Take a Tour of NCSU's Solar Off-Grid House
Courtesy of Laura Bottomley
Did you ever want to visit a solar house, walk around inside and imagine yourself living there? Did you ever wonder how you would cook food, turn on the lights, run your computer, play video games or stay warm in wintertime in a home powered only by the sun?
You may have also wondered, “What does a solar house look like? Does it have huge windows, strange panels, an odd shape?”
Now you can get answers to these questions by visiting a solar house, right here in the Triangle. North Carolina State University has built a fully functioning solar house at 1201 Gorman St. in Raleigh, and opened it to the public for free tours.
Fun for Kids
There's something to interest children of all ages. My younger child loved constructing a windmill and measuring how much electricity he could generate by blowing at different speeds and changing blade angles. My high-schooler learned about the home's solar panel crystalline structure, number of kilowatts produced by different photo-voltaic panels, costs of production and more from the diagrammed signs posted throughout the house.
Both kids were fascinated by the space-age globes in the ceiling. Bottomley demonstrated these solar skylights with a switch that could brighten or dim the home's lighting by angling collectors on top of the roof.
My kids and I were delighted to find a huge deciduous Kiwi vine covering the atrium windows. Bottomley explained to us that the vine gives both cool shade and delicious fruit to eat!
Surprisingly, NCSU's solar house looks about the same as your typical fossil-fueled home, and even seems a bit more luxurious. It features a comfy living room with a fireplace, bedrooms, double-sink bathrooms, a beautiful two-story atrium with French doors and a full granite kitchen.
While it may look typical, the solar house accommodates an array of state-of-the-art, off-grid features that kids will enjoy learning about and exploring. For example, underneath the floorboards are rocks, which store or release heat to either cool or warm your feet as you walk above. Oversize windows bring heat into the atrium, which is circulated throughout the house in the wintertime. In the summertime, the opposite happens, and the heat is absorbed by thick brick or concrete walls.
On the warm July day my children and I visited, it was 95 degrees outside, but when we stepped inside the atrium we felt instantly cool — without any air-conditioning running!
The roof tiles feature a mix of recycled rubber and plastic and, as Bottomley pointed out, six big solar roof panels accommodate larger crystals for more efficient transmission of sunlight into power. However, “the challenge is to get more efficiency,” she says. Currently the home’s panels are only 18 percent efficient.
Even so, the home was fully operational — an inverter converts DC current from the panels to household AC to run the home’s stainless steel high efficiency appliances. Geothermal heating, a windmill and a wood stove also help heat and cool the home.
NCSU's Solar House is an amazing place to discover how renewable energy works to help us live comfortably without fossil fuels. By the time our kids grow up, NCSU's solar house may be a common sight in many Triangle neighborhoods.
The Solar House at NCSU's The Engineering Place is located at 1201 Gorman St. in Raleigh. The Solar House stands just to the right of the McKimmon Center. Plentiful parking is available and free educational tours are available for groups of all ages. The house and will be closed from May 1 to Sept. 1, 2016, and will reopen in the fall for school groups to schedule tours. To schedule a tour, email Laura Bottomley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author and her son, Alexi, toured the NCSU Solar House in July.
Photo courtesy of Lorraine Marie Jorden
The Solar House at NCSU's The Engineering Place is located at 1201 Gorman St. in Raleigh. The Solar House stands just to the right of the McKimmon Center. Plentiful parking is available and free educational tours are available for groups of all ages. To schedule a tour, email Laura Bottomley at email@example.com.
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Photo courtesy of the Museum of Life and Science in Durham