Thursday, May 26, 2011

Re_home designed to provide more than shelter in wake of disaster

Re_home designed to provide more than shelter in wake of disaster

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Just as the dust settled from the departure of students last week, there was an exciting and much anticipated arrival on the University of Illinois campus. On Tuesday morning, the shell for the University’s entry in this year’s Solar Decathlon was delivered to a site near the ACES Library.

The Solar Decathlon, you may remember, is a biannual competition among entrants from 20 universities from around the world, sponsored by the U. S. Department of Energy. The competing teams, which are selected from a much larger pool based on the quality of their initial proposals, strive “to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.”

The structure delivered last Tuesday will become the third entry in the competition for the U of I, which captured 2nd place overall in 2009, after placing 9th with its first entry in 2007.

For this year’s model, the U of I team adopted the task of creating a home that would be useful in the wake of a natural disaster, so it is designed for rapid assembly as well as sustainability. The home’s two modules are sized for easy transport by truck, and the structure will incorporate extra outdoor space by means of decks and awnings. In the words of Mark Taylor, one of the faculty members who guides the project, “We wanted to create a house with large, open spaces, a place where people can come together and look ahead, not simply a shelter for them to retreat to.”

On the inside, the home will provide about 900 square feet of living space. It will be ADA-compliant, with wide doorways, level thresholds and space in the bathroom to turn a wheelchair around. The windows will be oriented to take full advantage of the sun for lighting year round, and for passive heating in the winter. Of course, the materials used to finish the home were selected with sustainability in mind.

“Net-zero” energy use is a must for entries in the solar decathlon, so the engineering students who participated in the design of the home were charged with ensuring it will use no more power than the solar panels on its roof produce. It will require only minimal heating and cooling, thanks to meticulous weather sealing, super insulated walls and triple-pane glass. What heating and cooling are needed will be provided by an intelligent, nimble system developed especially for ultra efficient homes by Newell Instruments in Urbana. The electrical appliances to be used in the home were chosen for their efficiency, but all of them are also affordable, off-the-shelf products.

The shell of the home that was delivered last week was constructed by a commercial maker of modular buildings, Homeway Homes of Bloomington, Illinois, according to designs developed by U of I students. In a nutshell, Homeway’s part was to put together the insulated stud framing, install the windows and doors and put in the subfloor.

Over the course of the summer, U of I students from architecture and engineering will complete the construction. They will install insulated panels to finish the exterior walls, assemble the photovoltaic array on the roof, build the exterior decking, put down flooring inside, and more.

Come September, the home will be trucked to the National Mall in Washington D. C., where the U of I team hopes to unseat two-time reigning champions, Team Germany.

You can learn more and follow progress on the Re_home at