Solar Decathlon 2013 visits Orange County Great Park

The hot air balloon at Orange County Great Park, Irvine during the Solar Decathlon event. The balloon stays tethered while visitors are taken up 100 feet into the air, then lowered again. (Shirley Smith/Lariat)

Shirley Smith

This year the U.S. Department of Energy challenged colleges and universities from around the world to compete by building affordable, energy-efficient and well-designed homes in their competition Solar Decathlon. 

Saddleback College horticulture and landscape design students toured the Solar Decathlon’s 19 energy-efficient houses last Friday which were on display at the Orange County Great Park from Oct. 3 to Oct. 13.

According to Landscape Design Instructor Ken Lee, the Solar Decathlon is held once every two years in Washington, D.C. and finally arrived here on the west coast for the first time.

“This is, I think, the future what we will see in the homes, saving energy, because in the future the world will have many problems with energy.” Omid Angoshtari, a 43-year-old landscape design student said.

The plantings around each home were well thought out and added to the water-efficiency aspect of the challenge. Landscape design students were impressed by the teams’ use of plants.

“I like the choice of native plants that each university brought and incorporated into their designs,” said Fred Velijanian, landscape design major and president of the Saddleback Landscape Designers Club.

Patio tiles from recycled tires with a cushiony feel were featured in the “Harvest House” by team Capitol D.C. from the Catholic University of America, George Washington University and American University. The house with its 80-year-old barn timbers and 95-year-old reclaimed floor from an Ohio Church will be donated to the Wounded Warrior program in Vista, California after the decathlon.

Team Austria from Vienna University of Technology won the People’s Choice Award and said everything in their house was made from all parts of the tree. Camouflage curtains can be pulled for shade in the summer or retracted in winter for warmth from the sun. The ceiling to floor curtains can be pulled for privacy any time of year.

The Missouri University of Science and Technology house docent explained the bi-facial solar paneling outside of the house which collects heat directly from the top and ambient light from the bottom. The roof has solar heating elements to heat house water. Succulent plants placed on the back porch wall can be removed and stored indoors for the winter. This house saves 88 percent more electricity than conventional homes.

To landscape design students, water and energy conservation go hand in hand. Designers are always looking for ways to help future clients find economical answers for some of the increasing high-energy bills.

“One house had a very cool water heating system that the students came up with, which is not commercially available, but I hope they kept the rights on it, because they’ll be able to sell it.” said Laura Bard, majoring in horticulture and landscape design.

One of the favorite houses of attendees was the Arizona State University and University of New Mexico’s house because of the landscaping and cooling alternatives.

“I was impressed with the functionality of the Arizona home and how it conserved energy,” Lisa Cortright, a 47-year-old landscape design student said. “It just kept everything cool. I felt like there was air conditioning and there wasn’t.”

The success and attendance of the decathlon in Orange County will hopefully result in their return in the future.

For more information on the Solar Decathlon visit: or

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