Tripod uses passive solar conditioning and super-insulated walls and windows to reduce electricity usage.
Carnegie Mellon Solar Decathlon team Tripod uses passive solar conditioning and super-insulated walls and windows to reduce electricity usage.

Pods and shipping containers were among the winning solutions devised for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Lifecycle Building Challenge 2 (LBC2) competition, which challenged entrants to create building designs that were adaptable to different environments and future technologies while allowing for efficient dismantle and reuse. "These innovators are creating reusable building components for the green buildings of tomorrow," said EPA Region 4 administrator Jimmy Palmer in a statement.

The EPA asked students, builders, reuse experts, and other building professionals to submit designs and ideas that support cost-effective disassembly and reuse of homes and commercial structures and that anticipate future use of building materials. Here is a look at the winners in the residential categories.

Assemble, Disassemble, Redeploy

Winner of the professional building category, the Loblolly house uses both prefabricated and modular housing concepts. Designed by Roderick Bates of Philadelphia-based KieranTimberlake Associates, the building is comprised of a scaffold, blocks, cartridges, and service spines, all of which can be rapidly assembled or disassembled and reused in a different location. Three service spines, integrated in the floor cartridges, supply energy, water, and data with built-in connectors.

Here’s how it works: The aluminum-framed scaffold is bolted together, rather than welded, so the dwelling can be dismantled without rendering the components useless. Then, prefabricated kitchen, bathroom, and mechanical blocks and floor and wall cartridges are inserted into the frame without the use of permanent fasteners. When the home is taken apart, the cartridges and blocks are removed as whole units and the scaffold sections are unbolted.

The design-for-disassembly strategy ensures the components with the highest embodied energy can be taken apart and redeployed with a minimal loss of energy, according to the entrant. The ease of reassembly also frees the homeowner to move from one location to another without fear of losing investments made in their home, the entrant adds.

Photovoltaic panels make Tripod a zero-energy home.
Carnegie Mellon Solar Decathlon team Photovoltaic panels make Tripod a zero-energy home.

Plug and Play

Tripod, a prototype house that won the student building category, is built with interchangeable "pods" that allow families with changing needs to add or subtract rooms or simply swap for different sized rooms. Designed by Brian Kish, Cathy Chung, and Travis Brier of Carnegie Mellon University’s Solar Decathlon team, the rooms have an increased lifecycle because each can be reused in other households, the team says.

The pods—living, cooking, or sleeping spaces constructed from structural insulated panels (SIPs) screwed to a secondary steel frame—are connected to a core that contains all the mechanical systems and a majority of the distribution systems, according to the project entry.

The home also was designed to be super-efficient both in its construction—it can be assembled more quickly and more easily than a traditional stick-built dwelling, the group says—and in its operation. By employing passive solar, photovoltaic panels, super-insulated walls and windows, efficient appliances, daylighting, and an efficient heat pump for conditioning, the zero-energy prototype uses 10% to 25% of the electricity consumed by a stick-built house of equivalent size, the group claims.

Tripod is built with interchangeable pods used for living, cooking, or sleeping.
Carnegie Mellon Solar Decathlon team Tripod is built with interchangeable pods used for living, cooking, or sleeping.

More Winners and Honorable Mentions The remaining LBC2’s winners and runners-up include a variety of innovative ideas and designs. Check out these links for more information.

The Schemata workshop uses prefabricated building components to create an office on the first floor and an apartment on the second floor.

Built in Greensburg, Kan., one year after a tornado leveled the town, the Sustainable Prototype is a modular, prefabricated, LEED-Platinum building that serves as the town’s arts center.

Designed to fit a 1,550-square-foot dwelling on a 0.1-acre plot, the Spoor house is constructed of shipping containers. The design can be altered easily to create a cluster of homes that are different in appearance, the entry says. is an online resource that helps homeowners, architects, deconstruction professionals, and local municipalities find, reclaim, and sustainably deconstruct building materials.