In fall 2009, Appalachian State University was only beginning to flex its solar-powered muscle.
That’s when two ASU faculty members formed a graduate-level building science course that developed a proposal for a zero net-energy home to be entered into the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.
Two years, more than 40 students, 411 miles and 953 square feet later, ASU’s Solar Homestead team is blazing toward the finish line in the international competition of collegiate energy innovators.
On Saturday, Oct. 1, 18 days after moving the finished house from Boone to Washington, D.C’s West Potomac Park, ASU’s solar decathletes will find out where their entry placed in the overall competition.
Appalachian State University students hailing from multiple disciplines designed and constructed the two-bedroom, one-bath Solar Homestead. Their concept for the home was inspired by the independence and self-sufficiency of settlers of the Appalachian Mountains and their homesteads.
The efficient design is powered by solar panels and solar thermal technology and is fitted with energy-saving appliances. It includes a roomy great porch and a detachable flex unit that can serve as an office, studio or guest bedroom.
One of 19 solar-powered homes displayed on the National Mall, the Solar Homestead is put to the test through the Solar Decathlon’s 10 juried and measured contests. The building’s architecture, engineering, market appeal, affordability and home entertainment are amongst the aspects evaluated. Each contest results in a score based on a 100-point scale; the team with the highest cumulative score will be determined the winner.
Five contests into the decathlon, Appalachian is positioned in sixth place. With five more contests to go as of press time, there’s still plenty of opportunity for the university to win the competition.
Students on ASU’s Solar Homestead team have had little time for anxiety after setting up for the Solar Decathlon on Sept. 21. Since reassembling the house, the team members have been completing household tasks that help earn points in the contests.
They’ve also been giving tours of the home to the public.
Sammy Cortino, a broadcasting major and the Solar Homestead’s creative services Director, said the home has received good feedback from those who have visited.
He said people are impressed that most of the work on the homestead was completed by a primarily student workforce.
“People are really fascinated by the fact that 98 percent of this house has been done solely by students,” he said. “Most of the buildings on display have been constructed by contractors, with student involvement.”
Cortino also said ASU stands out because, unlike other schools participating in the contest, it does not have an engineering or architecture program. “It’s exciting to everyone that we’re here under these conditions,” he said.
Appalachian State University is the only school in North Carolina participating in the Solar Decathlon. Cortino said it’s been a privilege to represent the technological innovation taking place in the area.
“We’re showing the world, really, sustainable technologies,” he said. “We’re showing them not only what App can do but what North Carolina can do. This is really a feather in our cap.”
Another ASU decathlete, graphic design major Amiris Brown, said the team is honored to be able to promote the transition to sustainable home building. She thinks the Solar Decathlon, as a whole, is something that should be grabbing everyone’s attention.
“This is where you see the future take place first,” she said. “If you care about saving money in the long-term, cutting our dependence on oil, especially foreign oil, or if you want to aid in reducing the impact we have on the planet by providing an affordable solution in doing so, then this competition should catch your eye.”
ASU is already a winner in the Solar Decathlon, at least according to popular public opinion. The Solar Homestead is currently first on the People’s Choice Award leaderboard. The online contest, taking place on the Solar Decathlon website, closes Sept. 30.
Boone Town Council member Andy Ball is one of many in the High Country who have voted for the Solar Homestead to win the award. The homestead is an incredible design, he said, and is worthy of winning something.
“The ASU team has culled talents from across the university and the community and has headed to D.C. with a product we are all proud of,” he said. “We have a real shot at winning it if enough supporters vote.”
The Solar Homestead will be displayed at West Potomac Park through Oct. 2. Until then, the public is welcome to tour the house and surrounding solar village during specific hours and can do so free of charge.
The sun will not set on the Solar Homestead, regardless of whether on not ASU is able to capture the top spot in the decathlon.
After the completion of the contest, the homestead will return to North Carolina. The house and the decathlete team will travel across the state promoting renewable energy education, before making their way back home to ASU. Following its homecoming, the homestead will be utilized in interdisciplinary education at Appalachian and will serve as a platform for sustainability and renewable energy efforts on campus and in the community.
For more information on Appalachian State University’s Solar Homestead, visit http://www.thesolarhomestead.com. For more on the Solar Decathlon, visit http://www.solardecathlon.gov.