The Solar Decathlon, a biennial competition run by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), challenges student teams to design and build solar-powered housing. Winning designs must not only be energy-efficient, but also affordable and attractive. The competition attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors and has been held at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. since 2002.
In 2007, like other teams, the Cornell University team touted the energy efficiency of their house—but their team was unique in using their home’s landscaping to harvest ingredients for a six-course dinner, which they hosted for other student teams. During the competition, landscape architecture students and chefs from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration prepared a “Homemade.Local.Sustainable” dinner, using herbs and vegetables grown in planters around the house.
In addition to producing food, the Cornell Solar Decathlon house used landscaping to clean and recycle water from the house’s sinks and shower (grey-water recycling), which increased the home’s water efficiency. Living walls—panels of plants on exterior walls—served to increase the home’s aesthetic appeal and to provide shading and cooling.
The Cornell Team auctioned off their solar-powered house to a private buyer after the Solar Decathlon, and the house is now permanently located on the shores of Cayuga Lake, in the Finger Lakes region of New York. The homeowners periodically open the house to community and student groups, so that the home continues to function as an educational resource. “We even kept the display boards from the competition,” notes the homeowner.