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Photo courtesy of the University of Calgary


TRTL [the original name for this project, meaning Technological Residence Traditional Living] is a solar powered net-zero home that features a range of materials that offer resistance to mold, fire and the extreme elements of Southern Alberta, Canada. The materials were also chosen because they significantly extend the life of the building. 

Hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the biennial Solar Decathlon challenges 20 international student-led teams to design, build and operate the most attractive, efficient and affordable solar-powered house. Team Canada is spearheaded by an interdisciplinary group of students from the University of Calgary. [1]

TRTL is a semi-rounded house, which takes inspiration from the tipi’s open floorplan. Unlike most Solar Decathlon houses, TRTL is actually a two bedroom home designed specifically for a family and an extended family. The 1,000 sq ft home features two bedrooms in the back, a bathroom, a mechanical core and kitchen in the center, and an open dining and living room on the south side to soak up the sun and daylight. This open layout encourages larger gatherings allowing families to sit together or have a meal. 

Environmentally friendly and durable materials are used extensively throughout to minimize maintenance and maximize longevity. All the appliances and systems are electric and energy efficient so that the entire home can run off the 8.3 kW arched solar photovoltaic system on the roof. A modular, SIP wall panel system and temporary screw pile foundation are used to construct the home, which allows for rapid and flexible assembly. The steel sub-frame assembly is wrapped in TitanWall SIPs, which are mold and fire-resistant as well as very durable. 

Currently, according to Canada’s Indian Act, a permanent structure on-reservation automatically becomes part of the land, not privately owned. So there is very little incentive for the native peoples to build houses. The modular design and temporary foundation also helps bypass legal barriers to ownership on a reservation — because technically it could be relocated if necessary. This will encourage ownership, entrepreneurship and responsibility for maintenance and upgrades. [2]

When originally built, the project had the name of Cenovus-Technological Residence Traditional Living, after the sponsor, Cenovus.  The acronym (TRTL) is pronounced “turtle”, for the dome shape of the building; Piikani Chief Reg Crowshoe later gave it the name “Spo’pi,” the Blackfoot word for turtle.  Cenovus donated the building to the university in 2012. 

The building opened adjacent to the engineering complex on May 2, 2013.  Spo’pi is a two-bedroom, 935-square metre house intended to provide alternative housing on First Nations.  There are more than thirty solar panels on the roof, and overall the building generates more energy than it consumes.  The space currently accommodates teaching and learning for solar energy and sustainability research. [3]


[1]       “Trtl.” Innotech Windows & Doors, June 2, 2015. https://www.innotech-windows.com/projects/trtl-calgary.

[2]       “Team Canada’s Solar Decathlon TRTL SOLAR Shell Home Is Built for Native Canadians.” Inhabitat Green Design Innovation Architecture Green Building. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://inhabitat.com/team-canadas-solar-decathlon-trtl-solar-shell-home-is-perfect-for-native-canadians/.

[3]        “Cenovus Spo’pi Solar House.” Archives and Special Collections, January 11, 2019. https://asc.ucalgary.ca/building/cenovus-spopi-solar-house/.

Additional information:

“Canada: University of Calgary.” DOE Solar Decathlon: Canada: University of Calgary. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.solardecathlon.gov/past/2011/team_canada.html.

“Canada: University of Calgary.” DOE Solar Decathlon: Canada: University of Calgary. Accessed August 11, 2021. https://www.solardecathlon.gov/past/2011/where_is_canada_now.html.

Faces of Philanthropy: Spotlight on the Cenovus Spo’pi Solar House. YouTube. YouTube, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuELJJWQN9s.

“Student‐Built Solar House Becomes Permanent U of C Research Facility.” Electrical Line Magazine, August 17, 2021. https://electricalline.com/student%E2%80%90built-solar-house-becomes-permanent-u-c-research-facility.

“The TRTL Comes out of Its Shell.” Innotech Windows & Doors, May 24, 2015. https://www.innotech-windows.com/blog/the-trtl-comes-out-of-its-shell.

“TRTL: Construction Document.” Solar Decathlon 2011, n.d. https://www.solardecathlon.gov/past/2011/pdfs/canada_cd.pdf.

“TRTL: Manual.” Solar Decathlon 2011, n.d. https://www.solardecathlon.gov/past/2011/pdfs/canada_manual.pdf.

Project Title: Spo’pi Solar House (formerly TRTL)
Artists: Team Canada (Solar Decathlon 2011)
Year: 2011

Place: Calgary, Alberta

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