By Michael Connolly, WIR Contributor

Sometimes things that are so futuristic and modern rely on the simplest of materials. That’s why we want to tell you about the Solar Decathlon house designed and constructed by The University of Texas at Austin (UT) and The Technical University of Munich (TUM). They call it: NexusHaus.

The Solar Decathlon is an international competition hosted by the United States Department of Energy, where 20 college teams compete to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.

The teams from Texas and Germany took a look at future energy, water, and food needs for Austin, TX. Students put their heads together to design a home that is affordable, green, and uses sustainable building materials such as Southern Yellow Pine.

More Lumber Means Less Energy


Michael Garrison, professor at the School of Architecture at UT told Wood. It’s Real, “The house is built using certified lumber originating from responsible and renewable logging practices and constructed using advanced optimum value framing (which means only the bare minimum of lumber will be used).”

“Wood requires less embodied energy to manufacture and has a smaller carbon footprint than other building methods. The embodied energy use in the production of the lumber in the NexusHaus design consumed 17% less energy to produce than if we had built the house using metal framing,” Garrison said, citing a Life Cycle Assessment developed by the Technical University of Munich.

Carbon Neutral Construction

“Wood absorbs CO2 and we are using the volume of wood contained in the house to sequester the CO2 generated in the manufacturing of other building materials contained in the house, so the house will be carbon neutral.” Garrison continued, “The sequestered CO2 remains in lumber through the life of the building. Each ton of timber used instead of other building materials (like steel) saves approximately a ton of carbon dioxide.”

(Press the image above to see a slideshow of how students built the deck.)

Southern Yellow Pine will be used to frame both the deck and the house; the exterior of the house and deck surface will be finished in Cedar, said Garrison.

Modular Design for Efficiency

Nexushaus is a modular design, lending itself to easy transportation up and down highways. Each modular section is intended to serve the residents during different parts of the day. One part is will be used in the evening hours, the other for during the day. The two parts will be connected with a wooden deck, which promotes cross ventilation. The team has designed the house to use the benefits of natural energy, sunlight, during different seasons to reduce the need of electricity.

Electricity, Water, and Food

According to the team’s website, the single largest load on Austin’s electricity grid during peak summer hours is used for air conditioning. The Nexushaus will use Integrated Thermal Energy and Rainwater Storage to shift the load from peak hours to earlier hours in the day when the demand for energy is lower.

Students have incorporated designs to capture and store rainwater for drinking, cooking and other potable needs. The home will still have a water line connected to their public water utility but the demand on the utility is expected to drop 75 percent. Collected rainwater will be treated in the house, used for plumbing and used to cool the air temperature. After the water has been used in the house it will be used to irrigate plants around the house.

The water used in the Nexushaus will be recycled on the land, promoting healthy agricultural practices and easing the demand on grocery stores. Consequently, students forecast economic savings on grocery bills for the residents of the house.

The Nexushaus and the 19 other entries to the Solar Decathlon will open to the public free of charge October 8 to 11 and October 15 to 18 in Irvine California. Judging will be conducted afterward.

Images via The University of Texas/Technical University of Munich NexusHaus.