A quick reference guide to some of the standards, processes, and materials integral to the design and construction of the SURE HOUSE.


Air Sealing

The floors, walls, roofs and windows of high-performance homes should be built air-tight in order to reduce uncomfortable drafts and the amount of warm air escaping the building in winter. This air-sealing has the added benefit of keeping hot humid air out during the long and sticky summer season. Air-sealed buildings still have openable windows of course, and should always include a fresh-air ventilation system to bring in clean, filtered fresh air all year long.

Building Envelope

The ‘Envelope’ of the home is architecture-talk for the outside layer of the building. In modern buildings, this ‘envelope’ is made of many layers, each with a special role to play. Cutting edge materials, combined smartly, ensure remarkably durable assemblies which keep the building warm and dry for years to come.

Climate Change

As we use up the world’s fossil fuels to power our cars, homes and businesses we are also filling up the earth’s atmosphere with greenhouse gases such as CO2. The unprecedented concentrations of these gases in our air is leading to unpredictable changes in our climate, affecting life across the globe. Only through radical conservation, reducing our dependence on energy across the board, can we mitigate the worst effects of this climate disruption over the next century.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil Fuels are the world’s primary energy source. The burning of these fuels (such as Natural Gas, Oil and Coal) to create energy is the primary driver of the global climate change currently affecting communities across the globe. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and shifting to cleaner energy sources is critical if we are to reduce the impact of rising sea levels and changing weather patterns.

Solar-Photovoltaic (PV)

These roof mounted panels convert the sun’s rays into electrical energy able to power our homes’ heating, cooling, hot water and appliances. The SURE HOUSE has enough Solar Photovoltaic panels on its roof to provide all of the power it will ever need over the course of a year.

Passive House

Passive House is a type of high-performance building which focuses on conserving energy through thick insulation, air sealing and other simple measures to reduce energy use. This standard, administered by the German Passive House Institute, is the best way to create high-quality, healthy and low energy homes.


Insulation is used to keep the heat inside our buildings in the winter, and keep the heat out in summer. Our ‘Super Insulated’ SURE HOUSE has almost twice the level of insulation of a typical home which helps us dramatically reduce our energy use.

Solar Heat Gain

The sun can provide almost all of the energy our buildings need if are smart enough to capture it. While thick insulation can keep heat from escaping from the SURE HOUSE, advanced windows can bring in as much free solar heat as possible. In the SURE HOUSE, the windows themselves are part of the heating system, bringing in more free solar heat than they lose over a year. These windows need to be carefully shaded in the summer so that the home doesn’t overheat – meaning the smart design of the architecture is critically important to the home’s functioning.

Heat Recovery Ventilation

In air-tight homes, fresh air needs to the provided via a continuous Heat Recovery Ventilation system. This HRV runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide clean, filtered air to all the spaces of the SURE HOUSE while at the same time extracting stale air from the kitchen and bathroom. This ventilation system uses remarkably little energy and ‘saves’ the heat from the exhausting air – helping to create a healthy, comfortable low energy home.

High-Performance Home

Buildings, and particularly our homes, are the single biggest consumer of energy today. In order to reduce our energy consumption and the related threats to the environment, it is critical that we reduce the amount of heating, cooling, hot water and other energy use in our homes. High Performance homes can reduce this energy by as much as 90% through thick insulation, rigorous air-sealing, heat recovery ventilation and smart design. These low-consumption homes can then integrate renewable energy measures such as Photovoltaic panels to completely offset the energy needed to maintain a clean, healthy, comfortable home.

Indoor Air Quality

The air quality of our buildings, especially our homes, can have severe effects on our health and its important to ensure a supply of clean, filtered, fresh air as well as extracting stale or contaminated air. The SURE HOUSE features a heat recovery ventilation system which cleans the air 24/7 and ensures that the home is both healthy and comfortable.


