FutureHAUS - Smart, Solar Energy, Prefab Modular Home for Sustainable Development

Winner of Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018

About Solar Decathlon Middle East

Virginia Tech’s project participants:

College of Science
College of Engineering
Pamplin College of Business
Department of Computer Science
Myers-Lawson School of Construction
Center for Human-Computer Interaction
College of Architecture and Urban Studies
College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

The prefabricated modular design of the smart solar energy prefab modular home for sustainable development allowed FutureHAUS to be constructed in just two days. Following the two week construction period, a ten day competition period challenged the team to complete tasks simulating real-life tasks, give tours to the public and juries, and perform tasks like hosting dinner parties and driving electric vehicles. International juries scored the house on criteria including Architecture, Sustainability, Innovation, Energy Efficiency and Engineering and Construction.

In addition to winning the competition, FutureHAUS Dubai took home the following trophies:

  • First Place in Architecture
  • First Place in House Functioning
  • First Place in Sustainable Transportation
  • First Place in Create Solutions
  • Second Place in Interior Design
  • Second Place in Sustainability
  • Second Place in Innovation
  • Third Place in Engineering and Construction
  • Third Place in Energy Efficiency Measures
  • Third Place in Comfort Conditions


Inspired by the best production practices of the automotive and airplane industry, the FutureHAUS (smart solar energy prefab modular home for sustainable development) explores the process of prefabrication to deliver modular structures that integrate smart technologies, energy efficient systems, and new materials. Our innovative prototype proposes a factory produced, energy-positive, smart home. The goal is to not only invent the future of housing with the integration of smart technologies, but also invent the future of how they will be built.

Housing is about to get a whole lot better

In recent years, innovations in digital technologies, such as smartphones, computers and robotics for fabrication in construction have revolutionized the way we live, work and build. The presence of technology in everyday life has become so engrained that it would be impossible to function today without it - as we have fully embraced the expectation of convenience and support that high performance technology offers. While present cutting-edge technology has been well integrated into the design and manufacturing most high-performance products like aircraft, automobiles, appliances and computers, the construction industry, by contrast, has been slow if not resistant to change in its operations.

With the FutureHAUS, the research team is challenging the construction industry by demonstrating the use of advanced manufacturing processes to make an energy positive smart solar energy prefab modular home for sustainable development.

Prefabrication, Modularity and Industrialization

To improve the construction process by proposing that solar energy prefab home for sustainable development components called “cartridges” can be prebuilt in factories, fully engaging industrialized methods of fabrication.

By looking toward the automotive and aircraft industries and the way they employ advanced systems for manufacturing, we have discovered that the production of a home, especially when focused toward similar levels of complexity should employ similar attitudes and methods of construction. The factory process brings many advantages including lean and efficient production, optimal site conditions and quality control. Factory production also allows for the engagement of wide range of CNC (Computer Numerical Controlled) and robotic processes.

With the FutureHAUS (smart solar energy prefab modular home for sustainable development) project, an innovative construction process suitable for factory built homes, was developed, a process that fully engages Building Information Modeling (BIM) software with fully digital fabrication tools and processes including CNC routing and 3D printing. The process guarantees a high level of quality control and an innovative high performance materiality utilizing customizable components – all within a safe work environment for production. The team recognizes a looming international crisis; a shortage in skilled tradespersons. Factory production addresses this problem by consolidating trades in regional facilities.

The “Cartridge” Modular Home Concept

To build buildings like we build cars, the home was divided into an assembly of parts. Beginning with a spatially efficient floor plan, prefabricated parts or “cartridges” deliver the program for the modular house. The assembly line for the final home for sustainable development happens at the site where the prebuilt cartridges come together, “plug and play” style. Site assembly is fast, highly improving the quality of the final product and ultimately reducing cost though industrial efficiency and onsite construction simplification. The system is unique, we propose to ship technology to the site, not space. There are two types of cartridges. Cartridges that deliver architecture program and ones that deliver services.

The Program Cartridges:

The Kitchen Cartridge — All the functionality of a smart kitchen including appliances, adjustable counters, water fixtures and food storage.

The Bathroom Cartridges — Two cartridges make up the master bath that includes full size vanity bath and shower, smart mirror and 3d printed sink

The Bedroom Cartridge — A compact wall that incorporates an automated murphy bed with lighting, side tables and wardrobe cabinets.

The Office Cartridge — This module incorporates two adjustable nesting desks and wall cabinets and lighting.

