Construction starts on solar home
by Kellen Short
About halfway through the 18-month competition, the start of building Tuesday was a major milestone at the Solar Decathlon headquarters on East King Street.
"I've been waiting for this day for a long time," said project co-manager Bryce Oakley, a graduate student at Appalachian State University.
Within a couple of hours, students had assembled the floor base for one of six modules that will combine to create the two-story home designed to integrate into an urban environment.
The competition house must rely entirely on solar power, while also proving attractive, efficient and affordable. The goal is to create a design that would cost about $120,000 on the market.
Among the most important components of the house will be the CHORD, or Container for High-performance Operation, Recirculation and Distribution. It will house the mechanical systems, HVAC, electrical, plumbing and sustainable energy systems.
"It pretty much has all the guts and brains of the house," said construction manager Scott Hopkins.
Along the way, the team must meet seven "deliverables" to show their progress.
When the work is complete, the house will be deconstructed and packed into shipping containers by May 1 for the trip across the Atlantic. The team will have only 10 days in France to reassemble the house and prepare it for competition.
The "decathlon" title comes from 10 tests the home and team must undergo during the competition, which runs from June 27 to July 14. ASU is one of only three American universities selected for the international competition.
Team Rciprocit members have the advantage of learning from ASU's previous experience in the U.S. Solar Decathlon 2011 -- although the team and the technology won't be the same this time around.
Unlike the previous competition, the European competition will require ASU to meet French building codes and wire the house for 230 volts, rather than the 120 volt power used in the United States, among numerous other changes.
Like in the real world, the team already has hit a few snags along the way as it designs, plans and executes the home, said project architect Mike Germano.
"It's a 'design opportunity,' as we say, not a challenge," he said.
But the team is relying on a broad swath of the ASU community to overcome those challenges. In addition to the eight primary managers, four faculty mentors and 12 undergraduate students, the team will pull from throughout the university for its logos, apparel, home furnishings and design, communications strategies and more, said Mark Bridges, communications manager.
Already about 500 to 600 students have had a hand in the project, and the goal is to grow that to more than 1,000 students by the time the project is done, Bridges said.
The team also pulls from classroom instruction and previous experience in design and construction.
ASU junior Nathan Powell said he spent 10 years working in commercial construction in Utah before enrolling at Appalachian State University. His previous experience included serving as project supervisor on an $8 million, three-story commercial building with parking garage.
"This is no big deal," Powell said Tuesday as he worked on the floor base. "Nerves are something that left me a long time ago."
Another estimated 500 students will work the project from the Universit d`Angers, ASU's partner school. The teams have talked frequently via Skype, and four French students worked in Boone this summer to help build a mockup of the project, Bridges said. The finished product will remain on their campus after the competition next year.
While competition is still months away, the team needs support. It estimates it will need to raise about $1.3 million for all expenses, including construction and materials and students' expenses getting to the competition.
Oakley, the project co-manager, said the team appreciates any form of support. Community members can follow the progress at reciprocity2014.com, at Facebook.com/reciprocity2014 or by attending future open house events.
"We're representing not just App State but Boone and North Carolina," Oakley said. "It's so appreciated to have that backing."