Known as the CHIP house, for “Compact, Hyper-Insulated Prototype Solar House,” the home was designed and built by students of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).
On approach, the CHIP house looks as if it’s been turned inside-out. CHIP wears the heart of its green technology on its sleeve. Most of the home’s exterior is wrapped in insulation, a flexible, quilted vinyl membrane.
It’s this exterior insulation, combined with solar technology, that creates the high R-values necessary for a net-zero dwelling. The home looks a bit like a giant pillow topped with a solar panel hat.
CHIP is equipped with 45 solar panels, enough to provide three times the amount of energy the house consumes. The intention was not only to power the home, but to keep two electric cars up and running as well. As the primary sponsor for the CHIP project, Hanwha SolarOne, from their North American headquarters in nearby Costa Mesa, provided the panels.
It’s not the solar panels that make this 750-square-foot home so distinctive, but the way that the panels, and the entire home’s green technology, are operated. The CHIP home interface uses Apple iPad apps and an Xbox Kinect system as a master command center.
Residents not only can operate the home’s lights and electronic devices, but monitor the home’s energy systems by using natural gestures like pointing and waving their arms. The home is equipped with 3-D cameras, too, that signal light to turn on and off as residents move through the space.
The interior of the home features a single, open space, with living areas defined by a series of platforms, terraces that climb upwards and inwards into the home. Private areas occupy the highest platforms. The open floor plan is arranged around the natural flow of daily activities.
It took more than 100 students, two years and $1 million in funding to build CHIP, although the project team estimates that replicating the home elsewhere would cost about $262,000. You can take a look at the CHIP home, inside and out, at the California Science Center, through May 31, 2012. Free tours are available every weekday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and on weekends from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.