapidly renewable materials." (Scroll to bottom for additional resources)


Lumenhaus Dusk

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) honored Virginia Tech’s solar home, LumenHAUS, with a 2012 AIA Institute Honor Awards for Architecture - the first time a university team had been given this honor. Lumenhaus won the 2010 Solar Decathlon Europe competition in Madrid, Spain, triumphing over 16 international research universities. ©2012 Virginia Tech

LUMENHAUS is the third solar house designed and built at Virginia Tech as part of a research program begun in 2002. An innovative design integrating architecture and technology, the project won the international Solar Decathlon Competition in Madrid, Spain in June of 2010.

The Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 was a competition among nineteen top universities from France, Germany, Spain, Finland, UK, USA, and China participating in Madrid (June 2010). The Solar Decathlon challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. Eco-Structure Magazine reported that "the winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. In a turn of events following back-to-back wins by European teams in the U.S. Department of Energy’s biennial Solar Decathlon, an American team took top honors in the Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 competition. Lumenhaus, the entry from Virginia Tech was named the most efficient entry of the inaugural European competition. It was the first win for Virginia Tech after participating in the 2002, 2005, and 2009 U.S. Solar Decathlons. The only other American team competing in the 17-team event, the University of Florida, received an online public choice award, decided by an Internet voting campaign. Lumenhaus edged out the second place finisher, team Ikaros-Bavaria from the University of Applied Sciences Rosenheim, Germany, by one point.

As a modern pavilion, LUMENHAUS is an architectural space of distinction. Where most energy-conscious houses are closed with strategic openings to resist heat transfer, LUMENHAUS has open, flowing spaces linking occupants to each other within the house and to nature outside. Inspired by the Farnsworth House by Mies Van Der Rohe, the north and south walls are all glass, maximizing the owner’s exposure to bright, natural daylight. The fully automated Eclipsis System, comprising independent sliding layers, permits a revolutionary design in a solar-powered house, while filtering light in beautiful, flowing patterns throughout the day.

LUMENHAUS does more than literally deliver a brighter day, however.

LUMENHAUS epitomizes a “whole building design” construction approach, in which all the home’s components and systems have been designed to work together to maximize user comfort with environmental protection. LUMENHAUS uses technology optimally to make the owner’s life simpler, more energy efficient and less expensive. On the cutting edge of responsive architecture, LUMENHAUS can operate completely self sufficiently, responding to environmental changes automatically to balance energy efficiency with user comfort.

LUMENHAUS is a zero-energy home that is completely powered by the sun. Other sustainable features include the use of passive energy systems, radiant heating and building materials that are from renewable and/or recyclable sources.

The Design
Inspired by the glass pavilion-style Farnsworth House designed by Bauhaus architect Mies Van Der Rohe, the house features a flowing, open plan that connects occupants to each other within the house and to nature outside.

The rectangular, open plan is an efficient, small footprint, yet a perceptually generous space. The house’s interior and exterior meld into a seamless transition when the Eclipsis System is open, delivering a rich transparency of space. In good weather, the screens open, creating both a physical and psychological connection with the outdoors. The floor space doubles in size and the north and south walls become nonexistent, making the rooms boundless. The characteristics of each layer of the changing wall system create a diversity of spatial readings.

The central core plays an important spatial role as well, yielding alternate paths on which one can walk.

The house is designed to be extremely flexible, to adapt to the owner’s changing needs, on a daily basis and with his or her changing life circumstances. Each area has specific activities, but has been designed to be flexible in that the user can have the option to alter the areas for their own programmatic needs. For example, the doors within the central core contain activities such as the office, storage and entertainment within its lining and doors that can be pulled out to close the bedroom into a private space. The characteristics of each layer of the changing wall system create a diversity of spatial readings. The kitchen counter can be transformed into a bar for entertainment and the dining room table is on castors so it can be moved outside during warm summer evenings. The modular design means the whole house itself is also flexible. Multiple units can be connected or stacked with plug-in stairs and entryways to create two-, three- or four- bedroom houses to adapt to the owners’ changing life circumstances.

