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London Met students propose SunBloc House

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Sole UK entry to 2012 Solar Decathlon competition.

The UK’s sole entry to this year’s international Solar Decathlon competition comes from students of the Faculty of Architecture and Spatial Design at London Metropolitan University. Students are currently working on a proposal for SunBloc House, a prototype design for single family inhabitation. Last week Footprint attended a work-in-progress presentation on the design presented by two students from the team, known as Heliomet.

The competition challenges students to ‘design, build and operate a fully sustainable house in Madrid, using the latest in energy efficient technology’. The house will be used as an exhibition space in Madrid and ideally will then function as a dwelling for a family. The house must be a showcase for innovation and architecture, as well as a financially viable and suitable energy model for the home.

The team presented a number of design iterations working with various historical references as concepts: the Ford model T car designed with component parts and several houses built during the 1970s oil crisis.

The current design proposes a light weight structure, which can be sited on existing buildings with minimal structural concerns. Using digital fabrication methods, the design will be constructed in stages.

The primary construction material will be EPS foam. This choice is based on later subsituting this for Biofoams made from natural sugars when larger quantites will be more accessible; they are currently in prototype stages only. EPS foam is broken down and turned into plastic pellets after use.


Energy Strategy:

Using PassivHaus as a model for the energy strategy, the team is proposing a number of complex energy systems to run the house:

  • Aerosmart M unit.
  • PV-T Air system with plenum ducts running behind PVs. This increases the efficiency of the PVs by cooling them and providing hot air for the Aerosmart M unit.
  • Phase change materials manufactured to have a latent heat switch point at 23 degrees in order to extract heat from the room and then to be released at night.


Issues raised by those who attended included the feasibility of simply replacing EPS foam for Biofoams in the future; the make-up of these materials are fundamentally different and the hydrophobic nature of EPS drew concern. Structural properties and flamability of EPS was also questioned, particularly when the idea of stacking mutliple houses was suggested.

Other current ideas being discussed within the team include using grey water tanks to deal with the lack of weight to the material and adding biowalls to the facade of the house.

Ideas put forward by those present at the presentation considered looking at the embodied energy of the scheme as well as the operational energy of the house and the real-life costs of the house. While the team had calculated the materials and manufacture as relatively low, renewables at the quantities proposed would significantly add to the overall project cost.

The competition is EU-funded and is organised by the Secretary of State for Housing and Urban Development at the Spanish Ministry of Public Works. A 1:1 prototype section of the house will be on show at Ecobuild this year.

Consultants working on the project:

  • Structural Engineers - AKT
  • Environmental engineers - BDSP Partnership
  • Fire engineers - Ramboll Safe
  • Quantity Surveyors - Gardiner and Theobald


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