Duke's Home Depot Smart Home Officially Opened

Duke University's new Home Depot Smart Home, a high-tech dorm and research laboratory, was officially opened Nov. 9 by the university president, the current and former deans of the Pratt School of Engineering, and some of the 10 students who will live there.

The $2.5 million, two-story building located on Duke’s Central Campus is the centerpiece of the Duke Smart Home Program, a research-based approach to smart living sponsored by the Pratt School. Primarily focused on undergraduates, the program encourages students from different academic disciplines to form teams and explore smart ways to use technology in the home.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony, held in front of the 6,000-square-foot gray structure with large solar panels on its south face, was part of the regular fall meeting of Pratt’s Board of Visitors. Participating in the ceremony were Duke President Richard Brodhead, Pratt Dean Robert Clark, former dean Kristina Johnson, now provost at Johns Hopkins University, and some of the four women and six male students who will move in in January.

The Home Depot, an international home improvement specialty retailer, is the naming sponsor for the dorm. Many other businesses contributed materials and expertise to the building project.

Clark called the Smart Home "a unique, exciting, educational resource that will set Duke apart from other engineering institutions." In fact, he said the Smart Home Program already has become "the transformational learning resource we anticipated."

"Many, many students and professionals have poured their best ideas into this dorm in order to make it a platinum example of energy efficient, sustainable living," Clark said. He said more than 200 students have been involved in the Smart Home project since 2003.

Pratt officials said the emphasis on "smart" means finding the best answer for a particular problem. For example, it has a "green" roof, named not because of its color, but because it has native plants growing in soil on part of the roof. Such green roofs insulate during the winter through snow accumulation and cool during summer through evaporative cooling. The soil in the roof filters water that passes through it, removing pollutants that the water picked up from the air. The remainder of the roof is constructed out of white seam metal that has very high albedo, meaning that it reflect more of the sun’s energy and keep the building cool.

Throughout the dorm, technology is used to anticipate the wide range of residents’ needs (from security to shower temperature to surround-sound stereo), minimize waste, maximize reuse and recycling, and enhance quality of life.

The Duke Smart Home Program already encompasses a thriving student club and soon will offer research for course credit opportunities. Several special topics engineering courses on smart home technology have been offered in the past, under the direction of electrical and computer engineering associate professor John Board, and more are planned in entrepreneurship, environment and sustainability.

"Nothing could make this program more successful than for it to continue to grow beyond engineering and become a Duke-wide endeavor," said Clark. "We are growing the core faculty across campus to engage in research through the dorm and to leverage their enthusiasm to create a broader range of projects in the dorm — from sociology majors studying group dynamics and technology adoption to economics majors evaluating the cost/benefits of new technology designs to environmental science and engineering focusing on energy, the environment and sustainability."

Pratt Senior Associate Dean Barry Myers, who managed the construction process, said earlier that the Smart Home’s construction process was just as challenging — if not more so — than building your own home.

"We had to make the same tough decisions as any homeowner, day after day, to achieve our goal of a truly green residence and yet stay within our budget," Myers said. The dorm has been designed to achieve at least Gold LEED certification. LEED is the national standard for green construction.

"These challenges helped us learn a great deal about the positives and negatives of today's commercial market for green construction. We have a much better sense of what is needed from a consumer’s perspective and that will translate into cool projects and relevant course topics for our students," Myers said.

The program was the brainchild of engineering student Mark Younger, a 2003 graduate, and was initially launched in 2003 through an endowment gift by his father, Bill Younger, of Sutter Hill Ventures. Both were at Friday's ceremony.