Imagine building a zero-energy home. Now imagine building said house without the use of power tools or nails using files sent right to your inbox. That's the idea behind Clemson University's "Indigo Pine" design—one of 14 houses presented at this year's US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Irvine, Calif. More than 100 students worked for two years on the project, which touts itself as a home that's stronger than most (though it's held together with tab-and-slot connections and some screws and stainless steel zip ties) and can be built in just days, according to a release. Inhabitat explains how the process of building the 970-square-foot, 3-bedroom, 1.5-bath home would work for consumers: Digital files "are sent to a local CNC machine which mills over 500 pieces of standardized-sheets of plywood into smaller interlocking pieces." Once shipped to the construction site, the numbered pieces can be assembled like a "3D puzzle."
Wall cavities leave room for insulation, while the exterior is clad in a reflective coating that helps beat the heat. The house also sits on a "concrete lung" foundation of concrete masonry units so air can circulate underneath. The whole thing is powered by photovoltaic panels and a solar hot water system. "Our team has invented an energy-efficient, strong, simple system called SimPly—the construction of which is faster, safer, easier, and more energy-efficient than traditional construction with power tools," the director of Clemson's School of Architecture says, calling the zero-energy home the "beta version of what could be a market-rate, flat-packed house that could be ordered online, custom-cut, and then constructed by do-it-yourselfers." (Read more architecture stories.)