Penn State’s MorningStar Home Makes Sustainability Look Easy
Named after the Northern Cheyenne reservation MorningStar people, the Penn State MorningStar Solar Home spent negative 33 cents on electricity last Thursday. The completely self-sufficient house was initially conceptualized for the 2007 Washington D.C. Solar Decathlon but continues on as a hallmark of environmental education at Penn State.
The competition is an international event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Teams design and build an entirely green, 800 square foot home. Emily Fucinato, an intern at the home, gives 3-5 tours of the house in a typical week and explains the energy-saving features of the once upon a time pipedream that’s now a cornerstone of Penn State’s environmental efforts.
Fucinato said the house is part of the Sustainability Experience Center, which also includes Penn State’s community gardens and beekeeping club. “The home was supposed to be livable so they built it to look that way. Over 800 students and faculty members took part in designing and building this home over a three year period,” Fucinato explained.
The house was first built in separate halves and assembled at the competition, a building process known as modular construction. It’s permanently set in the foundation now, but in the past it was able to be dismantled and moved. This made it nomadic and eco-friendly—possibly a reason behind its naming. Solar paneled slates cover the outside of the building and are paired with geothermal heating from under the home and wind turbines above it. A huge back patio with a grill and stone seating makes the home look more like a resort than a bare-minimum hut in the middle of Pennsylvania.
Every team at the competition in 2007 received an electric car. Penn State’s still sits next to the house, charging in a solar powered car port donated by General Motors. Everything about the house besides the sewage system is off the grid.
“One of the challenges at the Decathlon was cooking a full meal for eight people and eating it in the home to show you have the power to do it,” Fucinato said regarding the surprising amount of space in the 799 square foot home’s kitchen. She added the dining room table was made by seniors in the Forestry school from a tree cut down on Old Main sometime in the early 2000s.
Penn State students can reserve the house for tailgating at no cost — it’s a little more than 500 yards from Beaver Stadium.
Fucinato ended the tour with some inspiration.
“This is a hidden gem in the Penn State community and it was built by Penn State students. Take pride in your work and if you’re passionate about something go do it because this home started as a pipedream by students who said they wanted to go do it.”
On Sunday, December 11th the home is hosting a holiday open house. This is open to the public and will have sustainable holiday activities.