LUMENHAUS™ emphasizes integrity and endurance. Choices of materials and components are based on the basic requirements of environmental conservation and energy use, as well as the longevity of each product. General concepts for sustainable architecture – compact volume, little air infiltration, strategic insulation, natural/cross ventilation, passive heating, and integrated geothermal energy sink – are articulated with appropriate technologies. Design decisions and material selection aim to reduce indoor pollutants, minimize global warming, reduce waste, include recycled content, represent low embodied energy in manufacture and harvest, limit destruction to habitat, and rapidly renew resources.

The best way to address issues of energy in buildings is to use as little as possible. The pavilion architecture allows low-energy patterns of use through passive heating, solar shading, and cross ventilation.

Responsive Architecture optimizes energy use by adapting to changing environmental conditions while increasing the quality of space. Utilizing smart home technology and environmental controls the house produces more energy than it consumes while providing for increased livability. Through the concept of Responsive Architecture, the house employs sliding fenestrations (Eclipsys System) to optimize energy use while providing for different architectural spatial qualities. Computer automated controls allow the house to automatically adapt to changing environmental conditions. Living in smaller and adaptable houses uses fewer resources, and the prefabricated construction process reduces waste and increases efficiency. We can downsize our dwellings while improving the quality of life.

Geothermal Heating & Cooling
The house includes a fully automated, high efficiency geothermal-tied heat pump system that increases efficiency for heating and cooling. A radiant floor heating system by REHAU generates heat evenly and consistently throughout the rooms, with no blowing air and quiet operation.

The Siemens APOGEE Building Control System (BCS) software and web applications allow users to manage all facility systems and equipment from one workstation, compiling all information to work smarter and more efficiently. A Titus Dynafuser linear slot diffuser with actuators redirects the air to optimize for thermal comfort as it relates to the season. The  Automated Eclipsis System (stainless steel sunscreen and aerogel-filled translucent insulated polycarbonate panel) maximizes conservation of energy and helps bring the outside to the inside.

A three-stage graywater treatment system is used for water purification and subsequent reuse.

Landscape ponds include hydroponic plants that treat wastewater, prevent the growth of algae, and repel insects to prevent infestation.

Varieties of sedum are planted as a surface landscape ground cover that absorb carbon dioxide emissions from the surrounding environment and serve as a runoff system for impervious surfaces surrounding the house.

Minimized painted surfaces using green line paint with low VOC content from Sherwin-Williams, minimizes the impact on air quality while still delivering maximum performance

Long lasting polished HTC Superfloor concrete floor is durable, easily cleaned and doubles as a thermal mass for passive solar strategies 

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) provide superior insulation as well as structural strength, while reducing infiltration and optimizing the use of framing materials

Closed-cell spray foam insulation containing no CFCs, HCFCs, or measurable levels of formaldehyde promotes tight enclosure and increases R-values

Maple-veneered plywood walls
Wall surfaces of durable and easy to clean maple-veneered plywood from Columbia Forest pure bond line non-toxic technology with soy-based adhesives

luminum framed Fleetwood sliding glass doors
obtained from vendors who practice waste reduction by recycling remnants and glass scrap for future use

Stretched fabric ceiling
Lightweight Barrisol stretched fabric ceiling made from recycled, lead-free co-polymer fabric ceiling

Electrochromic glass
, SageGlass, helps to reduce heating and cooling loads while automatically improving light quality by tinting the glass if the intensity of the sunlight is too strong

Daltile bathroom til
Daltile bathroom tile made from recycled materials

Durable and easy to maintain rubber tile produced by Johnsonite, is recyclable

Space utilization products from Hafele which allow for a smaller house footprint, requiring fewer materials and using less energy

Aerogel filled polycarbonate panels give a high insulation value while transmitting a beautiful translucent light

Stainless steel shutters provide sun protection, security, privacy, cross ventilation, strategic views and a dynamic diffused natural light

Zinc façade panels can be completely recycled

Roofing system utilizes a white, lightweight, weatherproof, Acrylife PVC membrane that protects the roof from harsh weather conditions while also reflecting light, therefore decreasing the amount of heat from sunlight that is absorbed through the building envelope

