Interview: Karin Stieldorf, Coach of Solar Decathlon Winners Team Austria

| by David Serchuk
Interview:  Karin Stieldorf, Coach of Solar Decathlon Winners Team Austria

“We wanted to win, of course, but that was the biggest surprise, also,” said Karin Stieldorf. Stieldorf was the faculty advisor for this year’s winning Solar Decathlon team, Team Austria, from the Vienna University of Technology. Team Austria, in its first year in the competition, scored 951.9 out of a possible 1000 points, and was awarded the crown Oct. 12 

Now that the immediate hubbub of the competition has abated, at least a little, we spoke with Stieldorf—whose day job is associate professor of the school’s Sustainable Planning and Design Group Department for Architecture and Design—and learned what went into making a winning team and home. Team Austria scored well in virtually all the categories, and had one first place finish, for communications.

The Solar Decathlon is a biannual contest that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The U.S. Dept. of Energy sponsors the competition.  

Stieldorf said Team Austria’s house was unique because of its combination of technical and aesthetic aspects. The house was called the LISI house, which stood for Living Inspired by Sustainable Innovation

Specifically, one outstanding feature of the house was its twin terraces, on either side of the home. These provided shade, which was important given the competition was held in sunny Irvine, Calif. At the same time, these terraces nearly doubled the relatively small amount of living space in the house. “For California this is a good thing,” she said. “For many days during the year you can really use the terraces.”

The home also had large sliding doors on both the south and north sides of the home, which could be opened completely onto these same terraces.

Inside Team Austria's LSI House

An enormous amount of forethought went into the planning and design of the house. This planning started at the university two years ago, as the students, and Stieldorf, worked together to try to create a useable design that could also be shipped vast distances and built on site. They also had to account for the fact that California’s climate is vastly different, and warmer, than their own. (One example of how they compensated: in Europe a comparable home would not be open on both sides, as this one was, but only on the south side.)

Another issue: they shipped the entire house from Austria, and everything had to fit into standard shipping containers. “Everything was able to fit into six shipping containers,” she said. “It was designed to, and it did.”

The next challenge: constructing the home on site. “In our project everything was done by students, no contractors or companies,” she said. “Most of the other teams had help from professionals.”

In total there were 47 people from Team Austria on site, and the students typically ranged from 25 to 27 years old.

Members of Team Austria

Once the house was built there were a few surprises. One big issue was that it was hard to keep the temperature of the home evenly regulated. The expected tolerance for temperatures inside the home was expected to hover between 72.3 degrees Fahrenheit, and 75.9.  “This is a very narrow range that we are not used to,” she said. One low-tech way they regulated temperatures was simply by judiciously opening or closing windows. It worked. “In the end we had the best energy balance of all the buildings.”

Another surprise: they finished fourth in the architecture competition, a let-down. “I thought that was one area where we would be very strong,” she said.

Now that the competition is over the home is to be deconstructed on site and then shipped back to Austria, where it will be placed in an exhibition site outside of Vienna, and presented to the public. “My personal aim is to tell the public that good architecture  can also be energy efficient,” she said. “And that energy efficient buildings can also be good architecture. This is a message we can transport back.”


Topics: Building Green, GREAT GREEN HOMES, Heating & Cooling, Home Design & Plans, Solar Power, Sustainability Trends & Statistics, Windows

Companies: U.S. Department of Energy


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