How the Duke Smart Home Works

The Smart Home is much more than just a residence hall. See more green science pictures.
Photo courtesy of Duke Smart Home Program

The students at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering aren't the only smart ones on the Durham, N.C., campus. Duke's Smart Home is also there -- a 6,000 square foot (557 square meter) residence hall that's also an example of sustainable living through technology, energy efficiency and green lifestyle choices.

The concept of the Smart Home dates back to 2003 when then-undergrad engineering student Mark Younger introduced the idea in his senior thesis. The house, also known as the Home Depot Smart Home because of the company's $2 million sponsorship over the construction period, opened in November 2007. The first residents moved in during the January 2008 semester.

The Smart Home is not only a residence hall, though. It's a live-in laboratory and test bed -- a principle piece of a larger smarter living program at Duke. More than 100 students, mostly undergrads from a variety of academic disciplines, are carrying out research on what it means to live smartly.

So what does "smart" living mean? It doesn't mean applying the hottest new gadget or technology to the problem at hand. At the Duke Smart Home it instead means finding the smartest solution to a problem with adaptable and sustainable answers and technologies. (Even if those answers and technologies may not exist yet.) While one team of students in the program may study a topic such as a microbial bioreactor for hydrogen production (yes, that's a real project), another team might choose to research the cost/benefit of sustainable tech design. This research allows students hands-on exploration and discovery of innovative ways to use technology in the Smart Home.

The research laboratory offers students applied experience not only in green living but also in project management, team building, dynamics and practical design.