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CHIP House powered by solar energy, controlled with Xbox Kinect


January 28, 2012

The CHIP House's most striking feature is the insulation fitted around the home, which makes it look like a giant mattress but also preserves the interior temperature

The CHIP House's most striking feature is the insulation fitted around the home, which makes it look like a giant mattress but also preserves the interior temperature

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The CHIP House - which stands for "Compact Hyper-Insulated Prototype" - was started with the goal of creating a net-zero energy home (i.e. one that requires no external energy source), and it looks like the designers exceeded that target. The house actually generates three times as much energy as it uses thanks to solar panels and a host of energy saving measures.

Heat generated by the air conditioning is used to make hot water, natural light can be used at most hours of the day, and the whole house's design and ventilation system allow for the temperature to be adjusted quickly and with minimal energy usage. The CHIP House's most striking feature is the insulation fitted around the entire 750-square foot home, which makes it look like a giant mattress but also preserves the interior temperature.

The incredibly energy efficient design would make the house stand out on its own, but the integrated motion controls and smart features push the CHIP House above your typical green-conscious home and into "home of the future" material. An Xbox Kinect system tracks residents in the house, allowing them to turn appliances and lights on and off just by pointing at them. The Kinect also monitors their location and turns lights off as they exit one area and on as they move into another.

The house also includes other automatic features like closing the shades if you start a movie or the house begins to get warm, turning certain devices on when you sit in specific chairs, and gradually turning the lights on in the morning for a more natural start to the day. It even has smartphone compatibility so the lights and AC can be controlled while you're away by simply tapping on a virtual floorplan.

The whole project is the result of over two years work by more than 100 students and a partnership between Caltech and SCI-Arc. It took about US$1 million to develop, but producing a duplicate would cost around US$300,000.

The CHIP House came in 6th at the 2011 Solar Decathlon and recently opened its doors to free tours for the public, which will be available through May 31, 2012 at the California Science Center.

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things. All articles by Jonathan Fincher

i\'ll buy two...

Chris Ramas

"the insulation fitted around the home, which makes it look like a giant mattress"

OK, it's for insolation, but man, I've got to wonder what that thing is going to look like left out in the elements for years?


I was thinking it looked like a house inside a pillow but a mattress makes more sense. The inside is really cool.


I would love one.


What is the resistance to inclement weather? What is the maximum wind speed it can withstand? Is it tornado resistant? Where I live, these are common and extremely relevant home buyer statistics.


you get the same or if not better results with a straw bail stucco house much better looking and far cheaper.

Leonard Foster

looks likes if you lived next to a dump or a landfill and this is what you could scavenge up for the nicest house on the pile .. We call \'em Boeing bombs

Jay Finke

I\'ve always wanted to build a house with 12\" thick insulated walls. Anytime I\'ve asked a builder they always tell me that most of the heat goes through the roof. They continue to build these energy hog 2X4 constructed homes. I love to read about these super insulated and innovative houses that folk get the cajones to build. McMansions be damned, these smaller homes are so much better for this world. Thanks.


Keep on trying to cram solar energy down our throats.... tech hasn\'t delivered in years, still isn\'t delivering.

Cian Smith

Straw-bale homes have been around since the 19th century and are already near net-zero energy. Insulation values around R60+, uses renewable/recycled waster material, earth-friendly, cheap... straw is in such abundance that farmers regularly burn it to get rid of it.

With careful planning of windows and concrete slab floors you can get a solar heat gain in the winter and natural geothermal cooling in summer. Add solar or wind power and you can be completely off the grid.


The mattress covering may last 10-15 years, depending on the material. But all the pockets and tufting are harborage points, especially on the roof. There is also the real potential of thermal bridging and loss of air barrier, and loose insulation takes up more space than necessary. And structure is needed to support the mattress. A better choice to provide some structure and better insulation would have been insulated metal panels (IMP), which are in common use for industrial and commercial buildings. Insulation values are up to R-48. While the wierdness of the exterior may provide some cachet or artistic cred, in a real-world sense it is incredibly lame.

Bruce H. Anderson

Interesting how so many projects that are not cost efficient, don\'t give the necessary information to evaluated financial and capitalization rates. $300,000 for a 750 Sq. Ft. dwelling is stupidly expensive and like others are saying, how long will the thing last before you have to start replacing various components.

Harry Robinson

I hope these folks got some bang for the bucks they invested. They reached their goal of building a net-zero enegy home that most people can\'t afford.

I hope some useful data might be gleaned from this project and applied in a way that WILL allow the majority of this planets inhabitants, to purchase an energy efficent home.

Most people would like to warm in the winter and cool in the summer and can teach themselves to remember to turn off the light, using an inexpensive ($2.50?) wall switch. Nothing personal KINECT...


Kind of wondering about the size of the solar unit. 5-6KW? Anyways.... very good to see things going in this direction. $300,000 should easily come to about 1/2 of this price if the homes are mass produced.

Monthly electric bill=$250 x 12 =$3000 x 30 year mortgage =$90,000.

Weekly electric car battery charging via solar saves $40 a week in fuel. x 52 weeks=$2,000 a year x 30 years =$62,000.

Yes the home should definitely be in the $150,000 range. The solar addition would bring the return on the energy of the home basically free. Clean air and minimal global warming is a bonus.


@Harry Skip Robinson: You clearly don\'t live in Toronto like me, or any other densely packed urban area then! $300000 with - hydro bills is very affordable indeed for 750Sq. Ft.

Jeremy Nasmith

That is really fantastic - In fact \"Dream Come True\". I am more than convinced now that Solar could take care of future energy needs. Hearty congratulations to the students who have been behind this project. I am certain this could set the trend for many more novel models to sprout. I was wondering whether this could be architectured into the conventional buildings?

Asoor Shyam

Yeah, I\'ve got to wonder about the durability of the outside, but I think the most important thing about this house is that it knows where you are, and can react accordingly. For years, I\'ve wanted this feature, but all the \"smarthomes\" just offered silly ways to turn lights on and off. If I can remember to turn them on and off, there is no problem with that now! A feature like this would probably pay for itself inside a year. It probably makes the nest thermostat obsolete.

David Lewis

I like the Xbox Kinect control. and the solar power excess. Rethink the insulation though, that stuff will not last long, and trapped storm debris will mildew and mold fast. It will trap all kinds of dirt and deteriorate. excess power, solar electric car charging, grid tied for sale of excess power, cost savings for utilities. and a smaller price tag, would make this quite attractive. Even the Xbox is not wasted, play games as well. It would be smarter though, to add active solar tracking to the solar array. it becomes more efficient.

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