Duke's Smart Home – Finally A Reality

After almost five years of plans, dreams, fundraising and ultimately construction, Duke’s new smart home will be finished in November. Ten Pratt engineers and Trinity students anticipate moving into the Home Depot Smart Home in January -- prepared to become Duke’s newest ambassadors of E-Living. Their goal is to seamlessly integrate technology into the home and champion energy efficient, environmentally responsible lifestyles.

The Duke community is invited to a kickoff event on Nov. 12, including tours of the dorm.

The 6,000 square-foot residential dorm and research laboratory is the centerpiece of the Duke Smart Home Program, a research-based approach to smart living sponsored by the Pratt School of Engineering. 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 emphasis on "smart" means finding the best answer for a particular problem--not just finding the high tech solution or the latest gadget on the market. This approach naturally leads students to identify gaps in the marketplace such as problems that aren't being addressed through commercially available technology. These gaps then become the basis for exploration and could lead to integration of different technologies in new applications.

The Duke Smart Home Program already encompasses a thriving 100+ 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 Robert Clark, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering. “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.”

The dorm itself represents a tremendous investment from a dedicated core of Duke undergraduates who participated in the architectural planning process and even helped oversee construction.

“The 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,” said professor and Pratt Senior Associate Dean Barry Myers, who managed the construction process. 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 total estimated cost for the 10-student dorm and engineering design laboratories is approximately $2.5 million. The naming sponsor for the dorm is The Home Depot; however, many other businesses contributed materials and expertise to the building project. The program was the brainchild of engineering student Mark Younger, E’03, and was initially launched in 2003 through a generous endowment gift by his father Bill Younger of Sutter Hill Ventures.

“Part of what makes this program so exciting to students is the opportunity to connect with industry," said Russell Holloway, associate dean for Industry and Corporate Relations. "Since 2003, students have aggressively recruited companies into creative partnerships. The response from these companies has been overwhelmingly positive. They love our students’ initiative. Such relationships have led to research collaborations, donations to the dorm and internships and jobs for Duke students.

Did you know? Fast Facts about The Home Depot Smart Home at Duke

  • The ultimate roof: The green roof, so named because it has native plants growing on it, covers most of the roof space. Green roofs insulate during the winter through snow accumulation and cool during summer through evaporative cooling, and they prevent the “urban heat-island effect.” The soil in the roof pre-filters any 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 -- very common in commercial construction -- that has very high albedo, meaning that it reflect more of the sun’s energy and keeps the building cool. The green roof was donated by American Hydrotech. The roof metal was donated by Metal Sales and is called Magna-Loc.
  • External Siding: The house was wrapped in a water proof vapor membrane called Tyvek Commercial Wrap. It was then covered by a maintenance-free, eco-friendly fiber cement board called Cembonit in a technique called a rain screen. The siding is separated from the wall by 1/2” and has 1/4” gaps between panels to allow for water and air to circulate. This prevents moisture build-up and relies on the Tyvek as the water barrier. Cembonit never has to be painted, and if it gets chipped the color is the same on the inside.
  • Lumber: All of the lumber in the dorm is harvested from sustainable forests. The trim includes southern yellow pine from the Duke Forest.
  • Paperless Dry Wall: All of the dry wall in the home is paperless product called DensArmor Plus, manufactured by Georgia-Pacific. Paper in dry wall is food for mold, a common problem in most buildings. Most consumers do not purchase paperless dry wall because it is too expensive.
  • Interior Insulation: Dry walls are insulated with a product donated by Icynene that is a spray foam insulation. The product expands to 100 times its original size to fill every crack. It acts as a complete insulation and air barrier and dampens sound between rooms.
  • Fiber Optic Wiring: Each room in the house is wired with a fiber optic cable. As Duke is on the national Light Rail network, this gives the dorm the capability for Internet speeds up to 40GB. With the amount of wiring, profect leaders think this makes the smart home the fastest dorm on the planet.