This Innovative Home Provides a New Perspective on Coastal House Plans
Who can forget the intense surging waters of Hurricane Sandy when its torrential force devastated the Eastern Seaboard and decimated coastal towns in New Jersey and New York? As climate change and rising sea levels become hard-hitting realities for coastal environments, people are changing the way they view beachfront properties.
What does the future hold for waterfront homes?
The fascination for ocean views is still there; and the demand for coastal real estate remains strong. But according to the New York Times, buyers are “increasingly asking how far back is it from the waterline? Is it fortified against storm surges? Does it have emergency power…?”
A beautiful 1.5 story, 3-bedroom Beachfront home with spectacular views is built on a raised foundation to protect it from floods, strong tides, and storms. The home also includes 3 baths, a covered front porch, and a sundeck (House Plan #116-1003).
So while architects and contractors continue to build waterfront homes, they are more attuned to the challenges of Mother Nature. They are consciously adapting their designs to create homes that are resilient, durable, and strong enough to withstand severe coastal weather conditions.
Welcome to the SURE House!
When Hurricane Sandy – with its high winds and water surge – exposed the vulnerability of shore neighborhoods, a team of students from the Stevens Institute of Technology, a private university in Hoboken, New Jersey, found the inspiration for their winning entry in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015. The Decathlon is a collegiate competition made up of 10 contests – including architecture – that challenge student teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered houses. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market potential, and energy and water efficiency.
Faced with the challenge of designing an energy-efficient home that also adapts to the realities of a changing, more extreme climate, the team created “a blueprint for the construction of homes that can endure extreme weather and epitomizes the principles of sustainable living.”
The multi-disciplinary Stevens team – comprising 60 students and advisors with backgrounds in engineering, energy efficiency, and architecture, business, communications, management and computer science – spent two years working on and refining plans for the Sustainable + Resiliant (SURE) House.
The SURE (sustainable and resilient) House – designed by a group of students from the Stevens Institute of Technology – is an award-winning modern solar-powered and hurricane resistant beach cottage. Here’s a view of the house at night (courtesy of Stuff).
What’s in the SURE House?
Dedicated to the Jersey Shore families whose homes were ruined by 2012's Hurricane Sandy, the SURE House is designed as a 1960s beach cottage with a sleek modern appeal. With 1,000 square feet of space, two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a spacious Great Room, the house can serve as a safe and comfortable “starter” home for a small family. It has all the traditional features of a coastal home design, or “shore house” – an open floor plan, large windows that allow plenty of natural light into the home, spacious outdoor areas, and flood-resistant elevation columns. What sets it apart from the typical waterfront home is that the SURE House is a low-energy, solar-powered, storm-resilient structure custom-made for vulnerable coastal communities.
In the summer months, its usable space is doubled by opening up to 13-foot outdoor decks – creating an inviting outdoor living room that family and friends can enjoy.
Top: A rendering of the SURE House shows how it opens up to the 13-ft. outdoor living space (courtesy Department of Energy Solar Decathlon). Bottom: Open the huge glass doors of the SURE House – and voila, you have a comfortable outdoor living room where you can relax and unwind or entertain friends (courtesy of Inhabitat).
Top: This 2-story, 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath beach house plan has large windows and doors similar to those in the SURE House. Bottom: The windows and doors open to a comfortable outdoor living area that features a fireplace (House Plan #168-1011).
Behind the Design of the SURE House
The Stevens team looked at sustainability and resiliency (SURE) as one inexplicably bound concept for the home. From its design to the features and materials used, the SURE House remained faithful to three principles:
Energy efficiency through smart design
Resilient energy hub during electrical outages
How were these concepts achieved?
Starting with the exterior, the team used cedar shakes and fiber-composite materials repurposed from boat-building materials for the siding – ensuring the home’s sustainability. Storm-resistant photovoltaic shades made with a composite foam core and wrapped with fiberglass provide the SURE House with plenty of natural light and protect it from the strong rays of the sun in the hot summer months. During the winter – and, in emergency situations – the fiber composite shades fold – and become shutters – sealing the home but providing an abundance of solar power to heat the entire space and keep things running. The shutters also protect the house from water and debris during heavy storms.
