Unit 6 Unplugged
Tidewater Virginia's Unit 6 Unplugged, designed for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011, is a modular house that blends seamlessly into a historic center-city neighborhood. Unit 6 is conceived of as part of a larger, six-unit multifamily building. By sharing infrastructure costs between units of the building, this energy-efficient house is made more affordable.

Design Philosophy
The architecture of the house draws inspiration from the arts and crafts-style homes found throughout the center-city neighborhoods of Norfolk, Virginia. The house consists of three sections: a pergola integrated into the utility core, a main module with the solar panels and porch, and a living space that features nearly floor-to-ceiling windows.

Features
Although Unit 6 integrates easily into existing neighborhoods, the solar-powered house is special in many ways. Notable features include:
A small circulation corridor that divides the service and work section of the house from its relaxing and living areas
A transformable porch with motorized windows that allow it to be open to the outside or an enclosed sunspace
A rain screen cladding made of medium-density overlay plywood panels and vertical battens.

Technologies
The technical design of Unit 6 is focused on value engineering using technologies that achieve high performance at relatively low cost. The key technological components of Unit 6 include:
Highly efficient photovoltaic modules that convert more than 18% of sunlight into electrical energy
Window and door sensors that provide security system information and prevent the HVAC system from operating when either is open
A hot water storage tank that replaces the auxiliary heating coil with an inline heater to minimize losses
Light switches powered by remote transmitters that can be placed anywhere in the house and never require replacement batteries.

Market Strategy
The team selected Norfolk's young professionals, which include substantial numbers of recent graduates and military personnel, as its target market for Unit 6. However, the appeal of living in a walkable historic center-city neighborhood is large. The project's parallel development as a model for multifamily residential design appeals to a much larger market of older professionals and young families interested in moving to or staying within the partner neighborhood.

What's Next
After the competition, Unit 6 will return to Norfolk, where it will serve as a design studio shared by architecture and engineering students from both schools. This will continue the collaboration between disciplines fostered by Solar Decathlon 2011.

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  • Nadezhda Nikolova
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