3rd place in affordability, 2nd place in engineering, 6th place overall, people’s gasps of delight, and kids’ laughter – those are some of the many accolades CHIP deservedly received. To be honest, there were also a lot of things that went wrong and a lot of other things that didn’t go as planned. However, the past three weeks or so flew by so quickly that I can barely remember the details. We arrived at DC, set up a puffy, white spaceship at the center of the National Mall, competed in the Solar Decathlon, and are taking it apart again and shipping it back to LA. Now, for the first time, I have a chance to sit down and reflect on what we as a team collectively have accomplished, and I have to say what amazes me every time is what the house turned out not to be.
The house is not just a solar house, a passive house, or an efficient house. It is truly a net-zero energy home. We didn’t design it to simply generate enough electricity to meet an average home user’s demand. We designed it to consume less energy and generate enough under any weather conditions at DC. This showed in the final energy balance results, where we along with only six other teams reach net-zero energy in a brutal nine days of competition when the sun shone through the clouds for maybe one afternoon. We took a look at everything that consumed energy and said to ourselves how can they consume less. As the result, our house operated differently during the competition. While majority of other houses shut down all non-essential systems and some essential ones to save energy, we continued to wash and dry our laundry, maintain the indoor temperature and humidity, and perform all other measured tasks with a clear understanding and trust in our systems that we would be net-zero-energy at the end of the competition. We were so confident of how much energy we would be using and generating that even during public tours we continued to demonstrate our Kinect and iPad home control systems. CHIP proved that a home can be net-zero without sacrifices.
The house is not the competition’s winner. It is tomorrow’s home. Whether or not we intended this to be our primary goal at the onset of the project, CHIP pushed every single boundary of tomorrow’s home living. We made a lot of design decisions knowing full well that they might not benefit us per se at the competition, but they were the right things to do because that was our vision of tomorrow. We put the insulation on the outside, because we think this is how every other home in America should be constructed. We broke a two-story house into four pieces, because we want to show everyone that a modular house doesn’t have to look like a trailer. We developed the most complete, functional, and advanced home control interface and backbone, because we think every homeowner should have the control of their home literally at their finger tips. Some of those decisions benefited us in the eyes of competition jurors. Others did not. One thing is for sure, all the kids walking through our house had the same sparkle in their eyes as they do on Christmas Day. Maybe, they are our tomorrow.
CHIP by now is on her way back to LA, and hopefully she can show another group of kids what tomorrow looks like.