Meet DALE: An Innovative, Net-Zero Energy Home from SCI-Arc/Caltech

Each year since 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issues a challenge to collegiate teams around the world: create a cost and energy efficient house that is powered by the sun. The Solar Decathlon, is a competition tasking students to design, build, and implement a solar powered structure that achieves net-zero energy in an innovative way. This year, one of the particularly interesting entries came from the SCI-Arc/Caltech team which combined flexible interiors, lightweight materials, and movable modules to create DALE.

DALE stands for Dynamic Augmented Living Environment. (Last year the school’s entry was CHIP!!) This solar powered building designed with green construction in mind is especially innovative in that it is made up of two modules built on rails that can move apart or together to let more or less air and light in. As Aaron Ryan from the Southern California Institute of Architecture explains, DALE “allows California to become our air conditioner during most of the year.” Showcasing a concept that is undoubtedly “by Californians and for Californians,” DALE even allows additional units to be added to DALE to better adapt to the changing lifestyles of its inhabitants.

To make the concept viable while still energy-efficient, choosing the right materials was of the utmost importance. Because the interior reconfigures when the modules move, DALE uses flexible plastic connections (water and electrical), as well as vinyl roofing that’s both lightweight and reflective. What’s more, a soft vinyl was used for the floor because of its durability, which is an important use phase Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) factor. And since homes are used for decades, understanding and designing to maximize energy savings during that actual use phase of the building is hugely important—another LCA factor the SCI-Arc/Caltech team clearly had in mind when designing DALE.