This is crunch time for the 20 academic teams participating in the 2009 Solar Decathlon, scheduled for October 8-18 in Washington, D.C.
Actually, to be fair, there is a trial-by-fire urgency to the entire two years of planning and preparation that Decathlon contestants put into their solar-powered demo homes. It’s just that, with less than three months to go, this is when the wrinkles in each project – from performance problems to assembly and disassembly snafus – really must be ironed out.
A story recently posted by the Minnesota Daily, a publication of the University of Minnesota, describes a few of the pressures facing members of the team representing the school, which is making its Decathlon debut.
The team’s student project manager, Shengyin Xu , a third-year architecture and sustainable design graduate student, said the team consists of 13 specially focused subgroups, most of which are swarming the construction site where the school’s Decathlon entry, ICON House, is being built. Xu is there much of the time too. Beginning August 14, the building is scheduled to open for public display and the team can practice showcasing its features.
Getting ready for the big ride
Construction manager Craig Hohensee told the Daily that the long summer days allow more work to get done – assuming enough workers show up. “In the summer,” he said, “the biggest difficulty is getting a consistent supply of labor.”
The current workload is “grueling,” Hohensee said, noting that his crew sometimes labors until 9 or 10 p.m.
When the time comes to transport the 799-sq.-ft. ICON House to Washington, it will be broken into three base pieces and three roof pieces, which will be shipped on three flatbeds, each carrying roof-and-base pair. A fourth flatbed will carry odd parts, and two other trucks will carry furniture and building equipment.
The team’s budget for the project: $1 million, including the $100,000 the school received from the Decathlon’s sponsor, the Department of Energy, when it accepted ICON House into the competition.
ICON House, whose name derives from the iconic look of the gabled-roof homes common to Minnesota, features a state-of-the-art solar power installation and a passive-solar design to maximize energy efficiency in ways that specifically address Minnesota’s seasonal weather and daylight patterns. The windows on the building’s south-facing walls, which have the most exposure to the winter sun, are triple-paned, argon-filled, and low-E, whereas those on the recessed east wall are equipped with louvers and electrochromic tinting to reduce direct solar heat gain during the summer.
On the ICON House website, the team also emphasizes that it took particular care to analyze all the life-cycle data available for the materials that were considered for use in the project.
“Our particular team thinks about our house and its components in terms of nutrients,” the team explains. “Using (life-cycle analysis) tools, we can determine how many resources a particular component uses during its lifetime. In selecting materials, we want the embodied resources and energy to be utilized sustainably. Products that have the potential to be biological nutrients can be easily removed from the house and biodegraded and returned to the environment. Products and materials that cannot be returned to the environment should be returned to a closed-loop system of manufacturing” so that they may be reused or recycled and maintain their value.