If you’ve taken a right off of Manufacturers Road onto Cherokee Boulevard on the North Shore lately, you’ve undoubtedly noticed what is either a solar-powered space ship or an exhibition of the state’s nicest trailer.
The truth is that the contraption is the University of Tennessee’s Living Light house. Living Light served as the state university’s contribution to the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a contest held every two years that challenges teams from all over the world to design, build and operate solar houses that are cost-effective, energy efficient and attractive. Tennessee’s team earned a respectable eighth place in the competition and since then has been taking the house on a “victory lap” around the state, showing off the capabilities of solar energy for the public, with Chattanooga being the final stop on the tour. The house opened up for walk-throughs on July 21 and is scheduled to stay in town through July 29 before heading back to the home base in Knoxville.
Living Light is a fully functional house that generates all of its power through the overhanging 10.9-kilowatt array that harnesses enough sunlight to power not only all of the internal appliances, but also has enough juice left over to charge an electric car. Also impressive is the double glass façade system, which allows for the thermal cavity of the house to automatically regulate temperature and redirect air flow and light depending on the time of day and the season.
And yet with all of these technological advancements, the solar-equipped rectangle still visually resembles the mode of housing so familiar to our residents: the oblong aluminum trailer. Originally modeled after the Cantilever Barn structures (think a shotgun-style lofted barn on stilts) exclusive to the Appalachia region, once the Living Light design abandoned the foundational posts that characterize the Cantilever Barns the new structure began to take a recognizable shape. All just proving the age-old adage: You can take the trailer out of the energy wasting days of the past, but you can’t take the trailer out of Tennessee.