Although past and present U.S. Solar Decathlons have attracted a diverse and super-talented roster of collegiate teams both homegrown and hailing from further afield, I’ve always found it a bit curious that, for the most part, colleges widely considered to be exceptionally green don't compete. Although there are understandable reasons for this (in many instances, it boils down to the fact that some of the greenest colleges are small liberal arts schools without strong architecture, engineering and tech programs), it would be nice to see deep-green institutions like the University of Washington, Evergreen State College, Warren Wilson College, College of the Atlantic, Green Mountain College, Stanford and Oberlin participate.

Bucking the trend this year is a small school that constantly receives high ranks for on-campus environmentalism: Vermont's Middlebury College. Come Sept. 23, the Middlebury team will join 19 other collegiate teams (the 20th team from the University of Hawaii) dropped out of the competition in June) descending on Washington, D.C., to build the most efficient and most livable solar-powered home. And from the looks of it, Middlebury will be supplying some truly fierce competition in the form of Self-Reliance.


Described as a “21st century New England farmhouse,” Self-Reliance brings on charm and super-efficiency in equal measure. As its name suggests, the Emerson-inspired spirit of ingenuity and independence is evident throughout the 990-square-foot home. From the 30-panel-strong rooftop solar array that provides the home with power to the outdoor planters and a “wall farm” in the kitchen that allow the home’s inhabitants to produce much of their food year-round, strong (and stubborn) “we’ll manage without your help, thank you” New England values dictate the home’s design.


But this isn’t your average hardscrabble Vermont homestead. From the traditional gabled roof to the locally harvested sugar maple floor, Self-Reliance is packed full of state-of-the-art green features including triple-glazed windows with cork insulated frames, an energy-recover ventilator, solar thermal collectors, air-to-air heat exchanger, an energy monitoring system, and recycled newspaper insulation.


A crucial aspect of Self-Reliance is how it responds to the often unforgiving Northeast climate. Explains the team:


 Self-Reliance is designed to respond to its environment. Vermont has a cold climate, which requires sturdy homes with passive solar capabilities. In turn, Self-Reliance has a significant amount of glazing on the south-facing surfaces to allow for natural daylight and heating, but has minimal glazing and small windows on the north, east and west to minimize heat loss. We've also insulated the home with 11-inch thick walls to fight the cold winters. 
And on the topic of winters, the design of Self-Reliance also emphasizes communal living space, areas where the home’s residents — specifically a family of four — are encouraged to “make dinner, do homework, and play a game together.” Because what else are you going to do when you’re snowed in during the dead of a brutal Vermont winter? I can’t imagine a lovelier — and more efficient — place to come down with cabin fever in.
To read more about the home’s design, meet the Middlebury team, and keep up to speed with various Self-Reliance goings-on, head on over to the Middlebury College’s Solar Decathlon website. You can also follow the team on Facebook and Twitter as well as check out the team’s Flickr and Youtube accounts for additional glimpses into the home. And to see Self-Reliance in the flesh, don’t forget that the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon kicks off in Washington, D.C.’s West Potomac Park on Sept. 23 and runs through Oct. 2.

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