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Solar Homestead to shine Saturday

Article Published: Oct. 14, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Solar Homestead to shine Saturday

David Lee invites the community for a sneak peak at ASU's model of its submission in the 2010 International Solar Decathlon.

Photo by Lauren K. Ohnesorge

It doesn't seem like much. With big glass windows, desks and plenty of floor space, the old Mac Brown building near New Market Center on U.S. 421 is seeing a transformation, and The Mountain Times got a sneak peak before a single nail was hammered.

Welcome to what has become the Solar Homestead, the work station for Appalachian State University's entry into the International Solar Decathlon.

"Our design space is going to be over here," David Lee said. "We're going to build a wall around here so you can't see in."

After all, the dealings at the Solar Homestead are top secret.

Out off all the applicants, 20 university plans were accepted from around the world, including the plans from Appalachian State University. The goal? To create a sustainable structure that's as functional and cost effective as it is environmentally savvy. The time frame? Less than a year.
"We get started on construction in January," Lee said.

But the plans? They've been in the works well over a year, with classes at ASU devoted to prepping the application and blueprints.

"We created and submitted a plan that was 30 pages long," Lee said, and the culmination of hours of work, both by grad students like himself and undergrads.

Luckily, the work paid off, and ASU became the only school in North Carolina whose plans have been accepted for the competitive Solar Decathlon.

Not only do contestants have to design and create their structures, but they have to take them apart and rebuild them in five days on the White House Lawn for the two-week competition. Last year, Lee was among students touring the 2009 entries on the lawn. Things that stuck out in his mind?
"Mostly the problems with those houses," he said.

One house was tiny and made up of a single module.

"It didn't actually feel like a home," he said.

It's a problem he hopes the design of ASU's house will counteract. While he can't give away the plan, he can describe the versatility of the project, which consists of "pluggable systems," giving ASU's design an edge over what he saw last year. ASU's sustainability program also gives it a step up. After all, solar technology is something students work with every day.

"We're trying to harness innovative methods of solar power that will hopefully avoid the cost," he said.

This year's competition has a category for affordability, a category Lee, a master's candidate in both appropriate technology and building science, hopes to trump.

Even affordable structures, however, cost money to design. The Department of Energy, sponsors of the Solar Decathlon, donated $100,000 to each of the 20 finalists, but the money can't go toward building materials. Lee estimates the total cost to reach $900,000 and hopes private donors can contribute. They're already stepping up. There are plenty of ways to help, from cash donations to knowledge sharing to donations of materials, and the project keeps generating interest. Take an information session held earlier this fall. Lee estimates attendance at 160 people. "It's obviously something the community cares about," he said.

More than 50 people have had their hand in the project, and it hasn't even taken off yet.

Want to get involved? This Saturday might be your chance. The Solar Homestead is the first stop on the Solar Home Tour Saturday, and a model of what the team is building will be on display.

The Boone tour is part of the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society's annual National Solar Tour, a grassroots solar event that attracted 150,000 people in 49 states and Puerto Rico last year. The Boone tour, sponsored by Appalachian State University Sustainable Energy Society, will showcase six energy efficient homes and green products that are bringing their owners both economic and environmental rewards.

The tour runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 16. It starts at the Decathlon facility (1100 E. King St.). Expect light refreshment and breakfast snacks at the registration. The cost is $5 for students and $15 for the general public. For more information on the tour, call Brian Crutchfield at Blue Ridge Electric at (828) 264-8894.

In the meantime, for more information or to donate to the Solar Homestead, check out

"It's going to get more and more exciting as it grows," Lee said.

The competition happens in fall of 2011, and The Mountain Times will follow the Homestead every step of the way.

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