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Tour the University of Minnesota's ICON Solar House September 16-18 on the U of M St. Paul campus

The University of Minnesota was one of twenty national and international teams chosen to participate in Solar Decathlon 2009, a competition to design, build and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar house.. Minnesota titled their home the ICON. The design and construction has been a two-year process that began in December 2007. For three weeks in Oct 2009 the ICON will stand on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. participating in 10 competitions while open to the public for tours.

Hirshfield's products selected for compatibility with design

We are pleased to share that Hirshfield’s was asked to be involved in this project as a supplier of energy-efficient window treatments and environmentally responsible paint finishes.

Hirshfield’s Pro-Z VOC FREE Eggshell paints were provided. The top coat color selected by ICON’s designers was color Sphere 0013. Sugar Dust 0011 selected for used as the top coat on the ceiling. Hirshfield’s ProZ line of paint is a ZERO VOC, conforms to USGBS standards for VOC emissions and is GREEN WISE certified. ProZ provides a durable finish with good hide and touch up and is available in 2,000 custom colors. ProZ is a remarkable innovation from Hirshfield's paint and a great pick for the ICON.

In collaboration with Warrens Steven Window Fashions and Hunter Douglas, Hirshfield’s contributed Duette Cellular Architella Duolite shades with Lite Rise for ICON’s window treatments. This Duolite shade combines both a room darkening fabric and a sheer fabric in one shade. The top fabric on the shade is Whisper, a Sheer 3/4" cell in color Chiffon. The bottom fabric is Architella Classic, an Opaque 3/4" cell in color Linen. Outstanding energy-efficiency is achieved through the combination of the insulating R-Value of the Duette Architella and the window itself with a total R-Value of up to 7.18. LiteRise is the child-safe cordless operating system from Hunter Douglas. There are no strings or cords hanging lose off this shade. This makes for clean noninvasive esthetics, a great option for the safety of children and pets and with gliding ease of use. This variety of fabrics and options made Duette Architella a superior selection for ICON’s window treatments.

The local Twin Cities community will get a sneak peek of the ICON Solar House during free public tours September 16-18, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. The house will be located at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus on the north side of Buford Place just east of Gortner Avenue. Visitors should park in the University's Gortner Avenue Ramp and follow the signs. (From the ramp, turn left on Gortner Avenue, walk past Buford Avenue, and turn right on Buford Place.)

The U's team will be practicing for the public tours they will give during the Solar Decathlon competition in Washington, D.C. in October.

more info here

A New Icon for Solar Homes

The University of Minnesota's Solar Decathlon 2009 team has created a solar house with an iconic new look to meet the challenges of heat loss in an extremely cold climate.

The gabled roofline, resembling a "real" house, is one of the features designed to appeal to a large group of eco-conscious consumers who might not want to live in a "futuristic" house. By shifting the roof line slightly, the team has taken a traditional design and modified it to create easy access for solar energy collection.

Mechanical engineering student and Solar Integration Team Lead Josh Quinnell says that the team has never forgotten that it's really designing this house for consumers, who might be willing to make lifestyle changes or buy different products if they think it's easy and comfortable. "The public can look at our house and see one they identify with. It's a house that anyone could live in with things that go in a normal home, not the EPCOT Center," Quinnell adds.
The Team

More than 150 students are part of the Minnesota Solar Decathlon group. Team members report that working with others—from fields of study ranging from architecture and mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering to construction management and graphic and interior design—has been both challenging and rewarding. The team also says this project will allow them to graduate with both theoretical knowledge and experience applying that knowledge to a large-scale project.

The ICON House

Because of Minnesota's cold winters, the team set out to design a house that uses as much "free" heating from passive solar sources as possible. It then created a tight building envelope (walls and roof) that keeps the heat from escaping.

The design includes large areas of insulated glass on the south side of the house that bring in the sun's heat. The offset gable of the roof line and the south wall are used as solar collectors to generate hot water and electricity. Windows are triple-paned, low-e, filled with gas, and have special insulating shades. The wall and roof insulation have high R-ratings of R-50 and R-70, respectively. Windows on the east and west walls are made of electrochromic glass, which has adjustable tint to keep out much of the sun's heat in the summer.
The Technology

When passive solar heating isn't enough, the house uses a system that circulates hot water under the floor to produce radiant heat. Flat-plate solar collectors on the roof heat water, which is used to heat domestic water for the kitchen and bath and to heat the house. In the summer, the house uses the solar hot water system to recharge an innovative desiccant system that efficiently pulls moisture out of the air in the house to maintain humidity and comfort levels.

