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Illinois Gable Home wins second place in Solar Decathlon

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By Melissa Mitchell, U of I News Bureau
October 19, 2009

  • Gable Home wins second place in the 2009 Solar Decathlon.
  • The house is made from recycled, reclaimed wood and engineered bamboo and has a rooftop array of solar panels.
  • Illinois won first place in the hot water, appliances, and home entertainment and second place in lighting design, comfort, and net metering categories.

The Washington Monument was clearly visible from the Illinois Gable Home during the Solar Decathlon competition. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.
The Washington Monument was clearly visible from the Illinois Gable Home during the Solar Decathlon competition. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

A team of students from the University of Illinois won second place in the 2009 Solar Decathlon design competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Winners of the international contest were announced the morning of October 16 in Washington, D.C., by U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman.

The interdisciplinary team from Illinois designed a super-energy-efficient, solar-powered residential dwelling it calls the Gable Home.

“As I kept saying, we never could guarantee first place, but we could guarantee a first-place effort,” said ECE Associate Professor Patrick Chapman, one of the team’s lead faculty advisers, who oversaw engineering efforts on the project.

“We’re very happy to get second place,” said architecture professor and project manager Mark Taylor, who added that Illinois “just couldn’t beat a house wrapped in solar panels,” referring to the house designed by the German team, which won first place.

Patrick Lyle Chapman
Patrick Lyle Chapman

The Illinois team’s highly insulated, 800-square-foot house borrows its design from a familiar Midwestern architectural vernacular and is constructed largely from recycled, reclaimed wood and engineered bamboo and is outfitted with a rooftop array of solar panels. The house was designed to meet Passive House standards set by the Passive House Institute US.

According to another of the team’s faculty advisers, industrial design professor David Weightman, the home has “more solar panels than would be required for normal operation, due to the particular nature of the competition requirements.”

“It requires very little heating in Illinois during the winter months,” he said. “In fact, it can produce three to four times the output of power that it needs.”

Weightman said that the Illinois team’s second-place finish is a belated tribute to the pioneering work done in passive solar and energy-efficient housing design done at the School of Architecture at Illinois in the 1970s by Mike McCulley and others.

Weightman also credited all the students who labored long and hard on the project, including graduate student Joe Simon, the lead student project manager, and lead student engineering adviser Sairaj Dhople.

The Gable House, originally constructed on the U. of I. campus, recently was disassembled, then trucked to Washington D.C., where it was reassembled for the competition last week on the National Mall in a temporary “neighborhood” known as the Solar Village.

The home, along with its 19 competitors designed by teams of college students from across the United States and Europe, will remain on the mall through Sunday (Oct. 18), where it will be open to visitors.

Core members of the Illinois team are undergraduate and graduate students from the colleges of Engineering and Fine and Applied Arts, Weightman said. About 200 students in all participated in the project, including others from the colleges of Business and Media.

Visitors braved the rain to visit the Solar Decathlon houses. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.
Visitors braved the rain to visit the Solar Decathlon houses. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.
 

According to the Solar Decathlon Web site, goals of the competition included education of participants on the benefits of energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building technologies; raising public awareness of these practices; encouraging research, development and marketability of solar energy technologies; fostering educational cooperation among students and institutions; and promoting an integrated, “whole building design” approach to new construction.

Other goals included demonstrating the potential of zero-energy homes, which produce as much energy from renewable sources such as the sun and wind, as they consume.

The competition included tests in 10 areas ranging from architecture, comfort, livability and market viability to how well the solar homes provide energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, lights and appliances.

ECE graduate student Charles Murray noted the camaraderie among the students from the various schools. “You didn’t start getting competitive until your house was set up,” he said. He noted that the Illinois team loaned spare parts to the Minnesota team, and borrowed an item from the California team. “Everybody wants to see this technology work, and there’s a lot of like-minded people out there,” he said.

The Illinois team won first place in three competition categories: hot water, appliances, and home entertainment. It also won second place in lighting design, comfort, and net metering.

“Our house also was the second most affordable on the mall,” Taylor said. “The important message of our house is that it was not only designed for the style of Illinois, but for what people have in their pockets.”

Teams selected to compete were initially provided with $100,000 in seed money from DOE; additional funds to complete projects then had to be solicited by the teams.

This is the second time U. of I. students have participated in the biennial competition, which began in 2002.

The team worked with Homeway Homes, of Deer Creek, Ill., to have them manufacture the shell of the house. This allowed the students to focus on the home’s heating and cooling, internal systems and interior design needs.

The final result, he said, “is not a big house, but it is still a spacious-feeling home.” Its intended occupants, he added, would be either “young people starting out, or a retired couple.”

In addition to Homeway Homes, a number of commercial sponsors contributed to the home’s design success of the home and its contents, including Texas Instruments, Kohler, Optiwin, Valcucine, Lamboo Inc. and Crate&Barrel.

Weightman also credited Chicago’s Merchandise Mart for assistance in brokering materials used in the home.

For more information on the Illinois Gable Home, go to the team's Web page.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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