The Closet Cartridge — One of two “flex” walls that accommodates the wardrobe storage

The Entry Cartridge — One of two “flex” walls that incorporates home entertainment and seating

The Service Cartridges

The Spine Cartridge — The “central nervous system” of the home connects the dry mechanical room to the primary cartridge elements. This 33 foot long cartridge which sits over the central hallway contains all “home run” electrical and communication lines as well as all ductwork for the HVAC system. It is this critical component that makes the home installation simple, organized, and fast.

The Dry Mechanical Cartridge — This electrical room contains all electrical systems including the main breaker panel, the solar inverter, charge controllers. It also houses all HVAC equipment, systems controls, and communications tech. This compact, preassembled component marries to the spine for effective whole-house power, communications, and HVAC distribution.

The Wet Mechanical Cartridge — This cartridge contains the water distribution components for the home including the solar thermal integrated domestic hot water tank, heat exchanger, distribution pumps, and laundry room.

The Door Cartridges — These “Portals of the Future” provide plug and play automated door systems around the perimeter of the house. Each doorway opening of the home has three automated layers; one clear glass insulated door for enclosure; one frosted insulated glass door for privacy and sun control, and a third bug-screen to allow passive house operation. Each cartridge includes a gorilla glass wall integrated touch interface for control.

The Solar System Cartridges — These five light gauge steel frames each carrying mini photovoltaic arrays become the core of the solar canopy for the home, casting full shade on the house below to optimize energy efficiency.

Integrated Smart Technology

To propose new ways to introduce technology in our lifestyles. We explore wide ranging of digital technologies to find the strongest architectural and practical solutions, features, and interfaces that can be seamlessly integrated into our homes.

A significant part of FutureHAUS research has been to explore the best ways to integrate new digital technologies into the smart solar energy modular home for various purposes but primarily entertainment, energy management, aging-in-place and accessibility. Whether a child or an adult, a tall person or a short person, disabled or not disabled, the smart modular home has many ways to accommodate any individual. Ideally this can be done autonomously where the smart home can recognize the user through voice, height, or gait recognition so when an individual enters a room or performs a task, the room or item adjusts itself for that user. Whether autonomous, gesture, touch or voice control, we search for the best and most practical ways to use technology to make living better and safer.

With FutureHAUS, we have a rare opportunity to integrate technology into an architectural space. Below is a description of each room in the smart modular house with all its futuristic features:

The Kitchen

The kitchen incorporates many smart features for cooking, inventory management, and user preferences. Adjustable counters accommodate a range of users and address the important concept of “aging in place.” Smart fixtures allow for water temperature control and water dispensing. Technologies for cooking are seamlessly integrated making the kitchen easy to use, clean, and manage energy. Additional features include: voice control volume specific water dispensing, electronic mixing valves to regulate kitchen faucet water temps, backsplash touch interface to access home interface to monitor cooking activities and performance. The kitchen cartridges partner is the island or “social table.” With its integrated, interactive display, users have access to the whole house interface, instructional cooking videos and interactive media to entertain users and guests.

The Bathroom

The full size master bathroom includes many smart fixtures that makes this room one of the most exciting in the solar energy prefab home for sustainable development. The interactive smart mirror and voice interface gives you control of the many of the bathroom features. Fixtures include an adjustable vanity cabinet with a 3D printed sink and automated controls, an adjustable height NUMI toilet, a Vibr-acoustic tub with a built in sound system and integrated video screen for bathtime entertainment. The fully accessible room is designed to accommodate any user of any height or age or disability and is focused on user comfort and experience. A floor sensor detects slips and falls and provides user weight on the smart mirror. The shower incorporates water sensor technologies that allows recycling of clean waste water, greatly reducing water consumption by as much as 90%.

The Living Room

With our “flex-space” concept, this room can be adjusted in size according to real time needs with the movement the two flanking walls, the AV wall and the closet wall. Both can move back and forth along cordless dc powered overhead rails for easy room size adjustments. A large screen TV mounted within a rotating partition of the AV wall can be stowed to allow art to be exhibit instead. The room can also transform into a dining room by deploying a stow-able dining room table. The atmosphere of the room can be tuned with an integrated sound system in the glass clad AV wall and the beautiful LED illuminated glass ceiling.

The Home Office

Various office sizes can be generated depending on the positioning of the moving AV wall, from closed office, to standard (1 desk) , to executive (2 desks) to conference room (desk + conference table). When in office mode, the TV on the AV wall swings around 180 degrees to provide teleconferencing capability. The primary desk is actuated and adjustable for sit/stand working options.

