Solar-powered houses sound cool and all, but if you’ve ever seen one, something just doesn’t feel right about them.

“They don’t feel like a home.”

So says Brigid Cain, a West Virginia University civil engineering senior from Wheeling.

Cain is the student project leader for the WVU team competing in the 2013 Solar Decathlon, a collegiate design-and-build competition hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, which provided each team with a $100,000 grant. However the teams are also responsible for raising additional money and support.

Cain and her teammates hope to woo judges with their design, which merges the innovative technologies of tomorrow with the rustic comfort of the countryside.

The team, made up of 18 students across multiple disciplines, will start piecing together its solar-powered, log home in the fall 2012 semester on a site near the Student Recreation Center. But once it’s built, students will eventually disassemble the home, transport it to the competition in Irvine, Calif. and rebuild it there.

The WVU house is the first log-style home accepted into the decathlon.

“The houses that are usually entered focus on being new, modern and innovative,” Cain said. “But they lack the quality that’s most important to Americans – the feeling of ‘home.’ Our log-style home is cozy, warm and welcoming. We’re bringing old and new together for a comfortable, efficient environment.”

WVU is one of 20 international teams that will compete in October 2013 to design, build and operate the most affordable, attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house.

Students from the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources have been leading the WVU effort since Kenneth Hite, an electrical engineering major from Summit Point, discovered the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C. The decathlon team also includes students from the College of Creative Arts, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design,’ the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism and the College of Business & Economics.

We’re bringing old and new together for a comfortable, efficient environment.”

—Brigid Cain
Student Project Leader

Team members have been working around 20 hours a week to keep the project in motion.

“It all hasn’t been perfect,” acknowledges Michael Jordan, a mechanical engineering student from Charleston.

Jordan is the project manager who ensures deadlines are met and “calls you 700 times until you answer the phone.”

“It’s reasonable for WVU to be competing against top schools like Stanford and Cal Tech,” Jordan said. “We have to break the stigma of West Virginia, and we can do that by pulling off the best solar house.”

The house is centered on a “fulcrum,” which resembles the hearth or chimney of a house, said team members. Around the fulcrum are two sections of the house – a day area in the west and a night area in the east. The locations of the areas coincide with natural lighting and keep certain parts of the home cooler.

The home also includes solar panels on the roof and relies on natural resources to control temperature.

In addition to learning how to build an environmentally-friendly house, students have picked up valuable lessons on collaboration.

“I’ve learned so much about different disciplines and their strengths,” said Corie Posey, an interior design student from Philippi, who works on the engineer-heavy team. “As an interior designer, I’ve realized that I could not do my job without engineers. I’ve developed a greater respect for other disciplines.”

Posey is design coordinator for the team.

WVU students are also reaching across international borders to collaborate on the project. Students in Morgantown are working with representatives from the University of Rome Tor Vergata, which has a research agreement with WVU.

Other student coordinators include Tyler Sullens, engineering coordinator; Adeniyi Adebisi, site prep and logistics coordinator; Guglielmo Siniscalco, University of Rome architecture coordinator; Francesco Spagnolo, University of Rome engineering coordinator; Stephen Rebinski, fundraising coordinator; and Lauren Nickle, public relations coordinator.

Faculty advisors are Dimitris Korakakis, faculty project principal investigator; LaRue Williams, faculty project manager; and Vincenzo Mulone and Stefano Cordiner, both University of Rome faculty principal investigators.

ZMM Architects of Charleston and Ryan Hess of architectural firm Mills Group have donated time and resources to the project. Hess earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from WVU in 2007.

According to the Department of Energy, the winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002; the competition has since occurred biennially in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011.

The next event will take place Oct. 3–13, 2013, at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif.



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