A group of students from Hoboken, New Jersey have built a hi-tech net-zero ecohome packed with ingenious engineering solutions to raise its sustainability and minimise its environmental impact.

The Ecohabit is a two-bedroom house created by a team of 60 students from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken over a two-year period. The students entered the home into the biannual Solar Decathlon held by the United States’ Department of Energy.

The 85.5 square metre net-zero home boasts a plethora of sustainability and efficiency innovations which make the Ecohabit a veritable paragon of green engineering.

21-year-old Zak Moy, a recent Stevens Institute graduate who was part of the team behind the project, said the students’ engineering training enabled them to bring the proper mindset to the task of creating an efficient and eco-friendly home.

“We’re engineers, so we see this as a problem-solving competition,” Moy said.

Every room in the home is equipped with smart sensors capable of monitoring multiple variables including temperature, humidity, the number of occupants and energy consumption.

The smart sensors are in turn connected to an internal computer system which enables the house to respond flexibly to changing circumstance, automatically switching off lighting and air conditioning when occupants are absent, for example.

This monitoring system is also wireless-enabled, meaning residents can access it via either their smartphones or tablet computers for maximum convenience.

Another hi-tech feature is the installation of a bubble-packed soy-based paraffin material in the walls which regulates the temperature of the home via passive phase changes which do not require the consumption of additional power. The material absorbs heat during the day and melts while releasing the heat at night when temperatures fall and it solidifies.

The home also features a green roof planted with low-growing sedum plants, and a green wall equipped with cubbies for other plants. These features furnish the home with additional insulation and soundproofing while also absorbing rainwater.

The Solar Decathlon mandates that entries only employ products that are already commercially available. The team of students from Hoboken also focused on affordability and economy in their development of the project in order to address the general perception that sustainability measures still don’t warrant the expense.

“A lot of people feel (sustainability) is too time-consuming, too costly,” Moy said.

The home developed by the student engineering team comes at a comparatively modest cost given its array of sophisticated technologies, with a market value of around US$300,000.

Eco-homes have performed well in other Solar Decathlons of late, with a team from Wollongong taking out top honours at China’s inaugural Solar Decathlon with the Illawarra Flame House – a suburban fibro home dating from the 1960s which was retrofitted for maximum efficiency.