University of Maryland’s WaterShed Opens at Solar Decathlon

WaterShed’s pergola deck is surrounded by native landscaping, an edible garden and two vertical garden walls. [Photo by Jeff Gipson]

WaterShed, an innovative University of Maryland house that blends solar energy efficiency and water conservation, makes its public debut today at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011.

The international competition challenges 20 finalist collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. Installed in West Potomac Park on the National Mall, Washington, DC, the exhibits are open from Friday, September 23, to Sunday, October 2, from 10 am to 2 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 5:30 pm on weekends.

Inspired by the Chesapeake Bay, the power of WaterShed’s design comes from its twin focus on efficient, renewable energy and water quality and conservation, said principal investigator Amy Gardner, an associate professor of architecture at Maryland. It harvests, recycles and reuses water, integrating a unique array of sustainable features into a “micro-scale ecosystem,” including a split-butterfly green roof designed to efficiently capture sunlight and rainwater; constructed wetlands that filter stormwater and greywater with native plants; a photovoltaic array to harvest enough solar energy to power WaterShed year-round; a solar thermal array to fulfill all domestic hot water needs; edible gardens and walls that support community-based agriculture; and a patent-pending indoor, liquid desiccant waterfall (LDW) for high-efficiency humidity control.

The innovative waterfall was first seen in Maryland’s 2007 entry, LEAFHouse, which placed second in the Solar Decathlon. “There was an explosion of interest in the LDW, from the most far-flung and varied of audiences imaginable,” said Gardner. A group of engineering and architecture students and advisors are now pursuing a patent for a prototype cooling system that cuts the humidity in the house by over half.

The Dirt, the blog of the American Society of Landscape Architects, highlighted WaterShed’s sustainable features and praised the project for placing “high value not only on energy efficiency, but stormwater management, water efficiency, and biodiversity too.”

The WaterShed team is led by students, faculty and professional mentors from diverse disciplines, including the School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation; the A. James Clark School of Engineering; the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences; the University Libraries and the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources; with support from Maryland businesses and professional groups.

Update: The University of Maryland’s WaterShed took first place in the competition.

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