Absorptive Capacity

The measure of how well any system (here, the SURE HOUSE itself) can endure a disruption without significant deviation from its normal operating state. For the SURE HOUSE, this is not only the flood-proofing, but also the high-performance envelope which allows the home to endure significant weather extremes without recourse to consuming huge amounts of energy to maintain its ‘normal’ state. The Islandable PV system, which allows the user to maintain a certain amount of ‘normal’ operations (communications, heat, etc…) even when the grid is down, is also critical to increasing the absorptive capacity of the SURE HOUSE.

Adaptive Capacity

The ability of a system, process or object to change its characteristics to meet a drastic change in ‘normal’ conditions. At the crudest level, this is the SURE HOUSE’s storm shutters, which change their state to help the home survive the storm events.

This can also be thought of as “what we are doing right now” – the actual designing of a new building ‘type’ which has an increased absorptive capacity (we – the design team- are the adaptive element in that system, learning from the past and re-shaping the new ‘normal’ state….)

Base Flood Elevation (BFE)

The FEMA designated level of projected flooding. The BFE is a regulatory requirement for the elevation or floodproofing of structures.

Dry Floodproofing

FEMA requires that all flood-susceptible communities (Zones A1-30, AE, AH) have their homes elevated up above the designated Base Flood Elevation (BFE). In these zones, all new construction must be elevated on pilings or columns so that the bottom of the structure is effectively well above any possible flooding.


FEMA requires that all flood-susceptible communities (Zones A1-30, AE, AH) have their homes elevated up above the designated Base Flood Elevation (BFE). In these zones, all new construction must be elevated on pilings or columns so that the bottom of the structure is effectively well above any possible flooding.

Wet Floodproofing

Wet Floodproofing includes permanent or contingent measures applied to a structure or its contents that prevent or provide resistance to damage from flooding while allowing floodwaters to enter the structure or area. Generally, this includes properly anchoring the structure, using flood resistant materials below the Base Flood Elevation (BFE), protection of mechanical and utility equipment, and use of openings or breakaway walls.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards.

FEMA, through the NFIP also works to direct the type of construction allowed along the coast. Current FEMA regulations require new homes to often be elevated above possible flood levels, permanently changing the nature of the streetscapes in these towns.


The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is aimed at reducing the impact of flooding on private and public structures. This is achieved by providing affordable insurance for property owners and by encouraging communities to adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations. These efforts help mitigate the effects of flooding on new and improved structures. Overall, the program reduces the socio-economic impact of disasters by promoting the purchase and retention of Risk Insurance in general, and National Flood Insurance in particular.


The fiber-composites on the SURE HOUSE are advanced materials which utilize a sophisticated matrix of reinforcement fibers (glass, Carbon and even bio-fibers such as Flax) and plastic binders. These high-strength materials have surprisingly low weight and are durable enough to protect our home from the storms and flooding which are becoming more common along the Atlantic coast.


Able to resist the worst impacts of high-wind coastal storms such as hurricanes. Impact resistant materials and assemblies are particularly important as well as reducing exterior elements which might become projectiles in high-wind events and potentially damaging neighboring structures.


Flood resistant construction for the SURE HOUSE means successfully keeping floods outside the home thanks to the fiber-composite sheathing and flood-shutters which can cover the delicate windows and doors. This also means materials which can be cleaned relatively easily after the flood-waters have receded.

Islanding PV

Traditional Photovoltaic systems are connected to the electric grid and when the grid goes ‘down’ due to weather events such as Hurricane Sandy, these systems stop producing usable energy at exactly the moment when people need it most. Some systems use expensive and dangerous on-site battery storage to combat this vulnerability. The SURE HOUSE’s PV system, however, is designed to safely allow a small amount of ‘Islanded’ (cut off from the main grid) energy generation during a power-outage without any batteries at all. This energy can be used to charge communication devices and other critical systems until the electric grid is repaired.


The SURE HOUSE features a new twist on an old technique. For hundreds of years storm shutters have been utilized by communities from the Caribbean all the way to New England and everywhere in between to mitigate the effects of living close to the shore. Our innovative ultra-light, high-strength Fiber Composite storm shutters not only protect the home from flying debris, but also from the severe flooding more and more common across the shore communities.

Hoboken, NJ
74° F
Irvine, CA
68° F
Partly Cloudy

Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered... Learn More