Will This House Withstand The Next Sandy?

SIT students are competing to construct a building that's resilient, energy-efficient--and damn good-looking

Inside a warehouse on the Hoboken, New Jersey waterfront, an eclectic group of Stevens Institute of Technology students is designing and building a house. Their goal: to turn their blueprints into a storm-resistant, solar-powered building that generates more power than it consumes–and then break it apart and ship all the pieces to Orange County, Calif.

The student-led team calls itself SURE House, and their goal is to sweep the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon contest. Two years ago, Hurricane Sandy surged over the East Coast shoreline, knocking out power and flooding Hoboken. The SIT students hope to construct a building that can survive this type of devastation. They presented their watertight “SURE House” design to the public on Wednesday, August 27. It includes shutters that can be fastened over the house in preparation for a storm, and folded into a solar-panel canopies during good weather. Even if the grid goes down, the solar panels on the canopies, and more on the roof, can keep air circulating, water heated, and devices charged. The house also has an external charging port so its residents can help out their less well-prepared neighbors.

To reduce the building’s energy needs, it has insulated walls, an efficient air circulation system, and well-oriented windows (placed to maximize sunlight during the winter and minimize it during the summer). In fact, the solar panel system should gather enough juice to power the sustainable house and charge an electric car to boot.

That electric car isn’t just a whim. It’s a requirement in the Solar Decathlon competition. In a year, the SIT students will pack their completed house into shipping crates and send it to Irvine, California, where it will face off against other attractive, cheap, solar-powered buildings, constructed by collegiate teams from all over the world. Will the SURE House’s storm resistance give it an edge?

To find out, you can follow along with the house’s construction. The SIT students will be chronicling their progress at popsci.com/solardecathlon.