Last fall, 20 college and university teams from the U.S. and abroad gathered in Washington, D.C., to take part in the 2009 Solar Decathlon. Sponsored by the DOE, the competition involves designing and building a compact home powered exclusively by the sun; the participants assembled their prototypes in a temporary Solar Village on the National Mall for judging. Among them was a group from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, which entered the contest with a very specific ambition: to design an affordable Southern vernacular home rugged enough to resist hurricane-force winds. “From the beginning,” says faculty advisor Geoff Gjertson, “we wanted to build not just this one house, but a house that people in our region would really want to live in — a prototype for good, affordable housing that’s also sustainable. The FEMA trailer is what we don’t want to see.”

The resulting BeauSoleil Home (beausoleilhome.org) took first place in the Market Viability category. It also nailed the informal People’s Choice award, which bodes well for its future prospects. Built with SIPs, it uses a cistern for water needs and incorporates passive-ventilation techniques typical of traditional homes in Louisiana — “real...

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