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Students to Shine in Washington, DC with Solar Houses

This fall students from 20 colleges and universities will haul homes to Washington, DC to participate in the United States Department of Energy's 2009 Solar Decathlon. Institutions from the United States, Canada, Spain, and Germany will show off the structures as part of a competition that tests their students' ability to design energy-efficient, solar-powered homes.

The houses designed and constructed by the teams must produce enough electricity and hot water from solar panels to perform all the normal functions of a home--powering the lights, cooking, washing clothes and dishes, powering home electronics, and maintaining a comfortable temperature. This year, a new net-metering contest will evaluate each home's ability to produce its own power.

Students from Santa Clara University and California College of the Arts have built the 800-square-foot Refract House, which incorporates solar photovoltaic arrays; radiant heating and cooling; Krypton and Argon gas-filled, double-paned glass windows and doors; student-designed bamboo paneling and cabinetry; reclaimed wood siding, floors, and deck; energy-efficient appliances; and what they claim is the world's lightest, thinnest, most energy-efficient television. The team of multi-disciplinary students has been guided in its efforts by faculty with expertise in thermal design of buildings, solar thermal systems, photovoltaic systems, sustainable structural engineering, marketing, and project management.

After promotional tours of the Refract House in California, the students will disassemble the home, transport it to Washington, and then reassemble it for the competition that takes place starting October 8.

Other United States schools involved include Cornell University, Iowa State University, and Virginia Tech.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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