REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Good day sunshine: Pull the plug, live free

ADDRESS: 6135 Rockfish Gap Turnpike

NEIGHBORHOOD: Crozet Moose Lodge

ASKING: Negotiable


YEAR BUILT: 2000 to 2002

SIZE: 750 square feet

LAND: 0 acres

CURB APPEAL: 2 out of 10

LISTED BY: Piedmont Housing Alliance, 434-817-2436

In the fall of 2002, the Department of Energy's first Solar Decathlon took place on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Fourteen universities competed from as far away as Puerto Rico and Canada. UVA hauled its 87,000-pound, 49-foot-long entry up there to sweep the awards with a first place in "design and livability," a first place in "energy balance," and a second place overall.

Built as a completely self-sustaining, off-the-grid, solar-powered dwelling, it now sits in the parking lot of the Crozet Moose Lodge on 250 West. Like an aging child star, it no longer basks in lavish attention. But looking closer, one sees the glamour and ingenuity that raised this structure to the top of the competition.

Clad in copper sheathing, it must have once gleamed like a shiny new penny. But time and the elements have worn it down to a dull russet. Even so, it exudes an air of impenetrable substance. Wooden shipping pallets have been fashioned into exterior window shutters that can be manually opened for optimum light. All the materials have either been reclaimed from other sources or bought with the highest sustainable ideals in mind. The cost of the two-year project was $350,000.

Even after a year and a half of sitting empty, the inside feels brand new. Bamboo flooring and birch veneer cabinetry have remained immaculate without the slightest hint (or droppings) of spiders, mice, or ants that might overrun any other empty (and some not so empty) houses.

Built specifically to harness the sun's rays as the sole energy source, the structure must be positioned properly for the appliances to work. But when the house is optimally positioned, photo-voltaic panels on the roof collect enough energy to power them all. The stove/oven combination, Sun Frost refrigerator, and drawer-style dishwasher are all state of the art, eco-friendly, top of the line (you know what that means) appliances that convey with the property.

And this is where the difference in a solar-powered home is most striking. Well-placed windows act as more than portals to the outside world: they eliminate the need for electric lights during the day and create enough cross-ventilation to make air-conditioning unnecessary. 

Other installations include rainwater harvesting tanks, a green roof, a ductless cooling system, a parabolic mirror, and best of all, radiant floor heat. Anyone knows that when your feet are warm, you feel warm, and when your feet are cold, you feel cold. And since heat rises, you have the added benefit of warming the whole place from the floor up. Some might call that "green," but it's actually just common sense.

Intended either for solo occupancy or perhaps a couple, the space is not grand. But everything is here with no room to spare: one bedroom with full bath, large closets, front and back doors, each with fold-down decks, wheelchair access, stackable washer/dryer hookup, full kitchen, dining area, built-in entertainment center, and a home office. The basic tenet of living green is to pare down non-essential trappings– wasted space is wasted materials.

So why is it stationed at the Moose Lodge, attracting dust and reverting to the organic state from which it came? UVA had plans to install it on campus and use it as a temporary residence for visiting professors, or a study site for architecture students, or even just as an award-winning showpiece of so many collaborative hands and ideas. 

Instead, they donated it to Piedmont Housing Alliance as a fundraiser for their low-income-housing projects.

Currently open to bidding, PHA says that if the house does not sell they will put it on Ebay. Part of the problem is its massive size and weight and the logistics of moving and installing it. Estimated price tag for that part of the venture; $65,000. 

The property is being sold "as is," but if it stays local, the faculty and former students who worked on it will be available for advice. They recommend the new owner have building skills or at least know someone who does in order to get the thing running at full potential. 

After that, all you need is sun.

Photos courtesy of the agent