FutureHAUS Dubai is a housing research prototype developed for the Solar Decathlon Middle East Competition that was hosted by DEWA. This solar powered, energy efficient, smart home, produces more energy than it uses and proposes a new way of building and living. The prototype is a testbed, utilising advanced CNC technologies, industrialised processes, and prefabrication strategies to allow for the production of higher quality and electronically sophisticated, plug and play house modules.
The innovative home won first place overall in the competition, including first place in the sub contest for Best Architecture for exploring the seamless integration of smart technology in the home.
After nearly two years of research and development, the FutureHAUS Dubai team officially built the world’s best solar home with contributions from over 100 Virginia Tech students and faculty. Led by Joe Wheeler, architecture professor and lead faculty of FutureHAUS Dubai along with Bobby Vance, Visiting Professor and and Program Manager at Virginia Tech, the American team earned first place over 14 other selected teams and more than 60 total entrants of the 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East, a competition launched by the United States Department of Energy in collaboration with Dubai Electricity & Water Authority.
The competition aimed to accelerate research on building sustainable, grid-connected, solar homes and combined the efforts from Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies, College of Engineering, Myers-Lawson School of Construction, Pamplin College of Business, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, College of Science, and various institutions within.
In addition to winning first place overall, the team earned first place in architecture and creative solutions, second place in energy efficiency and interior design, and third place in sustainability, engineering and construction. The success of this project was largely due to a reliance on interdisciplinary knowledge between team members in Dubai and those in Blacksburg.
Beyond the Middle East competition accolade, FutureHAUS Dubai proposes to revolutionise home building in an effort to challenge the status quo of traditional methods, and aims to address real impeding problems where housing demand increases with finite resources. The hurdle was to overcome a revenue driven industry that has little room for innovation and change. Hence, at Virginia Tech, the team were given space to innovate, without the pressure of generating immediate profit. In turn, companies collaborated and funded the team to use the house as a test bed for new ideas that they may not otherwise be able to explore.
With full support from industry partners, including top sponsors such as Dupont, Dominion Energy and Kohler, the team sought solutions to save water and energy, eliminate waste in the homebuilding process, and use smart and accessible technology.
It’s what attracted Dominion Energy’s now-retired executive vice president and chief innovation officer David Christian, a Virginia Tech mechanical engineering alumnus from the class of 1976, who spent the last week of the competition with the team in Dubai. “The house reflects a tremendous amount of thought and work, all kinds of details and all kinds of innovations,” Christian said. “Dominion is an innovative company, and becoming even more innovative as we speak, so participating in a project like this — it’s a win win.”
FutureHAUS was built as separate but compatible “cartridges” that were equipped with walls, floors, ceiling, wiring, plumbing, and finishes all in one. These customisable cartridges can be shipped on only five trailers and easily put together with a plug-and-play approach. The world-renowned Center for Power Electronics at Virginia Tech supported FutureHAUS Dubai to create an electric spine that connects the house cartridges and link them to the mechanical room that contains the electrical systems, including heating, ventilation, and the air conditioning system. They also sought to integrate secure smart systems into the house and took an innovative approach towards landscaping, ensuring that the home would allow for disabled and aging-in-place accessibility as well.
The efficiency of this modular, prefabricated building process was proven at Solar Decathlon Middle East where the structure was erected in under two days. The team was the first to connect their house to the communications network, first to set up the competition’s monitoring systems, and the first to connect to the electric grid on site. They were awarded bonus points for completing all required inspections by the end of the two week construction period.
With the competition behind them, the team have already begun researching what it would take to scale up production in a factory setting, as they are fueled by the belief that FutureHAUS has much growth ahead in the coming years.