The Entry

The entryway cartridge is a unique design element responding to the context of the Middle East. For energy savings, it contains a mudroom for removing shoes and doubles as an airlock. The window features a BIPV technology from Pilkington Glass called Sunplus, glass frit that doubles as solar collection. A powder room with many smart accessories includes an automated foot washing station for prayer preparation. The closet incorporates a mailbox of the future, a drone delivery roof hatch that detects overhead delivery vehicles.

Description from Virginia Tech's press release

FutureHAUS Modular Home 

After years of research and development contributed by over 100 Virginia Tech students and faculty, the FutureHAUS Dubai team has officially built the world’s best solar home 2018.

The lone American team earned a first-place victory over 14 other selected teams and more than 60 total entrants of the 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East, a competition launched by the United States Department of Energy and the United Arab Emirates’ Dubai Electricity & Water Authority. The global competition aimed to accelerate research on building sustainable, grid-connected, solar homes.

The win follows nearly two decades of research and two years of accelerated development, overcoming a fire that burned down a previous iteration of the house, and more than a month spent in a desert in the outskirts of Dubai, where two dozen students and faculty erected the entire solar energy prefab modular home for sustainable development.

The concept of FutureHAUS Dubai was brought to life through a university-wide effort, combining talents and research from Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies, College of Engineering, Myers-Lawson School of Construction, Pamplin College of Business, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, College of Science, and various centers and labs within.

“We have the most interdisciplinary team that we’ve ever had around any research project, and that’s what it takes. That’s the secret,” said Joe Wheeler, architecture professor and lead faculty of FutureHAUS Dubai. “That’s the formula to making something this amazing.”

The Solar Decathlon Middle East juries agreed. In addition to winning first place overall, the team earned top three in nearly all sub-contests: first place in architecture, first place in creative solutions, second place in energy efficiency, second place in interior design, third place in sustainability, and third place in engineering and construction.

According to team members, this success was largely due to a reliance on interdisciplinary knowledge. Each member contributed their unique set of skills, expertise, and life experience, filling in smaller parts of a bigger picture.

Josh Delaney, a first-year master’s student in architecture from Richmond, Virginia, said the team went out of their way to bring in as many disciplines to the project as possible.

“It’s the reason why we have computer science, engineering, landscape architecture, interior design, architecture — we have people from all different backgrounds. My background is in construction and construction management,” Delaney said, citing his years of professional experience in the construction industry and his recent entry to the architecture program. “I bring the real-world building experience."

Between the team members on the ground in Dubai and those in Blacksburg, navigating so many involved disciplines was a learning experience for the team members.

“I have never experienced this much interdisciplinary knowledge going back and forth every single day to get something done,” said Michelle Le, a recent architecture graduate and student architectural design leader on the team from Herndon, Virginia. “Learning how to work as a team and working almost as a big family to get something like this into fruition is — I think it was just incredible.”

Beyond the competition, FutureHAUS solar energy prefab modular home for sustainable development looks to revolutionize homebuilding

For a team that built the home, not just for the inaugural Middle Eastern competition, but to challenge the status quo of traditional homebuilding, the accolades validate what Wheeler calls “the new way to build and a new way to live” that FutureHAUS Dubai proposes.

Aspirationally, the concepts behind the solar energy home will, in the near future, address real, impending problems awaiting an increasingly crowded world with finite resources. The hurdle, Wheeler said, is overcoming a revenue-driven homebuilding industry that has little room for innovation and change.

At Virginia Tech, Wheeler said, the team was given the space to innovate, without the pressure of turning an immediate profit. In turn, companies have been able to partner with and provide funding and gifts-in-kind for the team to use the solar energy prefab modular home for sustainable development as a test bed for new ideas that they may not otherwise be able to explore.

“At the university, we cannot propose the future of building without collaboration with industry,” said Wheeler, also a co-director of the Center for Design Research in the School of Architecture + Design. “At the same time, the industry is going to have a hard time proposing what the house of the future is because they’re kind of stuck into a business model that has to generate profit.”

With the full support of the team’s industry partners, including such top sponsors as Dupont, Dominion Energy, and Kohler, the team sought solutions to save water and energy, eliminate waste in the homebuilding process, and ensure house inhabitants can age in place using smart and accessible technology.

It’s what attracted Dominion Energy’s now-retired executive vice president and chief innovation officer David Christian, a Virginia Tech mechanical engineering alumnus from the class of 1976 who spent the last week of the competition with the team in Dubai.

“The prefab modular house reflects a tremendous amount of thought and work, all kinds of details and all kinds of innovations,” Christian said. “Dominion is an innovative company, and becoming even more innovative as we speak, so participating in a project like this — it’s just a double benefit. It’s win-win.”

