Storm-resistant Solar House

Jersey Shore/SURE House wins US Solar Decathlon.

01 January 2016
Karen Thomas

A 1000-square-foot, solar-powered beach house designed to withstand hurricane-force winds and flooding — as happened with the super storm that devastated the New Jersey and New York shorelines in 2012 — won the 2015 US Solar Decathlon.

A team from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ (USA), a New York City suburb also hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, won with its SURE House, short for SUstainable and REsilient.

The winning design is the team’s contribution to climate-change mitigation and was based on three primary concepts: to use less energy through intelligent design; to be completely solar powered; and to be capable of providing power during electrical outages.

The Stevens team started with a question: how to design a home that both reduces its energy use and adapts to the realities of a changing, more extreme climate? Their answer emerged in a comfortable, beautiful, and storm-resilient house that will become a permanent community outreach and information center in the heart of Seaside Park, NJ, one of the communities most ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Design elements in the SURE/Shore House focus on indoor/outdoor spaces, open views, and durable, sustainable material choices to provide a low-energy, solar-powered, storm-resilient living space for vulnerable coastal communities.

SURE House at dusk at the 2015 US Solar Decathlon in Irvine, CA. Below: Stevens Institute team members celebrate their victory.
Thomas Kelsey/US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Storm-resistant features include multipurpose folding shutters that use building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). These supplement the solar panels mounted on the roof and elsewhere outside the building.

Made with a composite foam core and wrapped with fiberglass, the storm shutters shade the house in hot weather and provide a dense barrier against debris and water during heavy storms. The fiber-composite materials were repurposed from boat materials.

The embedded solar panels collect sunlight when the shutters are open, and the energy is used to power the hot water heater. The PV panels are made from flexible, plastic polymer thin-film cells and are much lighter than the bulky, traditional glass solar panels, making it easier for homeowners to raise and lower the shutters with minimal mechanical intervention. The plastic is more resistant to impact than glass, so the panels are less likely to crack when storm debris strikes.

photo of Solar Decathlon 2015 winners 

“This project was about creating a real, livable residence for families in coastal communities who will be hardest hit by the effects of climate change,” said A.J. Elliott, a graduate student in the Stevens Product Architecture and Engineering program and member of the SURE House team.

“Our design provides a blueprint for the construction of homes that can endure extreme weather and epitomizes the principals of sustainable living.”

In the aftermath of a storm, the house can also provide emergency power with its 9kW integrated solar-power system that can operate independently if the power grid is shut down. The heat pump utilizes DC power from photovoltaic panels to heat water.

As was required by all the homes in the 2015 competition, the SURE House can also power an electric vehicle.


The US Solar Decathlon, a biennial competition sponsored by the US Department of Energy, challenges teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are affordable, energy efficient, and easy to live in.

The 2015 competition was held in October in California, where 17 collegiate teams earned points based on energy efficiencies, livability, affordability, and seven other criteria.

Other Solar Decathlons:

  • Spain hosted the first two European competitions in 2010 and 2012; France hosted one in 2014. The next Solar Decathlon Europe is expected to take place in 2017.
  • The first Solar Decathlon China was held in Datong in August 2013. The next Chinese competition is expected to take place in 2016 or 2017.
  • The first Solar Decathlon Latin America and Caribbean was held in December 2015 in Santiago de Cali (Colombia). The competition focused on public housing projects tailored for tropical climates.
  • The first Solar Decathlon Middle East will be held in October 2018 in Dubai (UAE).

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