The team's photovoltaic (PV) system is integrated into the house. The roof pitches are designed to create the solar icon, which is both a familiar home shape and an optimal solar collector. Using two types of collectors—the more traditional roof-mounted panels along with translucent bifacial PV panels that generate power on both sides—balances the systems and allows them to operate at their highest efficiencies.

House Highlights

  • A modified gabled roofline that offers a new, yet familiar, look and easy solar access for PV and solar thermal panels
  • Radiant, under-floor heating that uses hot water supplied by flat-plate solar collectors to heat the house in winter and recharge an innovative desiccant dehumidification system in the summer
  • A PV system that consists of traditional, roof-mounted PV panels as well as translucent bifafacial panels An efficient design that includes different inverters for different types of PV panels and orientations, so that panels that produce less won't draw down the whole system

more info

About Solar Decathlon

For three weeks in October 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy will host the Solar Decathlon—a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The Solar Decathlon is also an event to which the public is invited to observe the powerful combination of solar energy, energy efficiency, and the best in home design.

Exact dates of the 2009 event in Washington, D.C. are:

  • Oct. 8-16—Teams compete in 10 contests
  • Oct. 9-13—Houses are open to the public
  • Oct. 15-18—Houses are open to the public
  • Oct. 19-21—Teams disassemble their houses

The Solar Decathlon consists of three major phases:

  • Building: This is where most of the work—and the learning—happens. In addition to designing houses that use innovative, high-tech elements in ingenious ways, students have to raise funds, communicate team activities, collect supplies, and work with contractors. Although the Solar Decathlon competition receives the most attention, it's the hard work that students put in during the building phase that makes or breaks a team.
  • Moving to the Solar Village: When it's time for the Solar Decathlon, the teams transport their houses to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and rebuild them on site.

Competing: During the competition itself, the teams receive points for their performance in 10 contests and open their homes to the public.


The Solar Decathlon brings attention to one of the biggest challenges we face—an ever-increasing need for energy. As an internationally recognized event, it offers powerful solutions—using energy more efficiently and using energy from renewable sources.

The Solar Decathlon has several goals:

1. To educate the student participants—the "Decathletes"—about the benefits of energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building technologies. As the next generation of engineers, builders, and communicators, the Decathletes will be able to use this knowledge in their studies and their future careers.

2. To raise awareness among the general public about renewable energy and energy efficiency, and how solar energy technologies can reduce energy usage.

3. To help solar energy technologies enter the marketplace faster. This competition encourages the research and development of energy efficiency and energy production technologies.

4. To foster collaboration among students from different academic disciplines—including engineering and architecture students, who rarely work together until they enter the workplace.

5. To promote an integrated or "whole building design" approach to new construction. This approach differs from the traditional design/build process because the design team considers the interactions of all building components and systems to create a more comfortable building, save energy, and reduce environmental impact.

6. To demonstrate to the public the potential of Zero Energy Homes, which produce as much energy from renewable sources, such as the sun and wind, as they consume. Even though the home might be connected to a utility grid, it has net zero energy consumption from the utility provider.

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Generating Powerful Benefits Far into the Future

The Solar Decathlon has grown into one of the most highly anticipated design competitions ever held. Thousands of people flock to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to see the latest creations from some of the world's most elite universities.

Twenty teams of fiercely competitive students must design a solar house, build it, test it, and then ship it across a state, a continent, or an ocean. Then the students must rebuild the house within a week and put it through a series of 10 contests to judge the house's aesthetics and measure its performance.

The drama and excitement grow throughout the 21-day event until a winner is determined. For all the teams, the satisfaction of knowing that their houses could influence the way millions of people live in the future makes everyone a winner.

But the Solar Decathlon is more than a competition, more than an exhibition, more than a technological demonstration. It is a life-changing experience for the Decathletes who participate in this unparalleled learning experience.

About Hirshfield’s

Hirshfield’s is a Minnesota-based, fourth-generation family-owned company in the decorating products business since 1894. Hirshfield’s operates 30 stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota with paints and industrial coatings, fine plasters, lacquers, wallcoverings and window fashions for the consumer and professional trades. A commercial wall finishes division services architects and designers across 9 states with offices in Minneapolis, Chicago and St. Louis. Hirshfield’s is the largest manufacturer of trade sales paints and coatings in Minnesota with factory operations in Minneapolis.

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