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The US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon contest is a biennial international green building competition. Every two years, colleges and universities from around the world submit design proposals to the U.S. Department of Energy. The DOE selects 20 designs to be constructed and displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Every other September, the mall is transformed into a 100% solar powered residential lot. Each house is judged in 10 different competitions from architectural design to net metering to affordability. During the 2009 competition, more than 300,000 visitors toured the homes, a testament to the excitement surrounding clean energy in the residential sector.
One of the teams competing in the 2011 competition this September is Middlebury College in Vermont, and there are four Mainers playing integral roles on the team: Sarah Simonds of Rangely, Stanis Moody-Roberts and Emily Atwood of Cape Elizabeth, and Merelise Ametti of Skowhegan. Middlebury is the first small liberal arts college to be chosen in the history of the competition, and the only undergraduate-led entry chosen for the 2011 competition. While this might to some seem like a disadvantage, Middlebury is hoping to turn it into an advantage by bringing diverse, interdisciplinary, outside-of-the-box thinking to its design. Over 75 students from 18 different majors have taken part in the project, along with several local professionals who have volunteered their time to support the team.
The Middlebury College entry, titled "Self Reliance", has been designed first and foremost to be a home. It is a re-creation of the typical New England farmhouse, combining traditional architectural forms with the most advanced energy-efficient technology. In keeping with contest rules, it is single-story and just under 1000 SF, yet it is still built for the comfortable living of a family of four. Among many other design aspects, the home features:
• A gable roof that fits in with the New England vernacular.
• A "Green Wall" along the south side of the house that is made of triple-glazed glass and contains built-in shelves that will hold boxes growing an assortment of vegetables and other edibles, while additionally providing passive heat from sunlight.
• 32 SunPower 225 PV panels that will provide a net energy-surplus as well as a roof-mounted array of solar hot-water collectors.
• Local materials, including wood harvested from Middlebury College owned forest and milled less than 10 miles away - the goal being to minimize the "embodied energy" of the house.
• Nearly a foot of blown cellulose insulation (made from recycled newspaper) in the walls and 16 inches in the roof.
• An alternating stud structural configuration in the exterior walls that maintains the building's integrity while reducing thermal bridging.
• Linseed Oil-based finishes and eggshell-based paints.
After a year of designing and planning, the team started construction of the house on March 28th on one of the campus parking lots that was appropriated for the cause. Led by Alex Jopek, a student with extensive construction experience, the team members will be spending whatever extra time they have turning the drawings into reality through the rest of the spring and summer. Once the house is completed in August, it will be dismantled into two modular pieces and several roof panels, and transported by truck down to the National Mall in Washington D.C., where the contest will take place. The team will then have seven days to reconstruct the house. The competition itself runs from September 23rd to October 2nd and anyone interested in green construction is strongly urged to attend, and one of the 10 competitions is "People's Choice" - whichever house wins the most votes from the 300,000+ visitors expected to tour the exhibition.
Sarah Simonds of Rangely, Maine shows that building solar houses can be fun as well as work!
Photos and article contributed by Stanis Moody-Roberts of Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
An article was posted about this in the DOE's EERE Network News and on Energy.gov on April 19, 2011.