What the FutureHAUS proposes

Traditional home building involves arriving at a location with raw materials that require assembly on a site that is subject to weather and uncontrollable working conditions. FutureHAUS, however, was built entirely in a lab as separate but compatible “cartridges” that are equipped with the walls, floors, ceiling, wiring, plumbing, and finishes all in one.

The customizable cartridges can be shipped to a location — in the case of Solar Decathlon Middle East, on only five trailers thanks to the work of industrial and systems engineering students — and easily put together with a plug-and-play approach.

“Our vision for this prefab house will eventually be to create it on a mass production scale. Just like Henry Ford came and revolutionized the automobile industry by creating assembly lines and mass production techniques, we’re hoping that something similar can happen with this modular house,” said Rachel Carie, a recent industrial and systems engineering graduate from Bristow, Virginia.

Through the work of electrical and computer engineering students and the world-renowned Center for Power Electronics at Virginia Tech, FutureHAUS Dubai created an electric spine that connects the solar energy houses’ cartridges and links them to the mechanical room that contains the electrical systems and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system.

Senior computer engineering major Matt Erwin from Chesapeake, Virginia, said the team took an innovative stance in the mechanical room, rejecting the traditional approach of using the components of their electrical systems from only one company.

“If you look around, everyone has all of one company for their system,” Erwin said. “So instead, we were able to make kind of a Frankenstein system. We were able to pick and choose the best of each one to make us the most efficient.”

If the method is adapted and scaled up by the homebuilding industry, prefab homes for sustainable development could be built in mass quantities at higher quality and more energy and cost efficient. Tradespeople like inspectors, electricians, and plumbers could all work collaboratively at one factory, converging disciplines constantly throughout the homebuilding process and yielding a better product.

“Through the FutureHAUS project, we’re trying to find a better way of simplifying the process, bringing it into a more controlled environment,” said Bob Schubert, associate dean for research in the Virginia Tech College of Architecture and Urban Studies and faculty member of FutureHAUS Dubai. “By doing so, you can put things together with better quality and in a shorter time frame.”

The efficiency of this modular, prefabricated building process was proven at Solar Decathlon Middle East when the team was the first to erect their structure in under two days.

They didn’t stop at just the walls and floors: The team was the first to connect their solar energy prefab modular home for sustainable development to the communications network, first to set up the competition’s monitoring systems, and first to connect to the electric grid on site. The team was one of seven awarded bonus points in the competition for completing all required inspections by the end of the two-week construction period.

The timeline speaks for itself, explains Wheeler.

“I’m more excited than ever to see that this thing is really a solution to the future of how we build. This is the solution,” Wheeler said.

Living in the future

As smart technology increasingly permeates daily life, FutureHAUS sought to integrate secure smart systems into the solar energy prefab modular home for sustainable development of the future, anticipating the needs of an increasingly connected but security-concerned population.

Led by the expertise housed in the Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction, the modular home for sustainable development was equipped with 67 devices, including touch screen control panels, automatic sliding doors, a smart mirror that helps users find their clothes, a moveable wall that creates new floor plans using what the team calls “flex space,” and a sink created in collaboration with Kohler that can pour a precise amount of water for drinking or cooking needs.

Matt Tucker, a senior from Knoxville, Tennessee, who is studying electrical engineering and who works in the computer science lab, said the responsibilities expected of the group provided him with opportunities to actually implement concepts learned in the classroom into a real-life situation.

“Not only have I had the opportunity to actually put a lot of this stuff into practice, a lot of it is stuff I get to design,” Tucker said. “So I get to have input. I’m not just following a textbook or class curriculum. I’m coming up with some of these designs, some of this software, actually building it with a team — which is everything I hope to do when I graduate, when I go off and get a job.”

While the technology inside the solar energy prefab modular home for sustainable development is evidently cutting-edge, FutureHAUS took an innovative approach to an area of the house perhaps unexpected: the garden.

“The inside of the prefab house obviously integrates so many technological advances so seamlessly, so it might follow for some people that we would have something like a green wall or a green roof,” said Alexandra Schiavoni, a master’s student studying landscape architecture from Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. “Though our garden seems very familiar, I think a lot of aspects of that are actually embedded in that are a lot of its greatest innovations.”

But rather than integrate more technology into the garden, Schiavoni and fellow landscape architecture master’s student Alex Darr from Lovettesville, Virginia, led a surprisingly different take on typical residential design. They incorporated native plants — including four 35-year-old, mature olive trees — instead of designing with annual plants and plants that require complex irrigation systems. Instead, plants were carefully selected to withstand the intensity of the desert heat with little water, in part due to strict competition rules on using water.

