Smart House: Lab for Living


What better way to learn about design than to live in what you create? After a year of planning, Duke engineering students hope to see their ideas come to life in a "smart house" expected to house ten upperclass students each year.

illustration: Dave Plunkert

illustration: Dave Plunkert


If the trustees approve the project, Duke's Pratt School of Engineering will break ground later this year on the DELTA (Duke Engineering Living Technology Advancement) Smart House Project--a combination undergraduate research laboratory, residence, and engineering outreach project. In a smart house, technology is used to anticipate residents' needs (from security to shower temperature to surround-sound stereo), minimize waste, and enhance quality of life.

The DELTA Smart House Project is dedicated to three "E's": energy and efficiency, environment and health, and entertainment and communications. In addition, the student design team has made a commitment to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building standards, created by the U. S. Green Building Council, a coalition of professionals from the building industry.

"The laboratory is the house," says project leader Mark Younger B.S.E. '03. "Built on campus, the house will let students fully experience the successes and pitfalls of the advanced systems they create."

Meeting the project goals requires cross-disciplinary engineering teams that include civil, biomedical, electrical, and mechanical-engineering students. Younger also plans to include environmental-science students from the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and computer-science majors from Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.

The smart-house concept grew out of a conversation between Younger and Pratt Dean Kristina Johnson. Younger spent a semester planning the project as an independent-study course topic, and then launched a twenty-student design project in the spring of 2003 that continues to grow. Now hired as project manager, Younger will continue to serve as a mentor for student teams and oversee construction, working as the primary liaison between Duke and the architectural and construction teams.

Students will work with an outside architecture firm to conceptualize, design, and prepare cost estimates for the house and its systems. The team plans to conserve water and minimize liquid waste as much as possible by using a recycling system that reclaims and purifies wastewater for repeated use; to incorporate passive-energy heating, ventilation, and cooling; and to add high-tech features such as voice recognition and home automation.

"We plan to take an active role in showing the community that a smart house is not some far-off dream of the future," says Younger. "Homeowners, engineers, architects, and builders alike need to know how they can improve their homes to make them more environmentally sustainable, efficient, and technologically advanced."

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