WASHINGTON,Oct. 12 – The fruition of 18 months of work by dozens of University of Cincinnati students rolled into town on trailer beds early last week.
Four trucks carried 8-foot wide sections of an energy-efficient trailer home designed and built by UC students as part of the Solar Decathlon,a competition sponsored by the Department of Energy with the aim of designing and building the most “attractive,effective and energy-efficient solar-powered house.”
Cincinnati will compete against 19 other teams representing colleges from the U.S.,Canada,Germany,Spain and Puerto Rico in the eight-day event that began Friday.
UC students read about the last competition 2005. A few students,including recent graduate Christopher Davis,decided Cincinnati should jump into this year's competition.
“I said,‘Hey,let's do this,'” said Davis,one of the project managers. “And here we are.”
Two years and hundreds of studio hours later,members of the Reform Team (see below for an explanation of the name) have assembled their cutting-edge house on the dusty field of the National Mall. Davis estimated the total cost of the project at about $250,000,counting materials,labor and transportation.
The project combines UC's strengths – architecture and engineering – Davis said. Through collaborations among departments that often compete for funding,students and faculty worked together to engineer an energy-efficient home that could not only handle the 500-mile transport but also have some aesthetic pizzazz.
Terry Boling,a UC architecture professor,aided students in creating a strong visual element to the house,accomplished by a strong slope in the roof and a mosaic of reclaimed aluminum panels. The design,which Davis called “love it or hate it,” starkly contrasts with the earth tones of some of the other buildings,including a beige ranch-style home by the Santa Clara (Calif.) University team.
“It's not just about the grunt work of putting the project together,” Boling said. “It's part of a really big holistic process.”
The 650-square foot house includes a bedroom,kitchen,living room,dining room and patio. Energy Star lighting and appliances save energy. The house employs radiant floor heating,which distributes the heat evenly through the room. The system also eliminates the need for fans to blow the air,said Jeremy Smith,the engineering team leader.
But the most innovative feature is the wall of 7-foot evacuated tubes at the back of the house,Smith said. Though other schools have utilized this amenity in their designs,Cincinnati decided to use a whopping 120 tubes,creating a wall of blue cylinders. The tubes reduce energy costs by absorbing solar energy and converting that to thermal energy,or heat.
Davis said the tubes,more than anything else,brought out spectators when the house stood on the UC campus. And the apparatus has already caught the eye of more than a few tourists taking a stroll across the Mall.
To cool the house,the crew imported a rare absorption chiller from Spain,now the second largest of its kind in the United States. Reform also installed high-efficiency windows and glass doors. The house requires less electricity than a standard hairdryer,said Brian Whitright,an electrical engineering student working with the house's circuitry.
Reform became the second team to finish inspections Thursday afternoon,as crew members made the transition from the heavy construction of the past week to fine tuning and cleaning their work space in anticipation of public tours.
Kent Wahl,a 1974 UC graduate,saw the Bearcat flag and took a detour to visit the house. The Cincinnati resident,in town for a naval reunion,was part of a team at UC that constructed a new type of windmill when that technology was developed.
“I think it's neat,” he said,”seeing the progress.”
Wahl and some Navy buddies stopped at the panels along the entrance that describe,in detail,how the house works. Students spent hours deciding how best to educate visitors and chose a fictional family to illustrate the house's features. The architectural-enthusiast father,businesswoman mother and technology whiz son explain various aspects of the house.
Carl Sterner,an architect student and team member,said the three family members roughly equate with the three schools involved in designing,building and funding the Reform house.
And while many students remained confident of their chances of winning the first-place trophy at the Oct. 19 ceremony – or at least winning one of the 10 individual events,such as architecture or functionality – Boling said that's not what's most important here.
“We're here to experiment. We're here to learn,” he said,adding that he and the students learned a great deal while completing the project.
Some team members agree.
“I just like to do something practical,” Smith said. “Might as well go to school and apply it while you're there.”
What's in a name:
Reform,the team's name,has several inspirations,architecture student Carl Sterner said. “Re” is another form of Ra,the Egyptian sun god. Thus,Reform meant a focus on the sun and solar energy. “Re” can be shorthand for “regarding,” meaning the team wanted to place special emphasis on the form or the design of the house. And to reform means to improve or change,something the UC team wants to do with energy-efficient construction.