In 2010, University of Illinois students were in the planning stages for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition when an EF2 tornado hit Streator, Ill., demolishing many homes and businesses. Mark Taylor, the architecture professor supervising the students, said that event inspired and motivated the students to focus their efforts on designing a house that could be quickly constructed and assembled to meet the needs of families affected by future tornadoes. They entered the competition with a 1,000-square-foot solar-powered modular house that they called “Re_home.”
Now, after a few years, this project might be coming to reality. With the help of nonprofit organization Habitat for Humanity, Re_homes will be set up in Gifford, Illinois, a community that’s still finding its footing after a terrific twister ripped through the town the past November.
As they wait for Habitat to finalize the number and locations of new homes, Taylor is working with engineering students to carry out an energy analysis to determine the most cost-effective insulation methods for these homes. Once completed, the new homes could represent the optimistic prediction his students included in their 2011 Solar Decathlon presentation: “When disaster strikes, there is always the opportunity to leave the technologies of the past behind and take control of the resources of the future.”
“We like to partner with organizations beyond the university in the hope that what we do will impact their daily activities,” Taylor said. “It also helps us focus on developing practical, cost-effective solutions.”
The three preliminary designs his students have created represent two bedrooms; these family-style plans have three or four. And while Re_home was conceived as a factory-made modular dwelling, the Gifford houses will be built the Habitat way – with volunteer labor.
Re_homes are affordable, safe, and even environmentally responsible. they are packed with solar rooftops and have energy-saving features such as tripled-paned windows, a conditioning energy recovery ventilator (CERV), and a solar shading canopy.
Habitat for Humanity is reportedly still working out the details of these homes, but once they finalize everything, it will certainly allow for towns like Gifford — and perhaps future disaster-stricken areas — rebuild and recover.