The garden embodies the essence of what FutureHAUS is: a home built for the people living in it. By bringing in the expertise of landscape architects who worked collaboratively with the architects and engineers, the garden became a transformative space in the house that fully considered its intended use.

It’s the same line of thinking behind bringing in Virginia Tech’s Megan Dolbin-MacNab, an expert on intergenerational family relationships from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences who helped ensure the home would allow for accessible aging-in-place.

It’s why a team of marketing and business students helped tell the story of FutureHAUS Dubai through PRISM, a student-run advertising agency at Virginia Tech.

It’s why the team brought in students studying industrial and systems engineering in the College of Engineering who worked for a year on planning the most efficient method of shipping the solar energy prefab modular home 7,286 miles from Blacksburg to Dubai.

And it’s why a team of electrical engineers and researchers from the Center for Power Electronics built an energy system so efficient, the solar energy prefab home can sell energy back to the grid.

With hundreds of hands on the modular home for sustainable development over the past two decades of research, it’s a list that only scratches the surface. But one theme remains consistent: the students and faculty who worked on the project are fueled by the belief that FutureHAUS is what lies ahead.

“We have always believed in this concept, but now the world believes in this concept as well,” said Laurie Booth, a fourth-year architecture student from Charlotte, North Carolina, and student team lead of FutureHAUS Dubai. “[The concepts proposed by FutureHAUS are] all things that, now that we’ve built it, seem very real, seem very possible, which excites me the most: that maybe someday, thousands of people could live in a solar energy modular home like this.”

With the competition behind them, that’s what they hope is ahead. The team has already begun researching what it would take to scale up production in a factory setting. A new team of industrial and systems engineering students is exploring a concept of a manufacturing facility for building these types of prefab modular homes for sustainable development.

For now, the team is celebrating a hard-earned victory in Dubai, thousands of miles from home. In the coming days, they will have to take FutureHAUS apart and ship it home.

“Every time I think about this project, I just can’t help but be amazed by my peers and that we did this,” Booth said. “I just feel forever in gratitude of the people that were on this project.”



Solar Decathlon Middle East

Under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, Solar Decathlon Middle East is a collegiate competition of 10 contests that challenge students to design and build solar-powered houses.

On June 17, 2015, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, and the U.S. Department of Energy signed an agreement to collaborate on the development of Solar Decathlon Middle East (SDME 2018-2020), a competition that will integrate unique local and regional characteristics.

The 2018 edition of this competition is organized by DEWA, in Dubai at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. SDME consists of 10 contests that will follow the lines of those in previous editions of the competition, although having the necessary customization to challenge the teams to adapt their designs to the heat, dust & high humidity that we experience in the Middle East. The projects are developed by multidisciplinary teams, giving the students the opportunity to learn about technical issues, teamwork, communication skills, and sustainable lifestyle and socio-economic issues in order to ensure the viability of their project.

AddressMohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, Seih Al Dahal - Dubai - United Arab Emirates
Postal AddressDubai Electricity And Water Authority, P.O. Box 564, Dubai, U.A.E
Phone 1+97143222964
Phone 2+97143223496
Phone 3+97143223466

Virginia Tech’s Project Participants

College of Science

AddressCollege of Science / Virginia Tech (0405), North End Center, Suite 4300, 300 Turner Street NW, Blacksburg, VA 24061 USA

College of Engineering

Address3046 Torgersen Hall (0217), 620 Drillfield Drive, Blacksburg, VA 24061 USA

Pamplin College of Business

Address1030 Pamplin Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA
Dean Robert T. Sumichrast+15402316601
Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Affairs
Kevin Carlson
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs
Lara Khansa
Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, Executive Director of MIT & EvMBA Programs
Parviz Ghandforoush
Associate Dean for Administration
Kay Hunnings

Department of Computer Science

AddressBlacksburg, VA 24060, USA
Email 1csundergrad@cs.vt.edu
Email 2gradinfo@cs.vt.edu

Blacksburg Main Campus

Address114 McBryde Hall, 225 Stanger Street, Blacksburg, VA 24060, United States

Blacksburg Corporate Research Center

Address2202 Kraft Drive, Blacksburg, VA 24060, United States

National Capital Region

Address7054 Haycock Road, Falls Church, VA 22043, United States

Myers-Lawson School of Construction

AddressBlacksburg, VA 24060, USA

Center for Human-Computer Interaction


College of Architecture and Urban Studies

Address1325 Perry St, Blacksburg, VA 24060, USA

College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

Address200 Stanger St, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA

Project website: https://www.futurehaus.tech/

FutureHAUS - Smart, Solar Energy, Prefab Modular Home for Sustainable Development