Solar house team to be critiqued Friday

The student-made solar house design has reached 75 percent completion, and on Friday an evaluation will mimic the judging they will experience next October in Washington, D.C. The University of MinnesotaâÄôs Solar Decathlon team combines disciplines as diverse as communications, architecture and engineering in an effort to make a 100 percent solar-powered house for a worldwide contest. Preliminary designs were established last summer, and in the past couple months the team has been putting together the nuts and bolts of the design âÄî the technical drawings theyâÄôll use to construct the house. That means designing the smallest details âÄî nailing down things like exactly how a column will be connected to other structures, said team president Shengyin Xu , a graduate student in sustainable design. The team uses an integrated process, which means they âÄúdesign the house with everyone at the table,âÄù she said. âÄúIt does put you out of your comfort zone, you have to offer feedback on things youâÄôre not usually the expert on,âÄù she said. âÄúEngineers would be talking about aesthetics.âÄù FridayâÄôs critique will be the third time the team has invited external input. People from industry, professors and students have given the team âÄúsome really good feedback so far,âÄù said project director Ann Johnson , who directs the UniversityâÄôs construction program. People who work in construction or architecture have been helpful because they help the team see things in a different light and âÄúshare their insight about how things actually go together in the field,âÄù she added. FridayâÄôs design review is intended to mimic the judging process, graduate student and commissioning team lead Joe Messier said. Commissioning involves designing tests to run in the house to see how things like the heat and air conditioning are performing âÄî but Messier also had to come up with a way to âÄútestâÄù how the house would be judged. Public design reviews arenâÄôt the only way the team works with industry. The photovoltaics âÄî or solar electricity âÄî team is working with the company Schuco to get custom window panels that contain integrated solar cells. âÄúI think thatâÄôs a really special part of our house,âÄù Johnson said. Though itâÄôs not realistic for developers to incorporate all the futuristic elements of the solar house right now, some city governments and affordable housing organizations are enforcing sustainable building guidelines. For example, affordable housing developments funded by the Minnesota Green Communities nonprofit must meet standards for sustainable building, including location, water and energy efficiency, and air quality inside the home. Program coordinator Janne Flisrand said she appreciates the cutting edge technology aspects of the Solar Decathlon, but she emphasized the importance of using common sense, cost-reasonable approaches, like orienting houses so they maximize natural lighting and summertime ventilation from the wind. âÄúA lot of my time is working with people and helping them find resources to learn how to do this, even though theyâÄôve been an architect for 20 years,âÄù she said. Next semester, the team plans to further their outreach efforts by creating an online database that would show the properties and environmental impacts of products theyâÄôve considered. Instead of telling people they should use a particular type of insulation or appliance, Xu said the team wants people to be able to find what works best for them. âÄúWeâÄôre trying to take the research weâÄôve done for the house and make it applicable to everyone else,âÄù she said.