July 2007 Issue
In the market for a new home that's sure to shrink your utility bills? University of Cincinnati students and faculty will soon have the plan for you: One that's the ultimate in innovation, from the use of hot water to cool and dehumidify the 800-square-foot dwelling to the 36 photovoltaic roof panels designed to produce more than enough energy to power the appliances and recharge an electric automobile.
Members of UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, College of Engineering and College of Business are constructing such a house with the hope that it will be the award-winner at the Solar Decathlon, to be held in Washington, D.C., in October. The university is one of 20 international competitors to conceive and construct an energy-efficient home for the competition, which is sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of Energy.
"We were honored to be selected to participate. Every step represents a challenge from a design, engineering and business perspective," says Anton Harfmann, associate dean of the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, who was one of the first to begin work on the project in January 2006. He compares the competition to an Olympic decathlon with its rigorous series of tests and point system.
"The overall best athlete who can do everything reasonably well is typically the winner at the Olympics," he says. "The same will be true during this two-week contest. During one event, we'll have to prove that our house can generate enough hot water to provide for two showers a day.
On another day, we'll be asked to produce enough power to prepare a meal of hot and cold foods. Spend too much energy on one thing and you won't have enough to continue."
Construction of the house, which is taking place on the University of Cincinnati campus, also presents challenges. Like most building projects, staying on schedule is a primary concern. Depending on student labor - available primarily between class periods - and building the home in four sections that can be easily transported to the National Mall, are challenges the team faces.
To Christopher Davis, a graduate student in architecture who suggested the university apply for a place in the competition, the house is the benchmark of what successful collaboration can lead to.
"It's a personal passion of mine to find solutions to environmental problems and create sustainability," he says.