This paper discusses the design and building process of a net-zero energy solar-powered house developed for the 2013 Solar Decathlon competition to promote high-performance design while using traditional passive strategies. This project, sponsored by the Department of Energy, brought together students from architecture, engineering, and marketing departments to design and build the house of the future. The challenge was to design a net-zero energy completely solar-powered house that is economically viable, aesthetically pleasant, and completely functional as well. Given that a net-zero energy building will rely on the functional interdependency of a building's passive and active elements, the UNC Charlotte entry—the UrbanEden house—tried to effectively integrate those elements and deliver a best practice. To that end, the building envelope embraced passive strategies to minimize the annual heating and cooling loads and to optimize natural lighting. Several design ideas were tested via energy simulation to optimize energy and comfort performance. The estimated energy demand led into the design of the photovoltaic system, which has the dual function of producing energy and acting as a shading device. The modular configuration of the house accommodated the transportation of the house across the country while enhancing the future expansion of the house for bigger size applications. Daylighting simulation was performed to finalize the building openings and address the lighting needs. This paper reports a way of effectively designing and constructing a net-zero energy, comfortable, and affordable solar house.

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Author notes

Mona Azarbayjani, PhD, LEED AP, Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, College of Arts + Architecture, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Email: (corresponding author).

Ben Futrell, LEED AP, Lecturer/Research Associate, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, School of Architecture.

Valentina Cecchi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Thomas A Gentry AIA, LEED AP, CDT, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, University of North Carolina Charlotte.

Abasifreke (Aba) Ebong (PhD), EPIC Professor, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.