The University of Calgary’s solar-powered house offers a new product and a step forward
School or Classroom: A home for all seasons
by Geoffrey Morgan
More than 2,000 visitors walked through the fully functional, teepee-inspired home on display at the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C. The home was designed and built by students at the University of Calgary and had the honour of being the most-visited home at the event.
“People were really interested by our design,” says Johann Kyser, a master’s degree candidate at the U of C. The design included an arched roof outfitted with solar panels and an east-facing front door, like a traditional teepee. Inside, the home was decorated with an aboriginal headdress and a large buffalo skull. Kyser says visitors stopped to tour the house because of the design but stayed for the underlying message.
“There’s such a really critical need for better housing on First Nations,” Kyser says. That need defined the U of C project. The Calgary team – the only Canadian team at the competition – worked to achieve twin goals at the Solar Decathlon. Like all teams in the competition, it had to build an innovative, energy-efficient and solar-powered home, which would be judged against projects from the U.S., China, New Zealand and Belgium. But the U of C team also wanted to determine whether solar power was a viable option in aboriginal communities.
The team established a 12-person aboriginal advisory council to consult on the home, which was named TRTL (Technological Residences, Traditional Living). The judging panel in Washington gave TRTL high marks for its market appeal, hot water usage and affordability, though it wasn’t crowned the overall winner at the decathlon. But that’s not the end for the project. TRTL’s title sponsor, Cenovus, has donated the home back to the university, and plans are underway to reconstruct it on campus for continued research into both aboriginal housing and energy efficiency.