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When? September 2008 - December 2009

About Cornell’s 2009 Solar Decathlon Entry: The Silo House

The Silo House is a energy-neutral, solar-powered, student-designed and built home for the 2009 Solar Decathlon Competition on the National Mall in Washington, DC.  I joined the team as a freshman member, but was promoted to a team leader position by the end of my freshman year (the other team leaders were seniors and graduate students).  I designed the home’s entertainment, automation, energy monitoring, and control systems.  The Silo House is an architectural throw-back to the grain silos that can be found all around NY State.  The CorTen steel that makes up the home’s three unique “silos” was intentionally rusted both to match the upstate-NY aesthetic, and to improve it’s durability and weather resistance.

My Role

Solar Home Control System
Silo House Control Infrastructure

I led the Silo House Controls Team.  Specifically, I designed the home’s entertainment system, electrical load monitoring system, automation system, and remote monitoring system.  I also designed much of the Silo House Website.

The home’s automation system is designed to ensure that the home consumes as little power as possible, without interrupting the daily activities of the user.    I designed a central control closet for the home, which houses a server, the home’s smart load-balancing panel, and networking equipment for connecting to the home’s various control interfaces.  The central server maintains state information about all of the home’s lighting, window shade positions, alarm systems, and automation schedules.  Based on environmental and temporal information, it can adjust the home’s LED lighting automatically and control the window shades.  Two touch panels in the kitchen and bedroom interface with the server and allow for manual control of the home’s systems, while an HD TV and media center in the living room allows you to control everything in the home even while watching a movie.  The entire system can be controlled from anywhere in the world using a smartphone.  I demo the system in the video below.

In addition to allowing for advanced home automation, the home’s control system is also a fully featured entertainment system.  The central server maintains a repository of music that can be streamed to any room in the house using the same touch panels that are utilized for automation.  A set of speakers in each room allows multiple inhabitants to listen to different music.  In the living room, I built a home theater PC from scratch to be as energy efficient as possible (see a video of me building it below).  It utilizes a super low power processor, a solid state hard drive, and a high-efficiency power supply.  All media content is stored on the home server, and is streamed to the home theater system over a gigabit ethernet network.  The TV is capable of detecting presence in the room, and will automatically turn itself off if you leave the room for more than 5 minutes.

The final piece of the puzzle is the C-E-Systems Smart Load Panel, which I interfaced with our home’s control and remote monitoring system to permit for highly accurate measurement of the Silo House electrical circuits.  The panel monitors consumption on each circuit and displays it in a dashboard that is accessible on the home’s television  It can even make intelligent decisions about when to switch circuits on or off based on hours of peak energy energy demand and when our solar array is being-overstressed.  During the competition, I designed a live graphing widget for the Silo House webpage capable of displaying the consumption of each device in the house in real time.

Time Lapse of the Silo House Construction

Department of Energy Virtual House Tour

The Silo House Automation System

Building the Silo House Home Theater PC

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