University solar house to compete in decathlon



By Ebonique Wool

For the past year and a half, a group of University students has been working on building a house. As long as this house has the sun, it can be completely self-sufficient.

“This home does not have to be connected to an electrical grid. It can stand alone. We can take this house anywhere and power it up within a week,” said Bob Kinsey, senior in Engineering and team member.

This year, the University’s “elementhouse” will be participating in the Solar House Decathlon in Washington, D.C. for the first time in the history of the competition. The event, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, will take place from Oct. 12 until Oct. 20 at the National Mall, with 20 collegiate teams vying for the trophy this year. Since the beginning of the biannual contest in 2002, Colorado has won both competitions.

The University student team said it feels this year will be different.

“It’s an opportunity to show the public why we’re so good,” said Nora Wang, architectural student leader, chief architect and doctoral student at the University, “I would say we’re in good shape.”

The competition is judged in 10 categories, such as architecture, engineering and market viability. One portion of the contest also includes a people’s choice award, where viewers can vote on their favorite house at

The University team’s solar house is innovative, from its roof down to its foundation, said Susan McKenna, student leader of communications for the contest. The roof provides both energy and shade for the house with overhanging solar panels, which block harsh sunlight from overheating the house.

The heating system in the house is unique because it uses radiant heating, which uses coils hanging from the ceiling that provide heat to the home.

“We avoided using energy to move air through the building,” said Ben Barnes, leader of mechanical systems design and graduate student. “There is only one air duct and that is just for ventilation.”

The lighting in the home is energy efficient.

“The lights we used are all florescent or LCD lights,” Wang said. “People can do this in their homes right now.”

Even the base of the house is efficient as well. The wood floors are made of bamboo which is a renewable wood and is placed above the innovative foundation of the module, Wang said.

The foundation and transport system uses box beams and rollers to allow the students to hoist and move the house.

“The uniqueness of our system is we rely on no cranes or fossil fuels to move our house. We do it all by hand with the system we have,” said Kinsey, who is the co-inventor of the foundation and transportation system with Drew Coverdill, senior in Engineering.

The foundation of the house enables it to be mass produced and transported to anywhere in the country, he said.

There are other possible uses for the element house that can be used in real situations, McKenna said.

“One of the things on our mind was Katrina,” McKenna said. “One of our ideas was to invent something that could maybe replace our FEMA trailers.”

After the competition is over, the house will still have more traveling to do. It will be transported to Chicago where it will be put on display at the Chicago Center for Green Technology, which is hosting the national green convention for the United States Green Building Council, Barnes said.

“The greatest part of this is the unique ability on the Illinois campus to draw people together who never really crossed paths,” Kinsey said. “Design, electrical engineers, mechanical design all learned to trust each other and rely on each others’ expertise.”