Today, as part of my ongoing sneak-peak coverage of the 20 fierce contenders going to battle at next month’s 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon in Orange County, Calif., here’s a look at an entrant that couldn’t be more topical: A resilient and quick to deploy/assemble showcase of sustainable living that’s geared specifically as a permanent housing solution for middle-class families affected by natural disasters.

Although it was conceived in direct reaction to an EF-4 tornado that struck Henryville, Ind. in March 2012, the Phoenix House from Team Kentuckiana (composed of students and faculty from the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky, and Indiana’s Ball State University) isn’t just a solar-powered prototype home for Midwestern families displaced by twisters. Thanks to its modular design, capable of being rapidly assembled on a temporary foundation in about a week, the Phoenix House can potentially be deployed following a range of natural disasters and emergency situations.

Disasters devastate communities, placing the residents’ lives on hold, during the arduous climb back to normalcy. Disaster Relief is the design focus of the Phoenix House. The phoenix is a symbol of resurrection, a rebirth from destruction. Survivors of natural disasters have a vision for the future, and are inspired for a new home better than the one before. Just as the phoenix rises from the ashes, so too will people rise from disaster to begin a-new in the Phoenix House. The Phoenix House is a permanent and sustainable post-disaster housing prototype that can be quickly deployed for the families that have lost their homes to disaster. These homes will be producing their own power, and if needed their water can be deployed well before the community infrastructure is restored. When grid connected, the distributed generation of sustainable power will improve the homeowner and community with a much more robust and 'green' infrastructure.

Boasting a 7.6kW rooftop photovoltaic array, greywater treatment system, high-efficiency HVAC system and appliances, energy recovery ventilator, operable windows, and LEDs, the Phoenix House is no doubt high-performance. However, it's also chock-full of the same energy-saving bells and whistles found in other Solar Decathlon homes. What sets this compact abode, a truly self-sufficient place of sanctuary where “people to restart their lives after disaster,” apart is how it addresses safety, security, and resiliency.

To that end, Phoenix House, with its earthquake- and tornado speed wind-resilient steel chassis and structural insulated panel (SIP) construction, features a more robust envelope than conventionally framed homes. And get this: the bathroom, while perfectly lovely on its own, also doubles as a safe room/weather shelter that, thanks to a steel door, small laminated window with shatter-resistant glass, thick walls, and reinforced ceiling, provides the home’s inhabitants with “a place of refuge as peace of mind in the face of future dangers.”

The home’s attractive exterior is clad with an attractive cement panel rain screen and reclaimed wood siding that are both durable and low-maintenance. Up on the pitched, a standing seam roof a wind-resistant metal frame anchors the 27-panel PV array. Inside, the home’s deceptively spacious open floor plan is all about flexibility, an important aspect for families rebounding from natural disasters, with numerous pieces of transformer furniture, ample storage space, and the ability to comfortably accommodate overnight guests.

And while Phoenix House is designed as a shelter in which to recover from and/or ride out damaging displays of nature, it also embraces Mother Nature in her more even-tempered moments with extensive outdoor living spaces including an oversized kitchen deck/garden, a generous front porch, and shade/privacy-providing grapevine walls that encloses the master bedroom's private patio.

You can learn more about Solar Decathlon Team Kentuckiana’s Phoenix House and its various features at the team website. And be sure to keep up to speed as the big event in the O.C. draws nearer at the team’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. And it's worth pointing out that while Phoenix House won't actually be populated be a family displaced by a natural disaster following the competition (it will return to the University of Louisville campus where it will serve as a sustainable demo home), Team Kentuckiana hopes that the prototype will further open up the dialogue about the crucial role of sustainable, permanent prefab housing in the wake of tornados and other weather events.

Plenty more information on all 20 collegiate teams competing to build the most attractive, livable, and efficient solar-powered home in all the land can be found at the 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon homepage. And for the record, the big event kicks off on Oct. 3 at its new home, Great Orange Park in sunny Irvine, Calif.

Do you have an early favorite that you'll be rooting for when the 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon commences? Have any of the homes that I've previewed over the past several weeks particularly resonated with you?

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