Attainable Sustainable Design

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    Case Study 01: Liquid Desiccant Waterfall, UMD 2007 Solar Decathlon Team

    Amy Leedham
    Oct 7, '11 5:59 PM EST

    The 2007 University of Maryland LEAFhouse placed second on the international Solar Decathlon competition, but the innovative interpretation of an environmental technology that resulted in the desiccant waterfall is a perfect example of the possibilities of integrated design.

    (The Solar Decathlon is a bi-annual competition for college teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. It is unique in that the competition entries must actually be built which is an amazing learning tool but also helps to realize design innovations and potential issues with construction. Visit the competition home page to see more)

    Liquid Desiccant Waterfall

    As part of the design’s energy efficiency, the team needed a low-energy system to cool the hot-humid summer air in Maryland. The ingenuity came when they decided to re-design and adapt a technology used in large-scale commercial applications to fit in their small footprint. Additionally, instead of hiding the system, they found a way to make it an architectural feature. The team designed a liquid desiccant waterfall which features in the living room. The system is a desiccant humidifier which helps cool the house by lowering humidity. The system absorbs the un-desired moisture in the air into the liquid desiccant. The liquid is then heated which diverts the moisture out of the system and re-concentrates the desiccant and cycles it back into the house. The genius of the design is that it is simple and based on basic building physics, but also has been integrated into the design to create a calming architectural feature. This is exactly what I mean when I say sustainable design and the world could use a lot more of this type of innovation.


    The application of the desiccant waterfall was so successful, that this years Solar Decathlon winners, borrowed the device from their colleagues. The University of Maryland's Watershed House implemented the desiccant waterfall, in addition to other features like an edible wall system, to win the top US prize.

    Side Note: What is A Desiccant?

    A desiccant is a substance that absorbs moisture. Adding rice to a salt shaker is using the rice as a desiccant. Those little satchels at the bottom of a purse or shoes when you buy them are desiccants. Since many common desiccants are toxic and solid, the team would have had to find a desiccant that is both safe and liquid. I am assuming this is part of their pending patent and part of the genius of the design.

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A discussion on everything to do with sustainable design. From renewable energy to implementing integrated design in professional practice. Case studies, article reviews and green building certification methods and additional resources will all be included.

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