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Video: "Living Light" house could make suburbia cool again

Video: "Living Light" house could make suburbia cool again

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Gorgeous, light-filled, and able to generate twice as much energy as it requires, the Living Light house is the ultimate in freestanding homes

The "Living Light" house is a compact, ultra-efficient prefab home unlike any you've ever seen. It's literally a glass house, with enormous banks of windows comprising its longest walls, allowing diffuse light to pour into the home and rendering indoor lighting superfluous by day. If you can't stand dark winter days, the feeling of being cooped up indoors or you simply love natural light, this is the home for you.

Living Light - Walkthrough from Living Light on Vimeo.

Researchers and students at the University of Tennessee designed the home to cope with the state's hot summers and cold winters. Both of its glass walls have an interior space housing blinds, through which air can flow and be pre-heated in winter or cooled in summer.

The entire home is controlled by iPad. Temperature, window shades, lighting, energy consumption, even the home entertainment system are all accessible from a single app.

The roof of the Living Light house is covered with enough solar arrays to produce more than double the amount of energy the home uses. (In this respect it's just like the world's only entirely energy and water self-sufficient office building, in Seattle.) The extra can then be sold back to the local utility, or used to charge an electric car.

One of the secrets to the home's solar panels is that they're cylindrical, rather than flat. This means they can gather direct, reflected and ambient sunlight, no matter what the angle of the sun or the weather conditions.

Of course, one of the reasons the home can produce so much surplus power is that it's extremely energy efficient. Heating, cooling and light costs are all well below average, and the home uses an innovative water heater that draws ambient waste heat from the rest of the house. For example, in a typical home the electrical system produces significant waste heat -- in the Living Light house, that heat is recovered.

The target market for this home is, as you might expect, young professionals. Tennessee has become home to a surprising number of cleantech and renewable energy companies, and the workers in this industry -- which grew rapidly while the rest of the U.S. economy languished -- are just the sort of people who will appreciate the value of a home like this.

The Living Light house is prefabricated, which means that it can be built to exacting standards, and then simply shipped to its final destination. Even so, the home costs $425,000. The expected energy savings over 30 years are $90,000, however, and Tennessee is a coal state with cheap electricity. In a state with more expensive power, those savings could easily double, making the Living Light house competitive with similar boutique prefab homes.

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Christopher Mims

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Christopher Mims has written for Scientific American, WIRED, Popular Science, Fast Company, Good, Discover, Slate, Technology Review, Nature and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. Formerly, he was an editor at Scientific American, Grist and Seed. He is based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure