The Mini Ecosystem Zen House – WaterShed

The winner of the 2011 Solar Decathlon consistently led and outperformed the other houses with its smart design and intelligent integration within its engineering and living systems.   Entitled WaterShed, the University of Maryland has designed and built a house that is impressive in its zen-like relationship with the surrounding environment and its well-intentioned, mindful human interactions with it.

The University of Maryland won the Architecture Category in this year’s Solar Decathlon 2011.

It is a home that harvests energy from the sun, can produce food, as well as reduce its overall footprint by utilizing plants in the filtration and recycling of the water that is uses.

The team from the University of Maryland wanted to show that humans can live comfortably without harming the surrounding aquatic environment that we depend upon for water.


Seen from the east, the module to the right has a green roof, while the other, facing the south has solar panels.

The butterfly shaped home has two main wing-like modules that are slightly offset toward the east and west.

The modules provide ample living space while the inward sloping roof allows the structure to collect and filter rainwater.

One side of the roof has a green carpet of succulents that help keep the house cool, while the other is lined with a 9.2 kW photovoltaic (PV) solar panel array to supply solar electricity to the home.

Taking inspiration from the aquatic environment of the Chesapeake Bay, the home seeks a symbiotic human relationship with the estuary.


I love / want this shower.

What I Love About WaterShed


The bathroom that joins the two modules is strategically located to recycle and treat greywater with a natural filtration system that utilizes the plants seen outside of the window.

The shower has a refreshing outdoor, yet private and enclosed feel to it.

The greywater drains to the plant filtration system through the wooden slats that comprise the floor of the shower. The wetland plants around the house purify greywater within 7 days.

Greywater is water that has been used once for regular washing purposes.

I admit, this is the shower that I’ve always imagined using and having.




The bathroom exudes a minimalist yet luxurious feel.



Because the bathroom is located between the two main living areas, adjacent to the kitchen, the design allows the plumbing to be localized and efficient.

Sliding doors throughout the home create privacy without being obtrusive or taking up excess space.




Students learned about the many facets of solar design and building

The living room and kitchen space was located in the northern module.

Young students toured the homes as they learned about solar energy.

A band of translucent material along the raised outer edge of the home allows natural light to fill both sides of the home.

Because it is a house that will be located in a moist, humid area, the team came up with an innovative method of pulling humidity from the air.



A similar view toward the kitchen, without as many people.  Photo credit: Jim Tetro / US DOE-Solar Decathlon



Students are learning about the artistic desiccant device to control humidity.

An interior desiccant ‘waterfall’ device absorbs excess humidity within the living environment.

The artistic desiccant device has a lithium chloride – high salt solution that attracts moisture. Fans located at the top of the device pull air through the salt solution.

The white objects are plastic spacers that allow air to pass through the liquid salt mixture.

Through this method, moisture is transferred from the air, into the salt medium.

In the evening, a back light can be turned on to create a calming light to engage the living area. There were two desiccant devices located in the house.


Porch and Garden Area

The home has a deck that wraps around the house and extends to the west. The garden and composter grace the deck.

The porch outside of the north-west quadrant of the house has a garden that includes two edible wall gardens grown on columns.

The standing garden has two types of grapes, trumpeter vine and berries.  (Yum!)

Any vegetable based food scraps left over from the preparation of food can be placed in the composter to create fertilizer that can be utilized in the gardens.


The Poplar wood siding of the house and the Ash wood that comprises the deck have both undergone a process called ‘thermo-treatment’, where the wood is placed in a pressurized kiln and super-heated.

This process hardens and darkens the wood, creating a more moisture and rot resistant surface.  Thus, it does not necessitate the need for (sometimes toxic) sealant.




The table and chairs can be stowed to provide more space. Visitors are admiring the dehumidifying desiccant waterfall.

Turning back toward the house from the north-western deck, the kitchen is seen and ideally located next to the garden area.

The kitchen is modular and certain sections are on wheels.  This allows the furniture to be situated and moved throughout the house.

The tape on the refrigerator keeps visitors from opening the appliance when they are running tests for the Solar Decathlon.



The WaterShed home has a luxurious, contemporary zen feel to it.



The other module houses a work – office area and sleeping space.


The office space to the right can expand, but can also be neatly folded back into the wall.


The WaterShed house had a most impressive mechanical room.  Clean, labeled and accessible, the mechanical room is the brain, lungs, and circulatory system that allows the house to function.

See the mechanical room and more of Watershed in the photo gallery and video below.



WaterShed Photo Gallery

Click or tap on an image to enter a slideshow of the photo gallery.


The Watershed House from the University of Maryland consistently dominated the points standings throughout the 2011 Solar Decathlon.

The final scores for Maryland’s domination of the 2011 Solar Decathlon.

It established an early lead and maintained it throughout the competition, winning the Architecture category and achieving net-zero energy balance along the way.  The estimated cost of the Watershed home is $336,000 USD.  WaterShed was the winner of this year’s Solar Decathlon.



See the conceptual model of WaterShed

Check out the University of Maryland,  College Park’s Watershed website:

The 2011 Solar Decathlon Main Website:



Keya Lea

Keya Lea likes to spend time outside, enjoying the sun.

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1 Response

  1. Barb Krebs says:

    This IS a cool house. Sorry I didn’t get to experience it in person. Just found an article about artful compact flourescent bulbs. Look at They’ve made the twisty shapes into an asset. I think I saw about these in the Oct 24 Newsweek p.57 I couldn’t make all the shapes shown in the magazine appear on the website. Maybe you can—-Barb

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