Clemson University

Clemson University

Clemson, SC


Clemson Architecture unveils solar-powered, zero-energy SolarD home

Peter Laurence
Dec 15, '14 12:27 PM EST

CLEMSON — The Clemson University team participating in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 Thursday revealed its highly innovative, affordable design and construction methodologies that could revolutionize homebuilding in South Carolina and other Southern states.

Clemson and 16 challengers from colleges and universities across the country have begun the nearly two-year process of building solar-powered houses for the competition. It helps demonstrate technologies and design that save money and energy while protecting local communities and boosting economic growth.

“Our participation in the Solar Decathlon has the potential to significantly advance the standards of design and construction of market-rate, affordable, zero-energy housing in South Carolina and beyond,” said Vincent Blouin, principal investigator for the Clemson Solar Decathlon project and associate professor of architecture and materials science and engineering.

The Clemson team includes more than 100 students and faculty from across the university collaborating on the design, construction and promotion of a prototypical, three-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot, low environmental-impact solar house that is cost-effective in today’s market and comfortable in South Carolina’s climate.

Clemson’s solar-powered and carbon neutral home, called “Indigo Pine,” derives its name from two crops important to South Carolina. Indigo’s rich blue dye symbolizes the state’s tradition and culture. Pine’s sturdy versatility represents the team’s construction approach.

“We have designed a small Southern home for a family that lives big using local materials for global application, user-friendly technology and innovation in existing systems,”said Blouin.

Designed for a family of four, Indigo Pine was envisioned as a family home from the start and, building on this foundation, the team took the traditional concept of a Southern home and began redefining it in contemporary ways.

The team focused on stitching together innovative building methods, Southern personality and local products.

The primary material is wood as it is a renewable, natural resource that is indigenous to the state and has the lowest embedded energy of any structural material.

Dana Graunke, graduate student in architecture, assembles a scale model of the home designed for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015. Credit: Ken Scar, Clemson University

Like a traditional Southern house, it will have a porch, but it will be an integrated part of the whole. While Indigo Pine will look unlike any house before, it will be as welcoming and familiar as any traditional South Carolina home. It also will be equipped with a smart energy-monitoring system that can be operated simply by all family members.

Indigo Pine not only considers operational energy costs, but also the energy cost of the construction process.

After completing Indigo Pine on the Clemson campus, the team will ship nothing from South Carolina to the competition site in California, eliminating the use of energy for transportation. Instead, it will “transport” Indigo Pine via email, a completely carbon-neutral solution.

“We will email our design files to a plywood manufacturer in California, which will then be cut to specification using a CNC machine,” said Blouin. “Our team will take a train to California, pick up the material from the manufacturer, assemble and transfer to the build site.”

The team’s innovative plywood structural system is assembled and fortified through locking joints, wedges and stainless steel zip ties to create a structurally coherent and resilient form that can be expanded, adapted and utilized as a construction method for any home. Additionally, the team will use only man-powered tools on site to further reduce construction energy.

In October 2015, the student teams will showcase their solar-powered houses in Irvine, California, providing free public tours of renewable energy systems and energy-efficient technologies, products and appliances that today are helping homeowners nationwide save money by saving energy.

“Indigo Pine shows how we act locally, but think globally as an inter-disciplinary project,” said Richard E. Goodstein, dean of Clemson’s College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities.“It exemplifies how working across the traditional boundaries between academic disciplines can help solve the problems of everyday life.”

Following the competition, Indigo Pine will remain on Clemson’s campus and continue to be used for education and research in renewable energy.

The Clemson Solar Decathlon 2015 team’s participation is made possible by the generous support of it sponsors. For more information, visit


Clemson University
Ranked No. 20 among national public universities, Clemson University is a major, land-grant, science- and engineering-oriented research university that maintains a strong commitment to teaching and student success. Clemson is an inclusive, student-centered community characterized by high academic standards, a culture of collaboration, school spirit and a competitive drive to excel.