Students from the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) came to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon with a CHIP on their shoulders. The Decathlon challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. The SCI-Arc/Caltech team won first place in the 2011 competition with the Compact, Hyper-Insulated Prototype (CHIP) solar house, a net-zero quilted box in which Xbox Kinect adjusts the thermostat, 45 solar panels generate three times more power than the house consumes and quilted vinyl siding both protects and insulates the exterior.
Hanwha SolarOne Co. Ltd., Costa Mesa, Calif., provided major sponsorship for CHIP, which took two years, 100 students and $1 million to build. An exhibition of the CHIP house at the California Science Center in Los Angeles received support from The Vinyl Institute, Alexandria, Va., a trade group representing vinyl manufacturers. The 750-square-foot home is clad in quilted vinyl, resembling a giant down jacket or space suit, and the insulation (or “outsulation”) is stretched around the frame rather than installed inside it. Separating the structural members from the insulation layer, and wrapping the insulation assembly in a flexible vinyl membrane, gives CHIP the high R-values necessary for a net-zero house at a significantly reduced cost.