Featured Article

Designing and Building the
“House of the Future”

Question – If you had all the money you needed to build your “dream home”, what kind of home would you build, or have built, for yourself? If you’re like most people it would have at least the following features:

  • It would be attractive and affordable to live in
  • It would make you feel good about “being at home”
  • It would be designed with eco friendly architecture that makes the best use of
    the environment with minimal impact on surrounding ecosystems.
  • It would incorporate renewable energy for independent power generation
  • It would be a teaching and learning tool throughout its existence

Most important is the last attribute and one that most homeowners rarely consider.

A house is more than just a foundation with a wood frame, siding, roof, wiring and plumbing; its overall design becomes a functional part of your life as well as your neighbors and the neighborhood it inhabits. Winston Churchill, England’s Prime Minister during WWII, said “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” and so it is today. A well designed structure generates positive energy and vibes and gives us a feeling of wanting to be apart of it. And our homes should influence us in better living habits through their intrinsic design and construction. But even with our modern tools and materials, designing and building such structures is still a challenge.

Students Can Begin To Design and Build Their Future Home

It’s not too much of a stretch to think that our students can’t tackle a project like designing their “dream home” given adequate directions along with the high tech tools available to them – like a variety of CAD software, laser cutters and 3D printers. Up until now these remarkable technologies have been used independently, but not together. CAD software can design homes and buildings with incredible detail and accuracy – but how does one go about actually building what’s been designed?

Laser cutters are great for cutting plastic and wood and to create intricate engravings – but what other uses can they be put to? And 3D printers can make all sorts of complex models – but has anyone ever thought about using one to design model wind turbine blades that can spin a generator to make power?

That’s what the ecoSTEM HouseTM Collection is all about. It integrates these technologies in order to train students (and their teachers) in how to design “and build” a model house of the future. Plus, it does a few things more like allowing students to build a super-capacitor electric car and adding real time, computer-based energy monitoring to the entire house.

The ecoSTEM HouseTM Collection at a Glance

The ecoSTEM HouseTM incorporates the latest CAD and renewable energy technologies into a reference model home design. Most importantly, it’s something that students can build and learn from directly – then go on to improve the design with their CAD software and laser cutting tools. The ecoSTEM HouseTM is a “hands on” project that gets students away from just working with their computers and into building something of value – with their own hands and minds. Beginning with pre-cut acrylic plastic parts, students assemble the ecoSTEM HouseTM then go on to wire up the roof solar panels, rechargeable batteries, LED ceiling lights and cooling fans. This is followed by assembling a wind turbine that can be used to power the lights and fans. And a modern house would not be complete without an electric car in the car port, so this is where students get to build a SuperCAP (super capacitor) electric car that can be charged using the generated solar and wind power.

The Control Panel is the heart of the energy monitoring feature; with it, all the electrical power sources and loads can be interconnected with eight toggle switches; and with a USB cable connection the energy data is sent to the classroom computer where it can be monitored in real time. Students can turn the solar panels, wind turbines, rechargeable batteries, and LED lights, ceiling fans ON and OFF to see how energy is created by solar and wind power. All of this data are fully graphed on the computer and complete experiments are included.

The most compelling aspect of the ecoSTEM HouseTM is the ability for students to redesign it to their own liking. Using open source CAD software like DraftSight® and our detailed plans, it’s easy and fun for students to create their own model buildings and structures and then add the renewable energy devices for power. The ecoSTEM HouseTM gets students to think about their model home designs and proceed to build and test them on an affordable model scale. You can think of the ecoSTEM HouseTM in the following terms:

Students build it, experiment with it and, most importantly, improve on it!

The Experiments

Just giving students and their teachers something to design and build is not enough; it must be accompanied with experiments that teach students how to test out their models. The ecoSTEM HouseTM Experiment Manual includes in depth experiments with solar panels, wind turbines, rechargeable batteries, LEDs and fan loads – all with the real time energy monitoring software showing how voltage, current, power and load resistance are affected when lights and fans are attached to solar panels and wind turbine power sources.

The ecoSTEM HouseTM is Model for a Real “House of the Future”

By way of life imitating art, actual “livable” homes have now been constructed using the same attributes that are present in the ecoSTEM HouseTM.

A major southern California home builder, KB Home (NYSE KBH), has built a community of energy efficient, solar powered homes in the high desert community of Lancaster, California. Not only do they come with solar panels built into their roofs, they also come with rechargeable batteries to store the solar power during the day. Remember, people use most of their home energy in the early morning hours and after dark – when the sun isn’t shining. Adding rechargeable batteries to the solar panels makes sense for capturing all this solarenergy for later use.

Then there’s the electric car that’s parked in the garage. While the KB home doesn’t come with one, the house wiring is there to accommodate an electric car charging station whenever the home owner gets around to buying one.

And finally there’s the built in energy monitoring system that alerts the family to the energy they’re using on a minute-by-minute basis. Leave a light on in a vacant room or let the air conditioning run while everyone is out of the house?

With the KB home you’ll see what energy is being wasted and, most importantly, what it’s going to cost in real money – and damage to the environment. California’s KB Home and China’s BYD Co. teamed up to showcase solar homes of the future, complete with batteries to store electricity.

By pure serendipity the KB home was designed and built at the same time the ecoSTEM HouseTM was also being designed. The end result is a validation of a future home model that students and teachers can utilize to advance the boundaries of architecture and renewable energy. The ecoSTEM HouseTM has all (and more) of the renewable energy and energy monitoring features found in the KB homes – plus, it comes in model scale so it can be improved upon with CAD software and laser cutting tools – before an actual home is built.

Getting Students Involved In Building for Their Future

Advancing the state of the art of any science or technology comes during times when technologies and needs converge. This is such a time. Students and teachers now have the opportunity to integrate the diverse scientific subjects they’ve been learning about in bits and pieces into a coherent project model that can take hold of their imagination to propel them into career minded activities they haven’t yet experienced. In the recent past kids used to build model planes and cars instead of logging on to the Internet for hours on end. Now the innovative ones can apply their creativity to building the foundations for their future careers in architecture, science and technology – and not give up their computers or iPhone, either – it’s just one more piece of the technological pie that’s become available to those who want to achieve their future dreams.