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University of Tennessee-Knoxville

July 24, 2012


Living Light, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s solar-powered house, stood on the National Mall as an exhibit at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which concluded earlier this month.

The ten-day event coincided with the 150th anniversaries of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Morrill Act, which created land-grant universities. The house was one of only seventeen projects selected to represent the nation’s land-grant universities at the Smithsonian festival. 

An estimated one million people saw the home and nearly 16,000 toured it during the festival. Since its completion in September 2011, more than 50,000 people have toured the house. 

The zero-energy home demonstrated the merits of solar-powered living when a large storm struck the nation’s capital on June 29, leaving thousands of residents without power and forcing the festival to close for a day. Living Light maintained full-power during this time, producing twice the energy the house needed for all its normal day-to-day functions, such as powering its air conditioning, television, kitchen appliances, and lighting. Throughout its entire stay at the festival, the house was completely removed from the electrical grid and self-sustaining in all of its energy production.

Living Light began with students and faculty in the UT College of Architecture and Design and was led by faculty members Stach, Richard Kelso, James Rose, and Barbara Klinkhammer of the college, along with Deb Shmerler in the School of Art, Leon Tolbert in electrical engineering, and Stan Johnson and Bill Miller in mechanical engineering.

More than 200 UT students and faculty across nine academic disciplines designed the house for the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, an international competition among collegiate teams. UT placed eighth overall in the decathlon and claimed high-standing marks in several categories, including first in energy production, third in engineering, third in hot-water production, third in energy-efficient appliances, and fifth in architecture.

After the decathlon, Living Light began the Tennessee Tour. The tour is a joint effort of UT’s colleges of Architecture and Design and Engineering, and UT Extension, the outreach office of the UT Institute of Agriculture.

For more information about the house and its next stop on the Tennessee Tour—Chattanooga—visit

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