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Student-Designed Solar Home to Serve as University Veterans Center

An award-winning solar-powered home designed and constructed by Stevens Institute students will open as a veterans center on a university campus in California next fall.

Stevens Ecohabit under construction, Summer 2013. Photo provided by Stevens Institute of Technology.
Stevens Ecohabit under construction, Summer 2013. Photo provided by Stevens Institute of Technology.

An award-winning solar smart house, designed and built by an interdisciplinary team of Stevens Institute students, will serve as a veterans center on the campus of California State University in San Marcos, the university announced in a statement.

Stevens donated the 1,000-square foot home, which features a conference room, kitchen, lounge and event space, for use by the California university’s large military-affiliated student population.

Ecohabit, as the home is dubbed, will function as a facility for veterans, service members and reservists to obtain GI benefits, register for courses, and access campus and career services.

Conceptualized and constructed in Hoboken over the past two years by a team of 61 Stevens graduate and undergraduate students, the home took fourth place overall, and second among U.S. entries, in this year’s 19-team U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, which tasks global university teams to create affordable, energy-efficient solar-powered houses.

“The opportunity to turn ‘Ecohabit’ into a functioning facility for returning veterans made the Solar Decathlon competition a truly meaningful experience for our students,” Michael Bruno, dean of Stevens’ School of Engineering and Science, said in a statement.

Ecohabit, which is equipped with solar shingles, a rainwater harvesting system and energy-saving heating, cooling and plumbing systems, was designed to be more than a physical domicile for its occupants, explained team communications manager Zak Moy.

The home actually learn from its occupants.

“The smart detection system might notice that every morning at 7 a.m., you’re getting hot water for a shower, so it’ll learn that every day at 7 a.m., it should have hot water ready for you,” Moy, a 2013 Visual Arts and Technology graduate, explained.

Every room in the house has a detector the size of a fire alarm that monitors humidity, temperature and movement, and responds accordingly to maximize efficiency. Occupants can easily track how much energy they’re producing and using, and what appliances are drawing the most power.

For example, if you’re doing multiple loads of laundry on a rainy day, the system may suggest saving a load for the following day when the forecast calls for sun and there will be more energy available.

“We really wanted to embrace that smart house idea, living with the home,” Moy said. “Our slogan is to ‘Live, learn and grow with Ecohabit.’ Because we ultimately wanted to have people feel that they were part of the home and that the home was part of them, that they were existing together.”

Students and university officials broke ground on Ecohabit’s new home on the CSUSM campus on Veterans Day. It’s expected to be in use as a veterans center by next fall.

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