A sustainable life doesn’t have to be complicated, uncomfortable or expensive. This is the motto of TU/e student team VIRTUe, which is building a house to demonstrate this idea and to compete for the main prize at the Solar Decathlon Europe in Wuppertal. In October, the house will be completed and will first be displayed on TU/e campus, after which it will be transported to Wuppertal in June 2022. Last Friday, the team presented its final design.
“The key element of the city is the people who live there. If they don’t live sustainably, it’s going to be difficult – even if all of the elements for a sustainable city are present,” says Willem Arts, spokesperson for the VIRTUe student team. The group of students from Eindhoven University of Technology therefore began with the following question: can our living environment make our behavior more sustainable, both inside and outside the home? Arts: “Social innovation – rather than just technical – is essential to this.”
“If people can collectively make it the norm that they consume less energy, water and resources, only then can we make a real difference – and this starts with the thoughts of those who design buildings, homes and streets,” Arts explains. He continues: “Many people think that it’s complicated, expensive and not worth the effort to live sustainably. Ripple, as our new concept is called, features technologies and techniques that make it easier for people to take a step toward sustainability.”
As a result of this, the team has conducted research into the motivations behind sustainable behavior. For many people, the additional responsibility, effort and costs are the biggest obstacles to a behavioral change. In order to tackle these specific obstacles, VIRTUe has introduced shared mobility, urban agriculture and public spaces with shared facilities. Arts: “This is how we bring back the feeling of solidarity and encourage people to work together for a better world.”
The house design consists of two apartments which can be attached to an existing building. The building is adaptable and can therefore easily be given a different function in the future. Solar panels in the roof and the facade provide a completely self-sufficient home. There are also bird’s nests hidden in the facade, which should stimulate biodiversity in the city. Arts: “After all, living among green stimulates green living.”
A solar boiler combined with a heat pump warms the house and automatic solar shutters regulate the heat. Phase change materials keep the heat in for longer. In order to reduce the collective carbon footprint, larger equipment has been installed in the common area.
Electricity use in the home is minimized by smart technologies such as EQUI. Arts: “For us, EQUI is really the next step in energy saving, especially because an energy source like the sun is highly fickle and does not match our consumption.” This self-designed smart display in the common area schedules certain energy-guzzling processes, such as laundry, for times when the sun is shining brightly.
The team is also looking at the problem on a larger scale. Arts: “Social connections are important when it comes to influencing others and passing on the sustainable lifestyle. This aspect is therefore an important part of our concept.” To this end, the team is designing an app that gives users advice on sustainable choices while setting goals. The app will obtain this information from the house and the phones of the residents but also from the share facilities in the city, for instance. The app will be accessible and available to everyone. Arts: “Through this, we want to keep the movement going. The name Ripple comes from this element of dispersion.”
The VIRTUe team is participating in the Solar Decathlon for the second time. During the competition in Dubai in 2018, the team managed to earn sixth place with their design called LINQ. This year in Wuppertal, VIRTUe is competing against 17 teams from universities around the world. The students, composed of both part-time and full-time working students, will work on their house for a total of three years.
The mission of the competition is always the same: design and build a sustainable solar-powered house. The goal is to encourage innovation and collaboration between students and companies. All houses are exhibited during an expo. In order to prove the potential of the designs, the teams have to complete assignments and give tours to visitors, experts and judges.
The TU/e team is assisted by both TU/e professors and professional partners that support the students’ work. This year, for example, VIRTUe is working with well-known names such as Paul de Ruiter Architects, Royal Haskoning and Sweco, and is part of a grant program from the European Union and the province of North Brabant. Eindhoven-based construction company Stam + De Koning is supporting the team in the construction.