Just because the U.S. Solar Decathlon will be playing out for the first time ever in Southern California in a little less than a month doesn’t mean that a formidable contender hailing from the birthplace and longtime home of the biennial event, Washington D.C., can't shake things up amongst the homegrown competition.

While Irvine, Calif. isn’t exactly as, well, convenient for Team Capitol DC — a team, ironically the first city-wide collegiate team from D.C. to compete in a Solar Decathlon, comprised of over 100 students and mentors from the Catholic University of America, George Washington University, and American University — compared to, let's say, the National Mall or West Potomac Park, a few thousand miles and a completely different climate hasn’t interfered with the team's ability to create a SoCal-ready net-zero energy abode for that marries high energy performance with a healing-centric design philosophy.

That being said, of all the 2013 Solar Decathlon homes that I've previewed thus far, this one has the biggest heart by far.

Dubbed Harvest Home, Team Capitol DC’s competing home joins a handful of other 2013 Solar Decathlon entrants in the super-niche target market category. While a handful of these homes emphasize accessibility while targeting the AARP crowd, the LEED-aiming Harvest Home is geared specifically for wounded U.S. military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and, post-competition, will be donated to San Diego County-based nonprofit Wounded Warrior Homes. Serving combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries, Wounded Warrior Homes will head up the selection process when it comes time to find an appropriate client to take up residence in the erstwhile student-designed show home.

The team’s “healing through harvest” philosophy in a nutshell:

Team Capitol DC will use innovative technology and engineering to help heal the environment and the user by creating a net-zero home that harvests as much energy as it produces. The home’s occupant, a U.S. war veteran, will be able to engage in a visual understanding of how to ‘harvest’ and contribute to healing the environment and saving energy through displays provided by our centralized control system. Additionally, the architectural design of the home hopes to create a healing environment for our veteran client. By creating moments throughout the home, Harvest Home will encourage the resident to utilize his or her five senses, connecting to the natural world and establishing a healthy and healing lifestyle.

Holy “H” words, Batman. In terms of the “harvesting,” here’s how it plays out in this holistically designed home that's all about usability, harmony, comfort, and keeping stress at a bare minimum:

  • Harvesting of the sun: To help meet its net-zero energy goals, the home is topped with both a 7.83kW photovoltaic array and flat-plate solar thermal system.
  • Harvesting of energy: Among the 760-square-foot home's many bells and whistles geared to "lower energy usage without disruption to the inhabitant and his or her daily routine" is a heat recovery ventilator.
  • Harvesting of water: Capturing H2O is just as crucial as the capturing of sunlight at Harvest Home. Clad in a rainscreen façade made from salvaged lumber, the home boasts both a rainwater catchment system for landscaping irrigation as well as a 500-gallon greywater recycling system.
  • Harvesting of wind: Passive ventilation-promoting features such as operable windows allow fresh air to pass through the home and play a key role in the overall wellness-centric design.
  • Harvesting of food: Integrated pop-up edible gardens are perfect for homegrown fruit and veggie production and promote "a healthy and self-sustaining life-style" while putting the homeowner in contact with the natural world.
  • Harvesting of materials: Composed of private and public modules centered around generous decks and outdoor living spaces, the home is filled with reclaimed and reused building materials that "help heal the environment while the veteran tenant heals."

And in a departure from the proprietary energy management systems conceived by Solar Decathlon teams for each of their homes, Harvest House’s smart home capabilities also include a sophisticated biomedical suite that collects important vitals on the occupant via a series of unobtrusive activity sensors to better track his or her recovery process: "The home will learn the tenant’s habits — such as sleep and waking times to control for temperature, motion sensors to detect sleep movements to help monitor PTSD-related symptoms — to help the home’s veteran resident to heal, and to promote healthy habits."

After many months of hard work, the completed Harvest Home was unveiled to the public last week at an event on the campus of Catholic University of America and is now in the process of being dissembled and carefully packed up for its cross-country trek to California.

Says team spokesperson Claire Ainsworth in a press release issued prior to the home's public unveiling: “When we first began designing our home, we knew we wanted our house to serve a purpose long after the competition. By creating a home concept that both effectively helps the environment and helps those who have served our country, we believe we have designed a practical and responsible home that we are excited to donate to Wounded Warrior Homes.”

Head on over to the Team Capitol DC team website to learn more about the remarkable Harvest Home. You can also, of course, track the team’s progress via Twitter and Facebook as they ready for the big competition which, by the way, kicks off on Oct. 3 at Great Orange County Park in Irvine. Plenty more information on all 20 teams duking it out for the title of the most attractive, livable and efficient solar-powered home in all the land can be found at the Solar Decathlon home page. And be sure to keep an eye out as I'll be publishing even more sneak peeks of this year's competiting homes over the coming weeks.

More Solar Decathlon stories on MNN:

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Team Capitol DC to hit Solar Decathlon with home that heals, harvests
While how it performs at the 2013 Solar Decathlon is still anyone's guess, Team Capitol DC's Harvest Home wins big points in the altruism department.