There are energy-efficient appliances such as a Turbowash washing machine; a hybrid dryer; an induction cooktop; induction chargers; a heat pump that heats, cools, and dehumidifies the home; plus an energy-recovery-ventilation system that is used to precondition incoming air.
With these components in place and Passive House techniques (a German concept stressing tight building envelopes to reduce air conditioning demands), the SURE House effectively reduced its energy use by more than 90 percent.
The cedar-clad exterior - with its fiber-composite materials – minimizes storm damage and ensures the sustainability of the SURE House, and the shades let in light but prevent overheating (courtesy Department of Energy Solar Decathlon).
Powered solely by solar panels that “capture” energy and protect the home from unwanted energy gains, the SURE House can produce up to 13,000 watts of electricity while on the grid. Even the water heater uses solar energy.
In the event of a power outage – during severe storms and heavy rains – a “hub” constructed by the Stevens team provides emergency power to the community from its integrated solar power system.
Because a battery backup system was not allowed in the Solar Decathlon, the Stevens group equipped the SURE House with “a special inverter that can continue to produce power even after a blackout.” Additionally, there is an outdoor USB charging outlet that allows neighbors to come by and charge their portable devices.
Here’s a look at the solar panels atop the retractable roof of the SURE House and the fiber-composite shutters that protect the house from the sun’s rays in the summer time – as well as storms and strong winds when closed. The closed shutters also block heat loss in the winter (courtesy of Business Insider).
Take a Tour of the SURE House
Just as thorough with the indoor spaces as with the exterior, the Stevens team blanketed the SURE House with twice the insulation in a typical home, installed vinyl flooring, triple-pane windows, and thick walls covered with plastic sheeting for optimum energy-efficiency and air-tight protection against flood waters.
As far as the interior plan is concerned, the SURE House was designed with Jersey Shore living in mind. The Great Room is a sunny and airy welcoming space – ideal for entertaining, relaxing, and cooking, with the kitchen's island equipped with induction cooktops. Like most beach homes, the SURE House links the living room with the outdoors very efficiently – with large glass doors that open to the outdoor decks.
While the SURE House is relatively small, its two bedrooms and flexible open floor design allow a family to live in a safe, secure, attractive, and innovative home.
Top: From the Great Room, there’s a glimpse of the outdoor decks, the Hudson River, and the Hoboken, NJ, skyline. Bottom: The dining and living room areas are designed with a coastal vibe – warm pastel shades mixed with splashes of orange and teal (courtesy of New Atlas).
Top: The Great Room of the 2-story, 3-bedroom beach style home shown earlier features furniture and décor accents that provide a colorful and cheery atmosphere to the space (House Plan #168-1011). Bottom: The SURE House bathroom can be entered from the deck – making it convenient for someone who has just come from the beach to drop off gear in the hallway and proceed directly to the shower (courtesy of New Atlas).
With the concerns about coastal living and climate change top of mind, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Stevens team took a giant step forward and successfully created an energy-efficient, storm-resistant, and appealing beach home.
For their efforts, the SURE House won the 2015 Solar Decathlon – finishing first in seven of the 10 contests in the competition: Architecture, Appliances, Communications, Commuting, Engineering, Home Life, and Market Appeal.
The SURE House after the 2015 Solar Decathlon
After the 2015 Solar Decathlon in Irvine, California, the SURE House returned to a new home in Seaside Park, NJ, one of the coastal towns on the Jersey Shore. Today, it is a permanent community outreach and information center owned by Seaside Park.
As we face the challenges of climate change and rising sea levels, we can look to the innovative perspectives the SURE House presents in designing sustainable and resilient coastal homes.
Footnote: The top photo in the lead image in this article is of the SURE House, Stevens Institute of Technology’s award-winning entry in the Department of Energy’s 2015 Solar Decathlon (courtesy of New Atlas).