Solar panels
All energy provided by 45 grid-tied solar panels – the Sanyo 190 HIT Double Bifacial Photovaltaic Module, which simultaneously absorb sunlight from the back face of the panel; a portion of the sunlight passes through the panels, combining with sunlight reflected off the surface below, thus transferring the highest power per square footage to the bifacial solar cells and producing up to 30% more electricity than a one sided panel

Maintenance-free, long lasting, durable, and rot and termite resistant decking – wood (ipe) harvested under the guidelines of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), ensuring minimal impact to the environment

Aluminum walk off mat – recyclable and lightweight - helps prevent tracking of debris into the house

Fisher & Paykel DD24SI6 drawer-style dishwasher equipped with an eco-setting for less energy use (Energy Star)

Diva 24" three burner electromagnetic induction cooktop with a 90% efficiency of heat transferred to cooking utensils compared to 50% for gas and 60% for other cooking technologies (Energy Star)

Summit FFBF245 compact refrigerator/freezer that is more energy efficient than most on the market for its size (Energy Star)

kohler plumbing fixtures

Kohler water-conserving kitchen faucet Kohler toilet with Dual Flush technology that meets the EPA’s strict WaterSense flushing performance guidelines (uses at least 20% less water than standard 1.6-gallon toilets)

Energy Star rated SMEG SC712U convection oven that operates at a lower temperature yet cooks food faster than a conventional oven, also equipped with an eco-mode that brings the device up to temperature in the most efficient way

lg washer and dryer LG combination front-loading ventless clothes washer and dryer cleans and dries clothes in a single appliance, halving embodied energy, maintenance, and floor space

Laundry Alternative Spin Dryer uses a 3200-rpm spin cycle to remove most water from clothing using very little energy, which cuts heated drying time by 30 minutes or more

Touch screen ASUS computer uses energy management software that throttles system resources based on process requirements

Samsung LED series Eight TV uses 20-30% less energy than a comparable size television, while producing better color and contrast

The Name
LUMEN means “the power of light.” During the day, the house maximizes occupants’ exposure to natural daylight, which research shows improves mood and well-being. Energy collected during the day is symbolically radiated back out at night through a low-energy lighting system within the insulating panels. The color temperature of the white lights can be controlled by the occupant to again optimize mood and wellbeing.

HAUS is a reference to the BauHaus movement, and architect Mies Van Der Rohe, whose Farnsworth House inspired LUMENHAUS. The Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies also has roots in the Bauhaus movement. The word Haus in German means both house and home, reflecting the multi-audience appeal of LUMENHAUS.

Solar Decathlon Europe

As with the original event in the USA, the Solar Decathlon Europe competition is an international competition among universities around the world with the goal of advancing the knowledge and dissemination of industrialized, solar and sustainable housing. The competition is going on now in Madrid (June of 2010). The 19 prototypes, designed and built by the participating universities, will be assembled and displayed there.The goals of the contest are:

1. To raise awareness of the students participating in the competition of the various benefits and opportunities offered by the use of renewable energies and energy efficient construction, challenging them to think creatively about energy and how it affects our everyday lives.

2. To educate the general public about renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the technologies available to help them reduce their power consumption. The event also aims to raise societys awareness of the need for responsible energy use in home construction.

3. To encourage the use of solar technologies and to distribute them more quickly to the market, taking advantage of the interest generated by students, and to contribute to the development of energy efficient technologies and energy production, all of which is incorporated into an architecturally attractive house.

4. To clearly demonstrate that you can build high performance solar homes without sacrificing energy efficiency or comfort, and that they can be both attractive and affordable.

Particpcating schools in the 2010 competition:
Arts et Métiers Paris Tech

Fachhochschule fur Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin

Bergische Universität Wuppertal

Universidad CEU Cardenal Herrera

Ecole National Supérieure d’architecture de Grenoble

Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences

Aalto University, Finland

Instituto de Arquitectura Avanzada de Cataluña

University of Applied Sciences Rosenheim

Tianjin University

Universidad de Sevilla

Universidad de Valladolid

University of Nottingham

University of Florida

Universidad Politécnica de Cataluña

Tongji University

Virginia Tech



Solar Decathlon Europe 2010

Lumenhaus Virginia Tech