Mindful of the damage Hurricane Sandy inflicted on coastal New Jersey in 2012, students from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. didn’t just design the 2015 Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon winning “SURE HOUSE” to be ultra-energy efficient, but also utilized composite shutters and hatches to help make the home storm proof.

“In addition to following all the rules of the competition, which have to do with [building and designing] a zero energy, solar-powered house, we wanted to take the definition of sustainable to a completely new level, which included resilience through storm protection,” says Tom King, one of six team members from Stevens’ master’s degree program in product architecture and engineering.


Incorporating GFRP in a solar-powered house served as an eye opener for a team of students at Stevens Institute of Technology. “Many of the faculty and students were vastly unaware of the process and the product,” says Tom King, a graduate student at Stevens and a member of the team that built the contest-winning SURE HOUSE. “It was a large learning process for the entire team as far as introduction to a new building technique that can result in very high strength, but also lightweight materials.”

King worked for Aquidneck Custom Composites, a custom boat builder in Bristol, R.I., after he finished college and completed a post-graduate composite fabrication course at the International Yacht Restoration School in Bristol. The team was able to use King’s experience to incorporate composites in the house. Initially, they explored using GFRP for the entire structure, creating “a boat that would be a house,” recalls King. But the team ran into problems with building and structural codes. “There is no real guideline for how to design a composite for a residential home,” says King. “We wouldn’t have been able to do all the proper testing to prove that the house was structurally sound, so we abandoned that idea due to time constraints.”

Instead, the team used a traditional wooden frame filled with mineral wool insulation and covered in plywood, designed to Passive House Institute standards that aim to significantly reduce energy consumption. The exterior walls and underside of the floor were then dry flood proofed – or made watertight below the level that needs flood protection – by attaching 1/8-inch thick 4 x 8-foot sheets of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) to the plywood with gasketed roof screws. All the joints were then sealed with a marine sealant from 3M and a layer of Vycor® waterproof tape.